Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are Hollywood legends, appearing together in the just released Netflix series Grace and Frankie, where they play two ladies of a certain age (in real life, Jane is 77 and Tomlin, 75) who are forced to start over after their husbands come out as gay… and reveal they are in love –with each other!
And yes, this just happens to be the 35 anniversary of 9 to 5, the feminist comedy classic they starred in with Dolly Parton in 1980. During their interview with Pride Source, the two longtime friends discuss many things like Fonda’s experiences dating high-profile gay men and the time Tomlin lashed out at Chita Rivera. When asked why gay men love their aging divas (despite Hollywood’s reputation for ageism) Jane was moved to tears…
Lily: I may be terribly wrong and cutting my tongue out for this: It’s like, well, we’re women of a certain age, and maybe we’re considered more audacious.
Jane: I find the question so moving that it makes me cry. I had never thought of it before, and it makes me so moved. I think Lily put her finger on it just now. Older women tend to be more audacious; they’re bigger and bolder and, god knows, gay men love big and bold, right?
Lily: It’s like Lypsinka. I knew he (John Epperson) was from Mississippi, and he’s like a little kitten in a way; his hair is so soft and pale red, and he’s got a big, high, very white-skinned forehead. When I first saw Lypsinka, I could just see this little boy – 4 or 5 years old in Mississippi – growing up around all these Southern women, and my family’s Southern too. I just saw him seeing through them and into their hearts. He saw the women being oppressed and being pigeonholed and how they act kind of audaciously just to free themselves. I just could see that little boy, and he satirized women’s behavior so brilliantly – all the stuff, the travails they have – and I just wept when I saw him because he was so brilliant. I think there are hinges between those two things. Jane is wiping tears from her eyes.
Jane: How she said that – that he sees through them into their hearts. And also: The notion of surviving.
Lily: And him making up this incredible creature who’s just so much fun to watch, and yet it’s painful. I could feel his little boy pain all through those years.
Lily is openly gay and married her longtime partner, writer Jane Wagner recently after decades together and Jane has been a longtime LGBT activist…
Jane: Campaigning with Harvey Milk in the Castro District in San Francisco for Prop 6. He was the most joyous. He was like Allen Ginsberg. He was always smiling and laughing, and he was beloved and he was funny. The most lovable person. I was so happy when I was with him. And it was just so much fun going into those gay bars with him – oh my god!
Lily: I never got to meet Harvey Milk. I knew (LGBT activist and historian) Vito Russo; he was my good friend. I used to exchange so many stories with him. I was up on the Strip one night when I was not on “Laugh-In” yet. I was unknown and a woman that I was friends with who was a publicist had brought Chita Rivera to meet me, and Chita talked with a Bronx accent, and she’s talking really fast and you don’t know what she’s saying. I kind of zoned out for a minute because I could hardly understand her at that point, and then I suddenly heard her say, ‘purse nelly.’ First she had said my ‘boy dancers’ and the skin on the back of my neck bristled up, and that’s when she said ‘purse nelly’ and then I just went ballistic. I said, ‘ What did you say?!’ She said, ‘I dunno! WHADISAY?’ I said, ‘You said, ‘purse nelly.’ I wanna know what that means. What you meant by that!’ ‘I don’t know. Whadisay? Pursenelly? Personally.’ She was saying ‘personally’!
…and I didn’t even cop to it. I was so embarrassed. I just doubled over laughing and fell on the floor.
When asked about their first meeting, they said the chemistry was instant:
Lily: Yeah, we hit it off right away. I was so excited when Jane came to see one of my shows way back in the day
Jane: This was pre-“Nine to Five”!
Lily: Yeah. I was all excited. She came backstage and was very complimentary, and then next thing I knew…
Jane: I was offering her a role in “Nine to Five,” which was originally going to be a serious movie until I saw Lily’s one-woman show called “Appearing Nightly.” I decided I didn’t want to make a movie about office workers until she was one of them. And it had to be a comedy. It took me a year to convince her and Dolly to be in it! During that year we kind of saw each other because we’d be talking about different ideas and stuff, and so we kind of became friends before “Nine to Five.”
And now 4 decades later, they worked together on the funny and touching Grace and Frankie, they tackle the subject of women rebounding from their marriages to men who decide to start anew after coming out. Jane has had personal experience with this…
Jane: …when I was young, I was the female that gay guys wanted to try to become heterosexual with. A very famous actor who’s gay – and I will not name names – asked me to marry him. I was very flattered, but I said, “Why?” This was 1964. And I mean, he wasn’t the only one. It’s very interesting. And I lived for two years with a guy who was trying to become heterosexual. I’m intimately acquainted with that.
Lily: …I had girlfriends who dated gay guys in college and they couldn’t understand why so-and-so didn’t, you know, take them into their arms and sweep them away. Because they danced together so well! They were beautiful, tall blonde people! They were just kind of breathtaking, and they did make a nice looking couple, but that was about as far as it would go – looks. I had a girlfriend and we got into a big fight about being gay when I first moved to New York. She was watching “Lust for Life” with Anthony Quinn, who is so macho as Gauguin in that movie, and I said something like, “Look how macho this guy is – he’s unbelievable!” She said, “If I were gay, I’d beat down the door of the nearest psychiatrist.” I said, “If I fell in love with my refrigerator, I’d give it lamb chops!”
This new era of OnDemand series has gone beyond the typical network LGBT stereotypes and been very inclusive with shows like Orange is the New Black, Transparent and now Grace and Frankie…
Lily: I think it’s been a long time coming. Although, it’s happened because of so many things that have gone before, and this culture has changed. Large parts of the culture have changed. Not the culture as a whole. You know, there’s still a lot of –
Jane: Homophobia. I lived in the South for 20 years, and, unfortunately, homophobia is all too alive and rampant, but because there are so many more gay men and women in mass media and they’re very lovable – and more and more people are coming out – Americans know somebody who’s gay and lesbian. Once that happens, it’s a lot harder to remain homophobic.
So, did they ever think gay marriage would happen in their lifetimes…?
Lily: No, I did not…. I mean, I began to suspect. The last generation or two that have come along, they so demanded to be visible and they’ve taken for granted everything that the gay community had fought for so hard for a long time – it was wiped away from their minds that they were not accepted or not loved. I mean, they may have known it but they didn’t own it.
Jane: I agree, and I’m very optimistic. I found what Justice Kennedy said – that it should be looked at as sex discrimination – cause for optimism
When the new series was announced, everyone was really hyped about these two getting back together, is their some hope for a Dolly Parton cameo?:
Lily: Well, it’s been discussed because so many people inquired about it and thought about it. Of course Dolly’s a good friend and the three of us really like each other and we’ve been friends all these years, but because “Grace and Frankie” is set apart, we want to establish our identity before we think about dragging the “Nine to Five” life into it.
Jane: It’s a different style. It’s a different animal. We wanna keep it that way. For now, anyway.
And their 9 to 5 characters, Judy and Violet –what do they think they would they be doing today?:
Jane: Violet’s probably heading up a Silicon Valley company! Maybe we’re married!
To each other? Another great series idea! If you haven’t already binged through Grace and Frankie, do tune in. (I’m up to episode 5 now, trying to pace myself and draw the pleasure out like a box of chocolates with willpower, rather than Chris Christie at an all-you-can-eat banquet, like a lot of my gluttonous friends…) It hit me after watching the first episode that TV has truly hit another milestone. HBO was always the gold standard now for original series but Netflix is now really giving them a run for their money. And it’s SO exciting to see these two pros on-screen together again. You really remember how good they both are – really great actors, besides being so damn funny. It’s a must-see –and so is the the gag-reel from 9 to 5 below… watch.
(Top photo, Pacific Coast News; via Pride Source)