Nearly two decades ago, Riley Weston was doing pretty well for a 19-year-old. In 1998, she was a staff writer for the show Felicity, brought on to provide a uniquely youthful perspective to the show about pretty Dean & Deluca coffee-guzzling college kids in New York City, and had just signed a $500,000 deal with Disney to produce TV shows over the next two years. Entertainment Weekly put her on their “100 Most Creative People in Entertainment” list, where she boldly claimed “in many ways, I am Felicity.”
But Weston was not the wunderkind everyone thought she was. She was actually a youthful-looking 32, not 19. After Entertainment Tonight began working on a segment about Weston, the show discovered she was lying about her age and had even changed her name from Kimberlee Kramer. “In my desperation to find work as an actress, I adopted an age appropriate for my physical appearance,” Weston wrote in a statement published in the New York Times. “I could not be one age in the acting world and another in the writing world, so I chose to maintain the ruse.”
Because it’s the summer of scamming, I’ve been thinking about Weston and how she scammed Hollywood (more specifically, J.J. Abrams) into believing she was a teen. It’s the sort of story that plays out in movies or TV shows like Younger or Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead or Never Been Kissed rather than real life; these shows preach the fantasy that a really good makeover and new wardrobe can make anyone 10 to 20 years younger. At the time, Weston’s lie was scandalous—she lost both her job on Felicity and her Disney deal. And while she was effectively stealing the job from, you know, an actual teenager, in retrospect I respect it.
In an industry where women are repeatedly cast as love interests opposite men twice their age, or denied roles for being too old, and one of the biggest discrimination settlements occurred in television for writers over 40, Weston’s lie doesn’t seem so strange. “You’re going to do whatever you have to do and say whatever you have to say to get them to see you,” Weston told the Los Angeles Times in 1998.
Frankly, it can be hard to figure out what age you have to be, as a woman, to get people to actually see you and not your age. In Weston’s case, she was a Young writer until she was revealed to be an Old writer and nowhere in between did just being a Writer seem possible, though I suspect men have an easier time in nabbing that distinction. Every time I see a 30 Under 30 list, I’m reminded that to many, one’s worth and talent is determined by how little time you’ve been alive, a dismal reality for those like myself who are interested in working past 29. Thirty-five is the new “middle-age,” after all!
Felicity and Disney may have thought they wanted a 19-year-old voice, but what they admired in reality was the voice of a 32-year-old that they could sell as a 19-year-old. What Weston did, as ridiculous as it was, was not just a scam against Felicity, but sort of a scam against aging. She briefly time-traveled back to the age when society found her most compelling and stayed there for a spell, reaping the rewards that people were more than quick to give her. The rest of the “adults” on the Felicity team were pretending to be 18-year-olds every day in the writers room too, after all, but only one of them was weird enough to turn it into reality.