Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Golden Lifts Go To:

 Zelda Rubinstein

It's hard not to love this woman. Standing at just 4'3, the late actress is best known--to horror fans and the general public--as Tangina, the ethereal medium who helped save Carol Anne from not one, not two, but three Poltergeists between 1982 and 1988. Before her passing in 2010, Ms. Rubinstein had amassed a bevy of key roles on the big and small screen, with credits that were mainstream (Picket Fences,  Sixteen Candles), indie (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Anguish) and belovedly cult (Teen Witch).

With a voice that somehow called to mind strawberry marshmallow fluff, Zelda Rubinstein was one of a kind when it came to performing. Like many genre fans who saw a sleepover party turn to screams once the PG-Rated Poltergeist showed up, I personally always had a soft spot for her unique presence whether it was on an episode of Tales From the Crypt or as the well-known voice that cooed "Taste the Rainbow" for Skittles ads. As I sat back to wonder which supporter of the vertically challenged qualified for a pair of Golden Lifts (the now yearly award bestowed upon someone awesome with a connection to shortness), Ms. Rubinstein seemed a natural Cinderella fit.

Upon poking a little more into the other side known as the Internet, I was thrilled to discover that not only was Ms. Rubinstein a wonderful actress, but more importantly, a truly wonderful person.

Having left a successful position as a lab technician to pursue the Hollywood dream (which found her late into her 40s) Ms. Rubinstein wasted little time in pairing her successful acting career with admirable work for better causes. Her first film role in the Razzie Award winner Under the Rainbow made her question how little people were seen by the film industry, leading her to establish the Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theater Company. Named after an Oscar nominated little person, the (now defunct) theater was composed of 16 fellow little people with the glorious mission statement "Become an actor and your world will get much bigger."

After stealing her scenes in Poltergeist, things certainly did for Zelda. She worked steadily from that point on and bravely used her growing fame to help bring awareness about the life-or-death importance of safe sex during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Playing a kindly mother encouraging her gay son to use protection, Rubinstein appeared in print and television ads for L.A. Cares at the risk of putting her career in jeopardy. Looking at this from a 2012 perspective, it's hard to believe that just 30 years ago, actors could be unofficially blacklisted for speaking about the kind of issue that can now be recognized through simple red ribbons, but in 1984, becoming a spokesperson for such a then-controversial (and sadly still so, in different ignorant ways) issue could have been a career killer.

Zelda Rubinstein knew that. And it didn't matter. This woman who had faced the odds since birth with what some would've called a handicap was willing to risk her newly prominent reputation to illuminate an issue that she cared deeply about, and one that the whole world should've addressed sooner.

Despite what our cultural atmosphere wants us to believe, movie stars are not superheroes. They (sometimes) have a specific skill set paired with great luck and with those tools, they can give great performances or mumble through a script and sometimes, take everything that comes with it to make a difference. Zelda Rubinstein didn’t necessarily change the world, but she piped up in a time when others didn’t while also establishing herself as a formidable screen presence. These posthumous Golden Lifts won’t do much, but personally, I for one am glad to have learned a little more about a woman who was far more special than I ever realized.
 Also, that dame could ROCK a sassy hat!


  1. Hey short people rock. I should know I'm only 5'2.

  2. Aww, Zelda! I was really sad when she passed away, as I'm sure everyone familiar with her as an actress was. RIP.

  3. I hear ya LadyJ! And btw, you're got a full half an inch on me so be a dear and grab that box of cereal for me eh?

    Aaron: she is the best.

  4. *applauds*

    It was too for me a cloudy day when the press announced her passing.

    And danke mucho for the background work on her. I never knew any of that stuff but judging from the E! True Hollywood Story on Poltergeist, I could tell she was a pretty fearless lady.

    Me and my mother still crack her one-liners just a have a laugh.

  5. Definitely a touchstone of our childhoods and who knew? So much more!