July 6, 2010

USA: Her 110th Birthday Is One To Savor

SAN DIEGO, California / Union Tribune / July 6, 2010

By Diane Bell, Union Tribune Columnist

Today marks not just the 110th birthday of Frederica Maas, but her first day as a supercentenarian.

She is the second-oldest person in California on record at the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group, which corroborates birth data and age documentation. Soledad Mexia, also 110 and a San Diego resident, is nearly 11 months older. Institute researcher Robert Young says there very likely are other supercentenarians living in our state, but they haven’t come to the group’s attention and often don’t until their deaths.

Meanwhile, Maas, known as Freddie to her friends, is savoring her moment. She requested a chocolate cake for today’s party at the Country Villa health care center in La Mesa, where she has lived for the past eight years. Like many super seniors, she has her good days and her not-so-good days. Though she is dependent on a wheelchair and needs physical assistance, her mind is still sharp.

She never had children, but will be joined today by a niece and her grandnephew, San Diegan Tony Tovar, and his family.

Maas lived a storied Hollywood past. She was a women’s libber in the 1920s before the term was coined. As a screenwriter, she worked on several silent movies starring “It Girl” Clara Bow, including “The Plastic Age” (1925) and “Dance Madness” (1926). Maas also worked for MGM on film projects that featured such stars as Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Norma Shearer and Erich von Stroheim.

She was still active on her 99th birthday when she published her autobiography, “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim,” in honor of the script she cowrote with her husband, Ernest, in 1947, that later showcased Betty Grable.

“I was born in a cold water railroad flat on 101st Street near Madison Avenue on July 6, 1900,” Maas wrote. “My mother was her own midwife with the help of my oldest sister, Vera, who was then 17. It was early afternoon. Papa was, of course, at biz. There was no time to call a doctor so mom delivered me herself. ‘Another girl,’ she said softly. ‘Your Papa will not like that. He wanted a son.’ ”

It didn’t take Maas long to prove, however, that she was strong-minded and could hold her own in a man’s world.

I interviewed Maas on her 99th birthday. She had a book signing session and a PBS interview scheduled that day. The next day she was heading to L.A. for an interview with film critic Leonard Maltin and an American Radio Network broadcast.

Today’s hallmark birthday comes on the heels of research published July 1 in the journal Science. Researchers at Boston University Medical Center have identified genes that helped them predict “exceptional longevity” with 77 percent accuracy.

In the interest of unlocking the secrets to long life and the aging process, Maas has authorized the University of Southern California’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to examine her brain after her death.

While she has taken good care of her health, Dr. Frank Kalmar, her San Diego physician, says the key to her longevity was her choice of grandparents. He adds, only partly tongue-in-cheek, that because she had no children she may also have been under less stress.

© Copyright 2010 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC

See earlier report about Frederica Maas