97-Year-Old's New Career: Acting

Actress Mae Laborde poses at her Santa Monica, Calif., home on Wednesday, Feb 28, 2007. The 97-year-old Laborde is just four years into her acting career and hotter than ever.
AP Photo/Nick Ut
Hollywood's starmakers always are on the lookout for a fresh new face, and they found one in Mae Laborde — albeit of the wrinkled variety.

The 97-year-old Laborde is just four years into her acting career and hotter than ever. Standing 4-feet-10, with snow-white hair, rosy-red cheeks and a sweet-as-peaches-and-cream smile, she's becoming TV's ubiquitous grandma.

She was "Wheel of Fortune's" Vanna White (40 years in the future) for a recent episode of "MADtv." She was the stunned fiancée whose boyfriend finally gets around to proposing in a jewelry commercial. She faced down the Grim Reaper himself in a bit about elderly people without health insurance for "Real Time With Bill Maher."

She's also been a cheerleader on ESPN, appeared in a Lexus commercial, had a recurring role on Spike Feresten's "Talkshow" and had a role in a JP Morgan Chase Bank commercial.

"Now that one paid good!" says Laborde, eyes twinkling under knitted brows and behind rhinestone glasses. Then, lowering her voice conspiratorially, she adds, "I mean like a few hundred dollars."

As she speaks, she sits perched on the living room couch of her small Southern California home, just a couple blocks from the beach.

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So what's the secret to her late-blooming success? She never had any training and, until four years ago, the closest she came to show business was working as a bookkeeper in the late bandleader Lawrence Welk's office.

"I'm just a natural," she says with a broad smile as she heads to her dining room table to sift through some of her press clippings.

It's not unheard of for actors to work well into their 90s, of course. Think George Burns and Bob Hope or, more recently, Gloria Stuart of "Titanic" fame. But all of them started in the business young — unlike Laborde who didn't earn her Screen Actors Guild card until she was in her mid-90s.

Her acting career was started by a 2002 Los Angeles Times story, when columnist Steve Lopez, her former neighbor, decided to seek her out for some lighthearted driving tips.

In those days she was well known around Santa Monica as the little old lady who barreled up and down her neighborhood's hilly streets and across the freeways in a gigantic 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88. Laborde, who only stopped driving last year, was so small, and the car so big, Lopez wrote, that behind the wheel she looked like a cricket driving a tank.