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.
A Wrinkle in Time
White: I love that age has its privileges. You've seen enough to be interested in many different things and make time for them. You can't do that as a youngster because you're so into yourself.
Curtis: I'm blessed with good health and have more energy than a 14-year-old. But I'm just now starting to feel my age and the beginning of limitations. I play tennis with someone 10 years younger, and I'm noticing it. It's not a big deal, but it's an adjustment.
Bell: I'm in a peculiar position because I believe I'm the only woman in Hollywood trying to age up. I've always been small, and I have a high-pitched voice and youthful face. Personally, I feel that life is like cheese: It just gets better with age. Some of the greatest women I know, two of whom are present, have aged so gracefully and have the smartest things to say.
White: The less you worry about it, the less you think about it. There was a period when you were considered over the hill if you were older than 14. Everybody says to me, "We're so glad you're back." But I've been working for 63 years! Many of the fans grew up with me, and their moms and dads — and in some cases their grandmothers and grandfathers — grew up with me, so I'm sort of a fixture.
Good Genes and Bad Plastic Surgery
Curtis: There's a reason why there is only one Betty White. [Speaking to Betty] You've navigated this magnificently and had good health and fantastic opportunities, and you've knocked them out of the ballpark. There are people who, when you see them on the screen, there's an audible gasp of "Oh my God." They look terrible — or they've done something to themselves and now look like freaks. Then there are people who age beautifully. There is one Meryl Streep and one Sigourney Weaver. But I could name 30 other actresses in their [age] groups who aren't working today. Me, I'm getting my ass out of this business in a few years because genetically it's not going to work for me. And I'm not saying this so you guys say, "Oh, you're so pretty." I'm talking about aging and genetics.
White: I wish you would take your shirt off. This one [ pointing to Curtis] has arms.
Bell: You have a hot body and everybody knows it.
Curtis: [Pointing to White] She's 88 and hotter in Hollywood than anyone I know except maybe Justin Bieber!
Bell: Why are we all playing this gigantic game trying to be who we were five years ago?
Curtis: Because everybody is saying that to get jobs you have to dye your hair and get injectables. It's a conspiracy, a complete catastrophe, a surgical-industrial complex. Somehow we are being fed this belief that to continue on we have to do this. Yet people are being disfigured. It's shocking what people are doing to their faces.
Matches Made in Heaven
White: Allen [Ludden, the famous game-show host, who died of cancer in 1981] and I missed our 18th anniversary by three days. We were doing summer stock together, and every morning he would ask me to marry him. I'd been divorced twice and didn't want to marry again. He bought me a beautiful ring, and I threw it back at him, so he wore it on a chain around his neck. Damn wedding ring! He said, "I'm going to wear it till you put in it on your finger." He was a good salesman. The secret to our marriage was enthusiasm. His intelligence and sense of humor got to me. It sounds like a cliché, but my advice to Kristen [engaged to actor Dax Shepard, who stars in the television comedy Parenthood] is never take each other for granted. When I knew Allen was coming home, I would freshen my makeup, put on a new blouse. He would call from where he was and ask me out on a date. Sometimes that meant pick up a chicken, and we'd put some records on and dance. That was our date — silly, but it kept the freshness in the relationship.
Bell: It's interesting that a sense of humor appealed to all of us in our mates.
Curtis: The secret is evolution. If you're lucky, you evolve simultaneously. Chris and I are in different jobs now than when we got married. He wasn't a director; he was an actor. I wasn't a writer; I was an actor. We supported each other when we made changes, even when there weren't financial rewards. There were times I led, and times Chris led, but the disparity never felt like one of us had moved beyond the other. My husband and I are very different and have always been. Now with our 14-year-old son, Thomas [their daughter, Annie, is 23], getting some independence, we have free time. So what do we do? I play tennis. He golfs and sails. We need to find something to do together!
If You Could Hit "Rewind"...
White: I would not have married my first or second husbands. I married my first because we wanted to sleep together. It lasted six months, and we were in bed for six months. The second time I was deeply in love, but he wanted me to get out of show business — a deal breaker. Both marriages helped me to appreciate the real thing when it came along.
Curtis: Would I do a few things over as a mother? Sure. Would I do a lot the same? Sure. I'm not a big regretter — maybe a couple of hairdos in the '70s.
Bell: Every experience has made me who I am, but if I had to choose, I guess I would have raised my glove and caught the softball that sent me to homecoming with two black eyes.
Sex Gets (blank) With Age
Curtis: Deeper over time.
White: I don't have a fella, but if Allen — or Robert Redford — were around, we'd have a very active sex life. Does desire melt away with age? I'm waiting for that day to come. Sexual desire is like aging — a lot of it is up here [points to her head].
Bell: It gets sweeter — and more fun. But whether you have an enormous libido — like my friend Betty — or none at all, there's no norm. There are different bodies, books, people.
Curtis: That's the greatest advice in this article, out of the mouth of the babe.