Stardom came late in life to Jean Hamilton, but she’s been loving every minute of it. At age 86, Jean won the role of Ethel in the Frank’s RedHot Sauce commercials, a sweet little senior whose famous line is “I put that [bleep] on everything!” Jean hadn’t acted since high school, and only auditioned for the part when an agent, who phoned her out of the blue, said the magic words: “It will be a new experience.”
“That was it,” says Jean. “I thought, at my age I have nothing to lose if I want to be a bit silly and give it a try!” To her surprise, less than a week after auditioning she got the role and was on a plane to New York. Eight years later, she’s still playing Ethel in TV and radio spots – work that’s led to other commercials as well as bit parts in movies. As an off-shoot, she gives talks at senior’s centres and community organizations.
While Jean could never have predicted such a serendipitous turn of events, she says her life has been full of “experiences that just happened,” and which, for the most part, have worked out for the best. Not that she hasn’t faced hardship, including two divorces and a three-time battle with cancer. In fact, when Jean was first diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 34, she wasn’t expected to survive. She defied that prediction, and while it’s hard to say exactly what made her beat the odds – she jokes that she’s “just too ornery to die” – perhaps it all comes down to her positive attitude towards life.
“You can live it, or you can exist. And I prefer to live,” she explains. “I’ve always felt that you have to get the most out of each day that you can, because you can’t really depend on tomorrow.”
Jean, who lives in North Vancouver, has always kept busy. Along with raising two children, she worked as an income tax assessor and social worker, and helped run her first husband’s business ventures. After retirement, she picked up small jobs to supplement her modest pension income, from housesitting and gardening to knitting and needlework.
“As long as you’re learning new things and adding to your life, I think that keeps you going,” she says. “That’s why Knowledge is so important to me. I can’t travel now the way I used to, but I can watch the programs about different places. And I love the British mysteries because I’ve read most of the books!”
Even when money was tight, Jean, who is in the Leadership Circle of donors, felt strongly about supporting Knowledge. “It’s absolutely necessary... I don’t know how you can watch a station and enjoy things without giving something back.”
Jean often tells people she meets at her talks that it’s important to stay involved. “Think outside the box a bit, and be open to new things. Even if you fall flat on your face, you’ve done it!”