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Celebrating the Legendary Tuesday Weld on Her 70th Birthday

Today is the actress Tuesday Weld’s 70th birthday. With a name like that, she’s likely taken up residence somewhere in your consciousness, but Weld hasn’t been a celebrity for quite some time now, so you might not know just quite why you’ve heard of her. She is probably best described as a proto-Lohan. Like Lindsay, she started out her career as a child star of Hollywood and occasionally Broadway. She then cemented her celebrity (and changed her name from Susan) with a popular sitcom called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, where she played the most avaricious of Dobie’s many love interests, talking endlessly about the kind of money her ideal lover you had to have.
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From the start, Weld was red meat for the press. By the time she’d been cast in Dobie Gillis she was already taking up whole Hedda Hopper column with her Tuesdays. She had a pretty, coquettish manner even at fifteen, and a habit of saying things like, “The man I marry will have to be richer than I am,” just like her character. Her mother, who doubled as her chaperone and business manager, came along with her to interviews. Their filial bickering made for excellent copy: “Is Tuesday allowed out late at night, say until eleven o’clock, I asked Mr. Weld. ‘Ha, ha,’ roared Mrs. Weld. ‘That’s when she starts out.’”

Her sexuality, however, was what really kept people interested in Weld, and they’d shamelessly comment on it to the press. “From the rear,” said a cameraman quoted in a Washington Post and Times Herald profile, “she looks like Jane Mansfield’s kid sister.” At the time he said this she was, just so we’re clear, 15 years old. All those rumors you hear about the golden days of child stardom when people felt less okay about leering fall apart in Tuesday Weld coverage. She had a habit of dating older men, too, and the optics of a daddy complex are eternally popular with the celebrity press.

Weld treated the hullabaloo with disdain, offering up droll, piercing quips: “I also like to play ball, but no one thinks I should.” Which is not to say she wasn’t prone to the malapropisms of any ordinary starlets. “I have very ambulatory thoughts as to what I am and why,” she said. “I don’t really care. I just am.” She began to give interviews complaining that she’d been supporting her mother and siblings since she was three. And she hinted that she’d had breakdowns and addiction problems from early childhood, dropping details salacious enough to keep everyone’s interest.

As far as her actual work was concerned, Dobie Gillis didn’t give Weld much space to flex her acting muscles, but such was the feverish nature of her stardom that she was swiftly offered roles in movies like Lolita, True Grit, and Bonnie and Clyde. But she turned them all down. And instead she appeared in B-movie classics like Pretty Poison — another experience Weld openly complained about. (“Constant hate, turmoil, and dissonance,” she scoffed to a reporter later.) So gradually Weld garnered a reputation for thumbing her nose at the whole business of stardom — which, naturally, in the manner of these things, only served to whet press appetites.

Her signature move, on that score, was to play a character kind of based on herself in Henry Jaglom’s 1971 A Safe Place. The movie doesn’t really have a plot as such, and its weirdness is perhaps best experienced directly:

Suffice to say that the crowds and critics hated it. When the film premiered at the New York Film Festival, an audience member was moved to yell, “Shut up, Tuesday; you’re pretty, but you’re stupid!” She retaliated by throwing a shoe.

This wild persona benefitted her, though. By 1972 she was in the running for an Academy Award after playing the lead role in the adaptation of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. She would only finally be nominated for one after playing Diane Keaton’s dissolute sister in the 1978 cautionary tale Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Her roles began to grow ever more intermittent; before Goodbar she’d been off screens for five years, even though directors never stopped calling. There was something about her charisma that made them look past the dysfunction. And Weld, for whatever reason, enjoyed being the chased rather than the one running after, telling a reporter in 1978:

love that ‘Tuesday Weld cult’ thing. Fun. And it has endurance. You don’t have to do anything to be it. You don’t have to work. In fact, it’s better you don’t, knowwhatimean? Of course, now that I am working — now that I have roots, and can — I’ll probably blow the cult number completely.

Well, it didn’t quite turn out the way she hoped. At this point she’s giving interviews to the Enquirer, and a younger generation thinks Lindsay Lohan invented the trainwreck as public relations strategy when Weld was among its pioneers. Lohan, in fact, threatens to eclipse Weld’s reputation entirely — the young writers at BuzzFeed refer to Weld as forgotten. I, for one, hope that eventually Weld will show she still has a few tricks up her sleeve.