“Oh no,” Mrs. Vidiot exclaimed a few weeks ago as she browsed the Internet. “Zelda Rubinstein died!”
I have many friends who, like me, spend countless hours combing IMDb.com looking up actors, directors, upcoming projects and historical film resumes, and I’m not sure even they would’ve recognized Zelda Rubinstein by name. But I have many fond memories of the 4’3” actress and immediately shared in the wife’s sadness.
My habit of quoting movie lines in casual conversation was largely influenced by one individual: my older brother. When I was an impressionable youth, he would rewind VHS tapes over and over until I had his favorite bits of dialog ground into my hippocampus. And boy did he ever love one of Rubinstein’s lines from arguably her most famous role as psychic medium Tangina in 1982’s Poltergeist. With a ghost harassing the Freeling family, Tangina directs the young Carol Anne to “Break the mirror! Break the mirror!” To this day, whenever mirrors become a topic of conversation, deep down I want to bellow the phrase.
With as many guilty pleasures as I have in my film collection, Mrs. Vidiot shared one of hers with me some time ago: 1989’s Teen Witch. The movie is awful. Overacted and featuring ‘80s rapping, I scoffed when I saw it, but I also appreciated why she enjoyed the film as a kid. It's fun, in a ridiculous sort of way. The heavy dose of Rubinstein as Madame Serena, mentor to high school witch-in-training Louise Miller (Robyn Lively), made it all the more endearing. And to this day, Mrs. Vidiot love's to spout Serena’s line, “With me in your corner, anything’s possible.”
Even recently, I was reminded of Rubinstein’s role in the truly classic film Sixteen Candles. It was only a bit part, but she was the perfect choice to play a drunken organ player at a dysfunctional wedding.
Few may know Zelda Rubinstein’s name or that she worked steadily in Hollywood from a variety show appearance in 1980 to narration of The Scariest Places on Earth in 2006, but her diminutive stature, chipmunk cheeks and raspy, childlike pipes made her an icon of the 1980s and beyond. And while her passing on Jan. 27 (coincidentally, my brother’s birthday) means her film appearances have come to an end, a part of her will live on forever, even if it’s just in piss-poor impersonations by a ridiculous Boise couple.