Besedka Johnson, the movie star who was supposedly discovered in the locker room of a Los Angeles YWCA at age 85, died Thursday at age 87 of complications following surgery. The Los Angeles Times published the obituary of her unusual life today.
In a movie industry town, she appeared in only one movie — 2012’s Starlet, where she played a crotchety old woman opposite fresh young face Dree Hemingway. Although she burst onto the scene late in life, she was praised for her role as the grouchy old lady who sells 21-year old Jane (Hemingway) a relic that holds a hidden stash of money.
Dree Hemingway said, “Besedka showed me that no age is too old to do what you dream. I loved her dearly.”
Starlet was featured in the 2013 Film Independent Spirit Awards, where the cast won the Robert Altman Award for ensemble casting.
Director Sean Baker saluted her “incredible talent” and added that he regretted that someone hadn’t discovered her gift much earler: “We would have decades of film and television that had captured her incredible talent. Besedka will be missed.”
She waited a long time to be discovered. According to her obituary, the Detroit native moved to Los Angeles when she was around 17 to try to pursue a modeling career. It went nowhere, and she married twice, having three children with her first husband. She tried acting lessons after her first divorce in her mid-30s. But, for much of her life, she was better known for her dress shop, also called Besedka.
I don’t know whether I’m more impressed that she started as a working actress at age 85 — or that they discovered Besedka Johnson in a gym at that age. She must have been a dynamo.
Here’s a tweet with a nice picture from one of the Los Angeles Times reporters:
— Marisa Gerber (@marisagerber) April 10, 2013
Here’s an interview with Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson: