To Zelda, with Love

By Savas Abadsidis

Zelda Rubinstein came into all of our lives as the savior of Carol Anne  and the Freeling family in the 1982 horror movie Poltergeist which left an indelible mark on pop culture and for many of us, our childhoods.

As the medium Tangina Barrons, she saved Carol Anne from malevolent spirits who had taken over the family’s home. The remarkable thing about Zelda’s screen persona was her ability to make that little voice and presence emanate something palpable. You could sense from her screen presence that on the earthly plane you were thankful she was that small because of all that potent heartfelt energy, emanating beyond Tobe Hooper’s direction and Spielberg special effects, even at that size, could blow you and everyone off the set.

She had that gift of simple presence on screen that didn’t need much artifice. You could reach out to touch the screen and feel what she felt. Diminutive and strong at the same time, she was an outspoken activist for little people and for HIV/AIDS at the height of the crisis when it wasn’t fashionable. Rubinstein became active in the fight against AIDS/HIV in 1984. She appeared in a series of advertisements directed towards gay men specifically, promoting safer sex and AIDS awareness. Rubinstein did so at risk to her own career, especially so shortly after her rise to fame, and admitted later that she did “pay a price, career-wise”. She attended the first AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Walk.

On December 29, 2009, it was reported that, after a month-long stay at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, her close companion and her family made the decision to take Rubinstein off life support due to both kidney and lung failure. She died yesterday at the age of 76.

I remember feeling in another life where I was an insecure geeky target of bullies, that if she came along she could save you from anyone, poltergeists, bullies and whatever the world threw at you. When she wrapped her arms around Carol Anne after pulling her out of the television–the doorway to a darkly sinister dimension–she wrapped her arms around a whole generation.  I’m terrible at eulogies, so let’s just say this: although little in person she was larger than life. She made all our lives a little richer, stranger, and more delightful.

Thanks, Zelda.  See you on the other side.

3 thoughts on “To Zelda, with Love”

  1. I remember coming across the safer sex ads she was part of when going through old issues of the Advocate for a book I was working on, and reading an interview they did with her, and being so touched even years after the fact. It was a bit like that feeling of seeing PFLAG in the Pride Parade, which still gets me every time.

  2. “Cross over, children. All are welcome. All are welcome.”

    Thanks for a heartfelt tribute to an indelible personality and sweet spirit.

  3. Savas,
    Thank you for the eloquent tribute. It is all to easy to let things pass without notice. Tragicallly, it is also easy to let people pass as though they were things. Your eulogy is not only a tribute to Zelda’s humanity. It is testimony to the Zelda Rubenstein potential in all of humanity. Each one of us can make a difference. Each one of us can distinguish ourselves against the virtural background noise that many mistake for reality. Thank you for helping us to remember what a real hero is.

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