Even Jamie Lee Curtis — ever comfortable in her own skin — winces when remembering high school. At 52, the actress and author of eight children's books recalls walking into a residential hall at the la-di-da Choate boarding school in Connecticut on the first day of her senior year. She was a Hollywood wild child ( her parents were movie stars Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis) wearing "bell-bottom jeans, a little French T-shirt, and sunglasses, with my hair frosted." She was greeted, she says, by the "quintessential blond preppy girl" in straight-legged corduroys and a crewneck sweater, defiantly dragging on a Marlboro.
"'You Tony Curtis's daughter?'" mimics Curtis, pretend-puffing a cigarette. "'We heard you were coming.'"
"It wasn't pretty," says Curtis. "I ended up with just two friends, one of them an exchange student. It was them and me, this Hollywood weirdo. High school was a nightmare for me."
On a sunny day in Los Angeles, Curtis is with Kristen Bell and Betty White, who play mother, daughter, and grandmother, respectively, in the new fall comedy You Again. The film tells the story of a former geek (Bell) who learns her brother is engaged to her high-school mean-girl nemesis — and sets out to derail the wedding. Now the three women have gathered for a quasi high-school reunion of their own. Like their on-screen characters, the ladies can each recount life-altering anecdotes from high school as if they occurred yesterday.
Bell, 30, who starred in the TV series Veronica Mars as well as films such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and When in Rome, spent her junior year on the outs with her two best friends — they were angry with her for reasons they wouldn't divulge. "I thought maybe I wasn't cool enough to hang out with," she says. "I couldn't understand what I had done, but I was such a needy kid, I just wanted to fix it. I was so scared that people wouldn't like me that I would change my personality."
Betty White, 88, the iconic Golden Girls actress who is now a costar of the hit sitcom Hot in Cleveland, escaped high school relatively unscathed, partly because she didn't care about being popular. "I just wasn't that interested in getting in with my peer group," says White, who in August picked up an Emmy for her turn earlier in the year as host of Saturday Night Live. "The social life was a pain in the ass. I enjoyed being with guys more than girls."
Curtis, Bell, and White chatted with AARP The Magazine about everything from growing older to bad plastic surgery — and about what they would change if life handed them one do-over.
Friends — They Come and Go
White: I'm still bleeding over losing Ruesy [the late actress and Golden Girls costar Rue McClanahan], who was my dear friend. But as much as I love my friends, I wouldn't think of going out to lunch with a woman. I can't think of anything less interesting, except hen parties and showers — and I avoid them like the plague.
Curtis: I love my husband [director and comedic actor Christopher Guest], and I've been married a very long time [26 years], but I would feel completely inadequate without a good group of girlfriends. Still, I'm also learning that relationships with my girlfriends have to be fluid. I have friends whom I was closer with in my 20s or 30s than I am now. It's not that I don't love them, but the common links have unlinked a little. It's important for me to create new relationships, and that's hard. I'm wondering if I should even say this, because I don't want friends to read this and go, "Oh, I'm one of the friends she's let go of!"
Bell: I have a lot of "pick up and put down" friends whom I haven't talked to in months, but I can pick up the phone and it's as though we've spoken every day for the last 10 years. Maybe this is my generation's thing. Many of my friends are career driven and don't have the hours in the day for the consistency that friendships deserve.