Marvelously quirky, distinctive, and diminutive 4' 3" character actress Zelda Rubinstein was born on May 28, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of three children and the only little person in her family. Zelda received a scholarship to attend the University of Pittsburgh. After earning a degree in bacteriology, Rubinstein worked as a lab technician in blood banks. In 1978 Zelda decided to pursue an acting career. She studied acting at the University of California. Rubinstein made her film debut in the comedy "Under the Rainbow." Zelda achieved her greatest enduring popularity as feisty and eccentric psychic Tangina Barrons in the hit horror classic "Poltergeist." Rubinstein went on to play Tangina in the two sequels and made a guest appearance as a seer on an episode of the spin-off TV series "Poltergeist: The Legacy." Zelda was also memorable as domineering mother Alice Pressman in the cult fright feature "Anguish." She had a regular role as down-to-earth police dispatcher Ginny Weedon on the hugely successful TV series "Picket Fences." Among the TV shows Rubinstein made guest appearances on are "Matt Houston," "Santa Barbara," "Mr. Belvedere," "Tales from the Crypt," "Martin," "Caroline in the City," and "The Pretender." She narrated the TV series "The Scariest Places on Earth" and lent her unique high-pitched voice to various movie trailers and TV commercials. An outspoken social activist, Zelda was a staunch advocate for the rights of little people who formed the nonprofit Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theater Company in Los Angeles in 1985. Moreover, in the mid 80's Rubinstein was featured as a mother character in a high-profile ad campaign called L.A. Cares that warned gay men about AIDS. One of the first celebrities to contribute to AIDS awareness, Zelda participated in the first AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Walk and attended the 25th Anniversary Walk on October 12, 2009. She died of natural causes at age 76 at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles, California on January 27, 2010.IMDb Mini Biography By: woodyanders
Diminutive in size (4' 3") but with a larger-than-life presence on film and TV, character actress Zelda Rubinstein gave up a long and stable career in the medical field as a lab technician in order to strive for something more self-fulfilling as middle age settled in. At the age of 45, the feisty lady gave up the comfort of a stable paycheck and attempt an acting career, a daunting task for anyone but especially someone of her stature and type. Within a few years, she had beaten the odds and became a major movie celebrity thanks to one terrific showcase in a Steven Spielberg horror classic. In the process she served as an inspiration to all the "little people" working in Hollywood and forced to toil in cruel and demeaning stereotypes.
Born on May 28, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Zelda was the youngest of three children and the only "little person" in the family. Her childhood and teenage years were decidedly difficult in terms of coping with her "interesting variation," which was caused by a pituitary gland deficiency. With no designs on acting at the time, she went the normal route of college and received a scholarship to study at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned her degree in bacteriology and worked for a number of years as a lab technician in blood banks.
In 1978, Zelda, in a pursuit of something more creative in her life, abandoned her cushy but mundane job and threw herself completely into acting. She made her movie debut as one of the little people in the Chevy Chase slapstick comedy Under the Rainbow (1981).
It all came together so quickly with her second film Poltergeist (1982) in the scene-stealing role of Tangina, the saucy, self-confident, prune-faced "house cleaner" with the whispery, doll-like voice who is brought in to rid a suburban home of demonic possession. Co-writer/producer Spielberg claims he designed the psychic role specifically for a "little person". The film became an instant summertime hit and Zelda created absolute magic and wonderment with the testy role, receiving some of the movie's best reviews. The character actress went on to appear in the two "Poltergeist" sequels. The "Poltergeist" movie projects were eventually dubbed "cursed" due to the untimely deaths of some of its performers, particularly two of the three children of film parents Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. 22-year-old Dominique Dunne was slain in 1982 by a jealous ex-boyfriend only a few months after the first film's release, and angelic little Heather O'Rourke, age 12, died of an intestinal obstruction just months before Poltergeist III (1988) made it to the screen.
