Does it feel a little bit like Betty White is overextended? Her unlikely, Facebook-aided comeback may have spawned a Saturday Night Live appearance, new roles in movies and TV, and an endless wave of tie-in merchandise, but the 88-year-old star can’t do it all alone. Now that White has proven that someone taken for granted in the seventies and eighties can — with the right breakout move — be embraced with an overpowering nostalgia, it’s time for some new players to step up to the bat. Here are five other actors over 50 who are perfectly positioned to mount a similar resurgence.
For Her: Henderson’s current stint on Dancing With the Stars could help solidify her as a comeback in the making: A sitcom icon, she has parlayed her five-year role on The Brady Bunch into countless commercials, guest appearances, and Brady reunions. Henderson may have more camp appeal than Betty White — those big-screen Brady Bunch parodies helped — and she can match White for sheer ubiquity and willingness to make fun of herself.
Against Her: America loves its little old ladies, but the impeccably preserved Henderson doesn’t look much like an old lady. When Betty White slips a young hunk her phone number in You Again, you’re supposed to laugh at the absurdity of her come-on. Stick Florence Henderson in that role, and he might call her back.
For Him: Reubens is like a Betty White for the hip set: Like her, he had a classic eighties television show in Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but he also starred in the iconic movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. His 1991 arrest for indecent exposure obviously cooled down his career some, but since then, Reubens has made guest appearances in all the right things, including comedic turns on 30 Rock and Reno 911!, as well as a dramatic supporting role in Blow. 58 now but still virtually ageless, Reubens tapped into a nostalgic vein this year with his live Pee-wee Herman Show (moving to Broadway next month after a strong Los Angeles run), which helped net him a script in development with producer Judd Apatow.
Against Him: That long-ago arrest could still limit his all-ages appeal. Also, Reubens seems intent on joining the wrong-for-him Dancing With the Stars, as he writes in a new Huffington Post editorial: “If anyone, like the people who read The Huffington Post, or my Twitter feed, the NY Times or Scientific American wanted to launch a Facebook campaign, like the one to get Betty White on Saturday Night Live, to help book ME on [Dancing With the Stars], it would be interesting to see if they succeeded.” Go straight to SNL, Pee-wee! Betty White never had to cha-cha for her dinner!
For Her: If there’s a reason that so many of these older stars want to get on Dancing With the Stars, you can credit (or find fault with) Leachman. The Oscar-winning octogenarian took the program hostage two years ago, using it less as a dancing competition and more as a full-scale charm offensive. She was the comeback kid before SNL was a glint in Betty White’s eye, and her lusty antics landed her a place on the new Fox comedy Raising Hope and a brief cameo as White’s rival in You Again.
Against Her: There’s nothing wrong with a supporting role on a sitcom — even White is drawing a paycheck on Hot in Cleveland — but it feels like Leachman may have maxed out her potential comeback already. It’s too bad that her campy cameo in Inglourious Basterds was cut: Maybe it could have put her over the top.
For Him: Lloyd can boast both an iconic big-screen role in the Back to the Future series and an Emmy-winning TV role on Taxi. He’s got the never-stop-working ethos we want in an elderly comeback kid, and his résumé veers between blockbuster crowd-pleasers and underrated hipster fare like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and this year’s Piranha 3-D, where he camped it up as a mad scientist.
Against Him: A strong work ethic is one thing, but perhaps Lloyd could afford to be more choosy. In recent years, he’s worked most often in animation and forgettable TV movies, and his last significant TV role found him fifth-billed in the Pamela Anderson comedy Stacked. He needs a Funny or Die viral hit, a 30 Rock guest appearance, and an eye-catching supporting role on the big screen, in that order.
For Her: Bear with us! While most of the people on this list would die to breathe Barbra Streisand’s rarefied Malibu air, the Oscar-winning actress has appeared in only two movies over the last fourteen years, and they’re both Meet the Parents sequels. At this point, she’s coasting on reputation alone instead of accepting the Nancy Meyers movie you know she’d knock out of the park: Hell, she could even make that movie herself. The most promising sign she’s willing to get back in the game: her attachment to a Seth Rogen road movie called My Mother’s Curse.
Against Her: There’s a certain segment of the audience who will never warm to the famously political Streisand, though she may have won many of them over with her Meet the Fockers role. More troublesome, though, is the feeling that like Warren Beatty, Streisand has become so picky and discerning that she might as well have retired. You’re in your golden years, Babs — relax and live it up!