Actress, 40, sues after her age is revealed

The film website IMDB.com has set the stage for one of the more surreal legal showdowns in Hollywood's courtroom history, promising to contest a 40-year-old actress's efforts to prevent her date of birth from becoming public. "[Her] attempt to manipulate the federal court system so she can censor IMDB's display of her birth date and pretend to the world that she is not 40 years old is selfish, contrary to the public interest and a frivolous abuse of this court's resources," its lawyers argued last week.

The comments came a month after the woman, who is using the alias Jane Doe, sought to sue IMDB for having revealed her age without seeking consent. After her age appeared on the site, she claimed to have experienced a sudden drop in the number of roles being offered to her.

"If one is perceived to be 'over the hill' (ie, approaching 40), it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work," the woman's lawsuit argued. On that basis, she wanted compensation of no less than $1m. In its legal filing last week, IMDB sought to compel the woman to reveal her name if she wants to continue the case.

But the actress, from Texas, is not fighting a lone battle. Acting unions say that many of their members believe their careers have also been harmed by IMDB's policy. "An actor's actual age is irrelevant to casting," they said. "What matters is the age range that an actor can portray. That reality has been upended by the development of IMDB as an industry standard used in casting offices."

In years gone by, Hollywood stars went to great lengths to hide their ages. Gracie Allen, who was born in 1895 but whose birth certificate was lost in the San Francisco earthquake, claimed to be born in 1906. More recently, Sandra Bullock allowed the year of her birth to be listed as either 1965 or 1967. But Vanity Fair revealed it was 1964.

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