Although Zelda would not find a role quite up to the standards and popularity of Tangina, her subsequent career remained surprisingly active with a number of weird parts woven into both comedies and chillers -- often variations of her eccentric Tangina role. She played a mental patient in the Frances Farmer biopic Frances (1982), which showcased Jessica Lange in the Oscar-nominated title role; a squeaky-shoed organist in John Hughes sweet-sixteen comedy classic Sixteen Candles (1984) co-starring "Brat Pack"ers Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall; the demented mom in the gruesome, Spanish-made horror-thriller Anguish (1987) [aka Anguish], which has since reached cult status; a mentor witch in the comic fantasy Teen Witch (1989); a hermit in a National Lampoon-based slapstick Last Resort (1994/II) (V); a betting clerk in the sci-fi adventure Timemaster (1995); an ill-fated nun in the thriller Little Witches (1996), and; a theatre director in the flick Critics and Other Freaks (1997).
Into the millennium she made some odd, slapdash appearances in such minor fare as Maria & Jose (2000), Wishcraft (2002), Cages (2005)_, Angels with Angles (2005), Unbeatable Harold (2006) and Southland Tales (2006). In her last film, she furthered her horror icon status with a small cameo in the slim-budgeted indie Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) that also featured Robert Englund of "Freddy Krueger" fame.
Zelda also found an "in" doing voiceovers, her doll-like tones ideal for cartoons and such, and in commercials promoting such items as Skittles candy. She enjoyed extended popularity on TV with a regular series role on the first couple of seasons of "Picket Fences" (1992). Her character later was killed off in a freakish accident (fell into a freezer!). In her last years she narrated, and "Exorcist" child star Linda Blair hosted, TV's "The Scariest Places on Earth" (2000). The actress also appeared on stage in such productions as "Deathtrap" (as a psychic, of course), "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Suddenly, Last Summer," "The Slab Boys" and "Black Comedy". She also appeared as Yente in a production of "Fiddler on the Roof".
The actress gained additional attention and respect, if not popularity (her career suffered for a time as a result), as an early and outspoken HIV/AIDS activist. As the poster mom for AIDS awareness, she valiantly appeared in a series of maternal newspaper/billboard advertisements imploring her gay son to practice safe sex. The series of ads ran from the mid-to-late 1980s.
A couple of months before her death on January 27, 2010, Zelda suffered a heart attack. Complications set in (kidney and lung failure) and she passed away at age 76 in a Los Angeles hospital.
High pitched raspy voice
During the filming of Poltergeist III (1988), she was doing a photo shoot when she paused and lurched. Director Gary Sherman was present and asked her what was wrong, she responded with a comment like "I don't know, was just a jolt. I'm fine." Several minutes later Sherman was pulled aside and told they would have to let Rubenstein go from the film -- her mother had just died. After developing the film from the photo shoot, it was discovered that every photo had come out fine, except one, which had an inexplicable cloud of light clouding into the photo from Rubenstein's left, covering half of her with a semi-transparent haze. Rubenstein said she knew the jolt had to have been her mother's passing - she said they always had a particularly strong bond, in a way some identical twins have. Sherman, who had witnessed it, agrees it could not have been anything else. Both Rubenstein and Sherman were already very well aware of the tragic events which had plagued the film series.
Attended the University of California and the University of Pittsburgh.
Was one of the first celebrity AIDS advocates.
Her agent was Eric Stevens.
Hospitalized in December, 2009 in Los Angeles after two of her major organs failed.
She formed the non-profit Michael Dunn Memorial Repertory Theatre Company in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. It was named after the late Oscar-nominated actor, also a little person and highly successful on film and TV. The membership included actors whose height ranged from 3'8" to 4/6".
She attended the first AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Walk in 1985.
[on her decision to become an actress] I had to do something creative. It was an internal feeling that I was sabotaging myself.
[on negative portrayals of little people in movies] It's absolutely despicable. You're not an actor if you're just a person that fits into a cute costume. You're a prop.
Little people are societally handicapped. They have about two minutes to present themselves as equals -- and if they don't take advantage of that chance, then people fall back on the common assumption that "less' is less.
[her advice to fellow little people thespians] Become an actor and your world will get much bigger.
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