06/21/2013 11:45 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2013

In Praise of Older Women -- Hollywood Gets on Board With Maturity! Farewell to the Grand Actor James Gandolfini

"I'm not twenty-ish. I'm not thirty-ish. Three months ago I was forty years old. Forty. Four-O! That slipped out. I hadn't quite made up my to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I'd taken all my clothes off.""

So said Bette Davis in 1950's "All About Eve."

• Back in the good old days of movies--especially during World War II--women dominated the box-office.

And not necessary dewy young things, either. Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford and other powerful females represented the "new woman." Even Rita Hayworth, the great "Love Goddess," found her greatest role as "Gilda," a woman who seemed to live by her own rules. ("If I had been a ranch, they'd have named me the Bar Nothing," Rita says, torturing her ex, Glenn Ford.)

Of course, as soon as the war ended, real women were fired from the factories where they had happily, independently toiled to replace the man-shortage, and onscreen women were turned into giddy sex-symbols, or comforting, non-threatening wives and girlfriends.

But the decades have rolled on, and through various ups and downs, strong women are dominant again. I speak of such powerhouse actors as Meryl Streep...Jennifer Aniston...Sandra Bullock...Angelina Jolie...Cameron Diaz...Melissa McCarthy...Helen Hunt...Sally Field...Helen Mirren...Judy Dench...Vanessa Redgrave...Viola Davis...Nicole Kidman. Not one of them will ever see 39 again. And some will never see 60 again! (Miss Jolie is 38, to be fair and correct.)

But these women still have clout. They can command top salaries. The Hollywood Reporter recently told us that one reason so many mature actresses are enduring, is that Hollywood is failing to groom new stars. (Maybe all the young, sexy, talented unknowns are drifting toward television, with its reality programming, as an easy road to recognition?)

The supermarket tabloids and the weekly glossies and the gossip web sites tell us we should really care about the Kardashians or the casts of various "Real Housewives," or the innumerable starlets and pop singers who clutter up Twitter with their pointless ramblings.

But come on, wouldn't you really rather see what daring new project Nicole Kidman has taken on, or how hot Helen Mirren will look in "Red 2," mowing down bad guys?

Because for the life of me, I don't know and don't care who the hell Amanda Bynes is!

• I only met the great James Gandolfini once, backstage at the theater where he was doing "Carnage" and trying his best to get out the stage door with no fuss.

Frankly, I was terrified to meet him. I'd never known or written anything about him and I knew from his female costars of "The Sopranos" that he didn't suffer fools from the press gladly. (I do mean the talented Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco - two sweethearts!)

But Gandolfini stopped and shook hands. He was as cordial as could be while I congratulated him on his stage appearance as a quarrelsome suburban husband! I'll never forget him; it is impossible to turn away from the TV screen when he is on as Tony Soprano!

I was shocked, as is the world, when word came of his death. I hadn't realized he was so young! His burly physique and rough-hewn, "ordinary guy" features belied his youth. We've lost an actor would have gone on for decades, refining his image and talents. I saw him as the heir, kind of, to Ernest Borgnine, another loveable big guy who didn't fit the standard Hollywood leading man role. But Borgnine worked steadily until he was 90.

You will be missed in so many ways, Mr. Gandolfini.

• And the sad news just keeps on coming. One of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn--who created the great character of Mitch Rapp in a series of thrillers--has died at age 47. I knew Flynn was very ill, but one always hopes for a happy ending.

• "Strange But True," 'Gypsy,' 'Follies,' and even 'West Side Story' didn't win the Tony Award for Best Musical...Others can understand that 'Gypsy' would lose in 1959-1960 to 'The Sound of Music.' But how did 'Fiorello!' wind up in a tie with the Rodgers and Hammerstein hit--leaving 'Gypsy' to finish third at best?...And don't get anyone started in how the landmark musical 'Follies'lost to the far less distinguished 'The Gentlemen of Verona' in 1971-1972. You'll never hear the end of it."

These quotes appear on the first page of the Newark Star-Ledger's formidable theater critic Peter Filichia in his brand new book, which is fittingly all about the vagaries of the Antoinette Perry "Tony" awards. Since the Tonys happened only weeks ago, many have pondered its way and means and mysterious wins and losses.

Filichia's book is fittingly titled "Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks: A Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did not Win the Tony Award." It's a must read for theater experts and everybody who cares about Broadway. Out now from St. Martin's Press.

Inside, the critic, who is still doing his stuff, tells of the brilliance of some of our nearest and dearest, most loved,most hated, stupidest and most brilliant creators of the recent past. Like, for instance, how Arthur Laurents, despised by many, worked to make 'Gypsy' an enduring hit, hit, hit over many years.

This thing is just crammed with fabulous anecdotes and sets many a record straight or straightens out many a crooked story. Filichia tells, for instance of the vehemence of one Tony super voter who considering the brilliance of Nathan Lane in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" says: "We should deny Nathan even a nomination" - in a mean-spirited outburst that defies understanding.

Filichia ends his book considering the genius of Volatire's "Candide" by writing "Who would have thought that the first person to lose two successive Best Musical Tony races would be Leonard Bernstein?" I haven't read all of the middle of this book yet but I loved its end: "So who knows how many other Best Musical Tony losers will someday get new eyes to look at flaws and know how to fix them. (So that their works may be revived as hits!) Filichia goes on to tell how "A Funny Thing..." was dying in Washington tryouts.

Jerry Robbins told Stephen Sondheim he needed a new opening number to tell the audience it was about to see a "Comedy Tonight." This hit number changed the show from flop to Tony winner.

And another closing tale says: "Too bad that Bob Fosse didn't live to see the Best Revival Tony for 1996-97. What a shame that neither lead producer Robert Fryer nor star Gwen Verdon lived to see "Chicago" win best the Tony for Best Musical Revival and the Oscar for best picture."

This book is dynamite and Broadway history in the making!