October 20, 2019

This Will Be The Best. Birthday. Ever.

This year, I outed myself. I fessed up. In front of 18 of my closest female friends, I uttered two words I vowed never to say: I’m 60.

The reaction was expected: shock, disbelief, then some food, then more shock and then more food. Because I have a young child, no one would ever guess I have the same birthday as Barbie: March 9, 1959.

As an actor, I’m afraid of ageism although no one can ever guess my age. For that, I thank my Hungarian heritage of good skin and a lifelong love of exercise and optimism. 

I outed myself because I was tired of hiding my wisdom. Tired of hiding my experience. Tired of hiding, well, myself. 

Growing up in New Jersey during the ’60s and ’70s meant jumping on my bike after school and disappearing till dusk. Or ice skating on the pond at the local middle school. My education included public school and Hebrew school, as well as ballet and music lessons. By 14, I was dancing in a local ballet company. But scoliosis and a two-year stint in a full-body brace altered my career trajectory. Playing acoustic guitar and singing folk-rock songs helped me finance my college education; I was a regular performer at the coffeehouses at my school, Goucher College, and our brother school, Johns Hopkins. When I met Jackson Browne, I thanked him for helping me get through college. 

After graduation, I stayed in Baltimore and worked for the Film Forum. Then I pushed my way into advertising by showing up at an agency and insisting I had an appointment with the creative director, who was scattered enough to think it was his mistake. Impressed with my tenacity, he hired me to work in Broadcast Business Management and Talent Payments, and I soon began producing radio commercials, as well.

When I told my boss that a jingle for a theme park aimed at teens sounded too “Christy Minstrels,” I was dispatched to a studio in Dallas to produce a new track. I ended up working with a composer named Chris Kershaw, who would brag that his young son, Clayton, was an amazing athlete. It took me years to put those two names together. 

As the only woman working in broadcast there, I had plenty of #MeToo experiences in that “Mad Men” environment. Refusing advances from the president of the agency resulted in a vicious whisper campaign against me. And my name was replaced on the Cleo Award I won for a TV campaign I produced for the Baltimore Orioles. I was 24 years old.

Then my father died. 

So I moved to New York to follow my dream of becoming an actor. I first fell into hand modeling and found myself the subject of a front page profile in the Wall Street Journal. (Soon thereafter, “Seinfeld” aired an episode in which George becomes a hand model.) Then came plays, commercials and stand-up comedy. I tap-danced in the Statue of Liberty celebration, got married, and thought I’d live happily ever after. Except my husband was an accountant and a cocaine addict. Dodging the abuse and emptiness, I filled my days and nights with work, auditions, classes and stand-up gigs in New York and London. 

Then my mother died. And I could no longer live without love or hope.

It took some time, but enough strength and courage emerged for me to extricate myself from that marriage. Weeks before the financial crash, I sold my apartment and moved downtown. A bigger agent signed me and I started to work more often. Then a Chabad rabbi living in my building invited me to a Shabbat dinner.

Seated next to me was a handsome man with beautiful green eyes. He was so funny. And Orthodox. I felt butterflies in my stomach over that guy in a kippah who was 13 years my junior. 

We dated, I became Orthodox, we got married and moved to L.A. I was 49. At 53, I gave birth to our son on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

I am 60. And I have a lot more to say and a lot more to do. And I have nothing to hide.


Jill Moray Reichman is an actor, motivational speaker and medical intuitive.