Fifty on Fifty

Wisdom, Inspiration, and Reflections on Women's Lives Well Lived


By Bonnie Miller Rubin

Formats and Prices




$19.99 CAD


ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $14.99 $19.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 26, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Fifty famous, accomplished, determined women celebrate, reflect upon, & embrace life at 50 & beyond.



Copyright © 1998 by Bonnie Miller Rubin

All rights reserved.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at

First eBook Edition: September 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-56605-6


All my friends and family have been involved with this project, but a few merit special mention.

My parents—who have always devoured everything I wrote—never tired of scouring newspapers and magazines for possible subjects. Every child—even one approaching her own fiftieth birthday—should know such unconditional love.

Leigh Behrens, my colleague at the Chicago Tribune, was always there with an ear and a shoulder when I needed it most. That she is also a smart and thoughtful journalist is merely a bonus.

Susan Lichtenfeld's generous offer of both her time and her talent will never be forgotten. Jane Himmel, too, provided invaluable organization and an eye for detail.

For more than a decade, Jeanne Hanson has been much more than my agent, but an ally and friend whose optimism is as valuable as her business acumen.

This book also belongs to Jackie Merri Meyer, my editor at Warner Books, who believed in the project when others didn't. Her patience and professionalism are deeply appreciated.

To David, my husband and best friend of almost twenty-five years, and my children, Michael and Alyssa, who never complained about all the take-out meals.

And to the women who unabashedly shared their loves and their losses—to say nothing of their birth dates—thank you for showing us the way.

"I thought it was an advantage that I could be different. I didn't have to smoke cigars when everyone else did, or wear red ties when everyone else did. I was an oddity, and it played well."

—GERALDINE LAYBOURNE, broadcast executive
Working Woman magazine

"At fifty, I was already a grandmother … It is the first time in your life that you will love totally without fear. With your own kids, you worry terribly. If they have trouble with math, somehow you think it's your fault. But with grandchildren, nothing is your fault."

—MARY TRAVERS, folk singer


JULY 3, 1941


© Craig Sjodin

Gloria Allred moved from New York to California in the late 1960s—twenty-five years old, a single mother, with two suitcases and about $100 in her pocket. She became one of the nation's most prominent attorneys, associated with every hot-button gender issue of the day: child and domestic abuse, sexual harassment, job discrimination, rape, gay rights. What happened in between wasn't the result of any grand career plan, but rather life itself.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Allred was encouraged by her parents—who only had eighth-grade educations—to set the bar as high as possible. She also found a powerful role model in an aunt who was a heart surgeon ("The only woman I knew who didn't get married, didn't have kids, and didn't cook").

But once out on her own, Allred discoverd life was a cruel teacher. After receiving a master's degree in English from New York University, she taught in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she became aware of the inequitable treatment of female teachers. She also had been raped, paid less than a male colleague for doing exactly the same work, and knew what it was like to raise a child alone. An activist was born.

Her growing feminism led to law school (Loyola University), where she felt she could be most effective in "expanding, vindicating, and asserting rights" for women. In 1976, she started her own practice—Allred, Maroko and Goldberg—with two classmates and found a niche handling some of the nation's most topical lawsuits.

In 1988, Allred became the first woman to gain entry in New York's famed Friars Club (which brought a testy exchange with Henny Youngman, who blocked the door). She also took on Saks Fifth Avenue for charging women more for alterations than men.

While these suits have brought notoriety (she has never been accused of being publicity-shy), it is the cases that have broad public impact of which she is most proud. Allred is divorced and lives in Los Angeles.

* * *

When my daughter was little, she said to me one day, "When I grow up, I'm going to be ready with cookies and milk when my daughter comes home from school." Today she is member of our firm—an outstanding attorney and human being—so, all things change.

As women age, they ultimately all learn the same lesson: The only person I can depend on is me.

It's an evolution. It comes out of being a single parent, sexual harassment at work, being paid less than a man, needing an abortion, suffering domestic abuse, getting a divorce, having problems collecting child support … these are life experiences for most women. They're also the kinds of radicalizing experiences that caused me to be a feminist.

"When women are younger, they have little use for feminism. They don't recognize the need … But older women are more realistic."

