British talk show host Michael Parkinson once introduced a young rising star on his show as such:
The critics spend as much time discussing her physical attributes as assessing her acting ability. One called her an "amorous boa constrictor." Others have called her "sensual," "graceful," and the final accolade, and I quote, "She's especially telling in projecting sluttish eroticism." She is Ms. Helen Mirren.
That monologue is only the beginning of a painfully sleazy interview in which Parkinson grills Mirren for some 15 minutes about her "equipment," her rumored penchant for "fairground men," and questions whether her sexy image stood in the way of her success as an actress.
"You are, in quotes, a serious actress," Parkinson told Mirren in the 1975 interview, recently resurfaced by The Huffington Post. "Do you find that what could be best described as your 'equipment' in fact hinders you in that pursuit?"
The then-30-year-old Mirren responded with aplomb:
I can't think that can necessarily be true. I mean what a crummy performance if people are obsessed with the size of your bosoms more than anything else. I would hope that the performance and the play and the living relationship between all the people on the stage and all the people in the audience overcome such boring questions.
As well as she handled herself back then, Parkinson's questions left a mark. Decades later, Mirren recalled that interview with distaste.
"Outrageous," she once called it. "That's the first talk show I'd ever done. I was terrified. I watched it and I actually thought, bloody hell! I did really well. I was so young and inexperienced. And he was such a fucking sexist old fart. He was. He denies it to this day that it was sexist, but of course he was."
Mirren returned to Parkinson's show again in 2006 to talk about her role in The Queen, and didn't shy away from calling him out. "This was a problem the first time we met, he had to talk about my breasts," she told the audience. "And here we are again, full circle... I hated you. I thought you were a sexist person for mentioning my breasts, and also you didn't dare say the word 'breasts.'"
Sexism in the media still manifests itself in many different ways — just look at the coverage of female Olympians — but that so many today are appalled by this interview attests to how much things have changed in the decades since.