My commitment grew because I came personally to understand the extent and scope of the problem. For example, one woman who wanted to be a police officer was asked during the interview process whether or not she used contraceptives or had ever had an abortion. There were many cases like that, which we won. Only after I entered my law practice did I realize the widespread pattern of discrimination. And that's when I knew it was my duty to change it.

When women are younger, they have little use for feminism. They don't recognize the need. They have stars in their eyes and think Prince Charming will still come along. But older women are more realistic. They become more radical as they get older. Divorce is radicalizing … so is being on the job and health issues—the fact that more money is spent on medical research for men than women. They become more radical because they've been burned more often. In many ways, younger women are going to be more shocked, more disappointed than my generation because our expectations were lower.

I am not ashamed to tell people how old I am or that I'm a grandmother. I wouldn't go back to being nineteen for anything. Women should get a medal just for surviving. With each passing year, I become a more committed feminist. The only reason I got into law school was because of the other women who came before me.

So my advice is that each one of us has a duty to help improve the status of women. The one thing I know is that we cannot let these wrongs go unaddressed. We need to make it a better world for our daughters, so they don't have to suffer the way we have suffered.


JANUARY 14, 1942


© Unicef

Anyone who likes to chart career paths would be intrigued by Carol Bellamy's zigs and zags.

She started out as a Peace Corps volunteer, serving in a remote village in Guatemala and eager to change the world. For that, she would need a law degree, but when she graduated from New York University School of Law in 1968, she didn't open the urban storefront practice, as expected. Instead, she headed for a tony Manhattan law firm, followed by Wall Street, where she rose in the cutthroat world of investment banking.

After being steeped in such raw capitalism, she returned to the role of public servant, including a stint as New York City Council president—the first woman to ever hold that position. But her political career hit a roadblock when she lost two key campaigns.

She was appointed director of the Peace Corps in 1993, the first former volunteer to ever head the agency. Her Wall Street background has made her a popular choice for an organization in need of sound fiscal management. At her confirmation hearings, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan crowed, "We adore you in New York and they're going to love you all over the world."

In 1995, she took over the reins at UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, which had problems of its own, including a corruption scandal at its Nairobi, Kenya, headquarters. It is precisely the kind of organizational turnaround that she thrives on.

Bellamy is single and lives in New York.

* * *

"Don't wait too long to do a few other things with your life. Be open to new opportunities."

I learned my first wisdom early—as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. You never know what's going to happen next, so be prepared.

I've done a lot of different jobs. I would get bored if I had just worked at one place and did the same thing, but there is a difference between risk-taking and gambling: Risk-taking is setting up everything, except there is one unpredictable aspect to what you're doing, so you still have to take that one leap. Gambling is setting up nothing. I'm a risk-taker, not a gambler. After I lost the [New York City mayoral primary] election, a friend reminded me that when doors close, windows open—and that has certainly proven to be true. I do like things anchored, but not tied down.

I don't want to make a habit of failing, but every once in a while, it's not bad to bloody your nose a bit. I've won elections and I've lost elections and I've learned as much if not more by the losses. I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now, which is among the most important work I've ever done. This is about children, which really is about the future. For good or bad, I'd rather be working on tomorrow.

I've loved what has been available to me … having half my life in the private sector—as a lawyer and banker—and the other half in the public sector. I've had bad days, but I've never been involved in something that I didn't love. But I'm not sure I'd call it passion. I'm Presbyterian; we don't have much passion.

I grew up in a blue-collar family—my dad was a telephone installer, my mom was a nurse. They went to high school and their parents didn't even do that. And here I am, a lawyer. We didn't have a lot of discussions about choices, but I was encouraged to think broad thoughts.

I'm leery of giving advice—most people have to learn things on their own—but I think it comes down to equal parts of hard work and never forgetting friends and family. I didn't do badly, but I could have spent more time with people … and I feel sad about that. My mom died a few years ago and I miss her a lot.

Don't wait too long to do a few other things with your life. Be open to new opportunities. I'm not looking for any new adventures, but I'm not ready to rule anything out, either.


APRIL 15, 1947


courtesy of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is among a handful of women who have cracked the boys' club of producing and writing for television.

As the co-creator behind Designing Women, Evening Shade, and Hearts Afire, she created characters who refused to be pigeonholed. In each series, she portrayed women—Southern women—who were strong and feminine and didn't live in a trailer park.

Writing has always been a vehicle for what's on her mind and in her heart. When her mother-in-law died of breast cancer, it showed up in an episode of Designing Women. When she lost her own mother to AIDS—contracted through a blood transfusion—it, too, found its way on the air (and an Emmy nomination). To make sure the characters had the ring of authenticity, she wrote all twenty-two episodes during the show's first season, a rare feat.

Her earliest ambition was to be the family's first female attorney. Instead, after graduating from the University of Missouri, she headed out to California, where she took a job writing for a Los Angeles law journal, followed by a stint teaching English in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. ("I thought we'd sit around on pillows and read Byron. When I arrived, I found out that I had seventy-seven students and twenty-two chairs and the teacher before me had been raped.")

On a whim, she sent a script to Larry Gelbart, the creative genius behind M* A* S*H. Gelbart saw a spark, gave her a chance, and she was on her way. She met Harry Thomason, a filmmaker and producer. Married in 1983, they formed Mozark Productions (named for their respective home states of Missouri and Arkansas).

She is almost as famous for her access to the White House as for her television work. In 1992, she produced the documentary The Man from Hope, which introduced Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in New York. Despite a flurry of criticism leveled at the first couple for being "too Hollywood," the couple was active in the 1996 campaign, with Harry producing the president's cross-country train trip to the convention and Linda producing the sequel film, A Place Called America.

To honor her late mother, Claudia, she created The Claudia Company, which provides scholarships for qualified girls in Arkansas and Missouri who would not otherwise attend college.

* * *

You never hear a taxi driver saying, "Gee, I'd like to be a brain surgeon," but everyone thinks they can do this business. If they only knew what it takes. Each year, five thousand script ideas come in; of those, fifty will actually be made, ten will get on the air, and one will be a hit.

"Perhaps the best you can hope for is that someday the people who walked behind you will see the note you left and a lightbulb will go off."

But I was so young and naive … I didn't have a Rolodex, I didn't even have a Rolodex, I didn't even have an address book. I thought that if I wrote well, someone would find me. It took me a long time to realize how deals are made and how people all know each other. I was so far from the seat of power, but my naïveté worked to my advantage. I was so unsophisticated about the business that when I was told that the studio "passed" on my first pilot, I thought that was a good thing—you know, like passed in college.

There is a tremendous amount of discrimination in this business and every woman has a story to tell. I happened to arrive at the time when (the industry) was looking for women—when they were considered a novelty—so it was an asset.

As a Southern woman, I was so into that approval. If someone had thrown a rock at me at recess, I had to write a thank-you note. If someone didn't like me, I would have taken a boat to China to straighten it out. I had these two conflicting role models—a mom who was very people-pleasing and a dad who would always say what needed to be said. As for me, I wanted both—I wanted to put on the party dress with my mom and go duck-hunting with my dad.

What I don't understand is women who don't support other women. Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, you have to admit that she's walked through fire for all of us. I admire people who continue on course regardless. Perhaps the best you can hope for is that someday the people who walked behind you will see the note you left and a lightbulb will go off.

Here's my advice to women: Don't cluster so much; don't spend your time yakking about how unfair things are. Don't be part of the herd.

Also, don't whine. My father and sister-in-law died of cancer within six weeks of each other. My brother would sit by his wife's bedside in Texas, then get on a plane and do the same thing with our dad in Missouri. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 1986, my mother died of AIDS and my husband's mother died of breast cancer. It was a devastating time … but work helped keep me alive. As long as I could write a script, I had a purpose. I also think I'm more compassionate.

And you also get a giant dose of perspective. When all the stories broke about [our friendship with] the Clintons, I thought, "This is nothing." A few yuppie journalists decide to write some snide and silly things about me? Big deal. Compared to what we've been through, this is a walk in the park.


NOVEMBER 11, 1940


© Martin Simon/Saba

Barbara Boxer has a reputation as a straight shooter in a field of smooth talkers.

She has never shrunk from taking on the system, whether it was exposing the Pentagon for overspending (remember the $7,000 coffeepot?) or leading a march of angry women on the Capitol to delay the Senate's confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas or demanding public hearings on the sexual harassment charges against Oregon Republican Bob Packwood. That the resolution narrowly lost hardly matered; she had pushed the issue onto the front page and Packwood resigned rather than face expulsion.


On Sale
Sep 26, 2009
Page Count
176 pages