Zelda Rubinstein

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Zelda Rubinstein
Zelda Rubinstein, 1985.jpg
Rubinstein in 1985
Zelda May Rubinstein

May 28, 1933
DiedJanuary 27, 2010(2010-01-27) (aged 76)
Alma mater
Occupation(s)Actress, human rights activist
Years active1958–2010

Zelda May Rubinstein[1] (May 28, 1933[2] – January 27, 2010) was an American actress and human rights activist, known as eccentric medium Tangina Barrons in the Poltergeist film series.[3] Playing "Ginny", she was a regular on David E. Kelley's Emmy Award-winning television series Picket Fences for two seasons. She also made guest appearances in the TV show Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996), as seer Christina, and was the voice of Skittles candies in their long-running "Taste the Rainbow" ad campaign. Rubinstein was also known for her outspoken activism for little people and her early participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS.[4]

Early life[edit]

Rubinstein was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 28, 1933, to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland, Dolores and George Rubinstein.[5][6] She was the youngest of three children and the only short-statured person in her family (she has been incorrectly[citation needed] referred to as a dwarf).[7] Rubinstein did not become comfortable with her short stature until she was an adult.[7] In a 1992 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Rubinstein told the newspaper that she "had a rough childhood, [but] I became very verbally facile... I learned to meet everyone head-on."[7]

She stood just 4 feet 3 inches (1.30 m) tall[8] due to a deficiency of the anterior pituitary gland, which produces growth hormone. Commenting in 2002 on the challenges of being a very short-statured person, Rubinstein said, "Midgets are societally handicapped. They have about two minutes to present themselves as equals—and if they don’t take advantage of that chance, then people fall back on the common assumption that 'less' is less."[9]

Rubinstein won a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor's degree in bacteriology and became a sister of the national sorority Phi Sigma Sigma.[7][10] She moved to Berkeley, California, at the age of 25,[5] studied at the University of California, Berkeley,[8] and worked as a medical lab technician at blood banks.[7]

Acting career[edit]

Rubinstein in the film Poltergeist II: The Other Side

In 1978, Zelda decided to pursue an acting career. She studied acting at the University of California. Poltergeist was her first major film role.

Film critic Pauline Kael, who essentially dismissed Poltergeist as an "entertaining hash", held special praise for Rubinstein's portrayal of the psychic Tangina, saying she "gives the movie new life and makes a large chunk of it work."[11]

She remained active in film and television thereafter, frequently portraying various psychic characters, such as her appearance on Jennifer Slept Here. She also narrated the horror television series Scariest Places on Earth, which aired in the U.S. on ABC Family and in Canada on YTV.[7]

Rubinstein's other minor/major film roles included Sixteen Candles, Under the Rainbow, Cages, Teen Witch, The Wildcard, Southland Tales and National Lampoon's Last Resort. She also contributed voice-over work for TV including Hey Arnold!, and The Flintstones. She made numerous guest appearances on network TV shows, including Caroline in the City, Martin, Mr. Belvedere, and had a starring role as Ginny Weedon in the TV series Picket Fences. Her character there was killed off in typical off-beat fashion, by falling into a freezer early in the third season. She also appeared in an episode of Tales From The Crypt in which she played the mother of a girl who has been dead for 40 years.

She also starred in two different roles on Santa Barbara in 1984 and in 1990.

Beginning in 1999, she did voiceovers in television starting with the Fox Family reality TV show Scariest Places on Earth, commercials promoting movies such as Lady in the Water, and products including Skittles candy. Her last film role came in 2007 when she made a cameo appearance in the horror film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. She also appeared in a cameo as herself at the Revenge of the Mummy ride in Universal Studios Florida on the screens which shows various actors from the films warning the people to leave, telling them about the curse of Imhotep.

Human rights and activism[edit]

Rubinstein became active in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 1984. She appeared in a series of advertisements, directed towards gay men specifically, promoting safer sex and AIDS awareness.[4] Rubinstein did so at risk to her own career, especially so shortly after her rise to fame, and admitted later that she did "pay a price, career-wise." "I lost a friend to AIDS, one of the first public figures that died of AIDS," the actress said in an interview with The Advocate. "I knew it was not the kind of disease that would stay in anybody's backyard. It would climb the fences, get over the fences into all of our homes. It was not limited to one group of people."[12] She attended the first AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Walk.[13]


Rubinstein died in Los Angeles, California, on January 27, 2010. She was 76. Eric Stevens, Rubinstein's agent for four years, said the actress had never recovered from a mild heart attack that she had had several months earlier, which he said had left her a patient at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles. "She had several pre-existing conditions that she had been dealing with for years, and unfortunately they began to overtake her," Stevens said. Stevens also said that per Rubinstein's request, no funeral would be held.[12]



List of film credits
Year Title Role Notes
1979 Americathon Act
1981 Under the Rainbow Iris
1982 Poltergeist Tangina Barrons Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1982 Frances Mental Patient Credited as Zelda Rubenstein
1983 A Chip of Glass Ruby Daughter
1984 Sixteen Candles Organist
1986 Poltergeist II: The Other Side Tangina Barrons Nominated-Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1987 Anguish Alice Pressman, the Mother Alternative title: Angustia
1988 Poltergeist III Tangina Barrons Nominated-Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated-Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1989 Teen Witch Madame Serena Alcott
1991 Guilty as Charged Edna
1994 National Lampoon's Last Resort Old Hermit Alternative titles: Last Resort, National Lampoon's Scuba School
1995 Timemaster Betting Clerk
1996 Lover's Knot Woman in Clinic
1996 Little Witches Mother Clodah
1997 Mama Dolly Mama Dolly
1997 Critics and Other Freaks Theatre Director
1998 Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights Princess Shalazar
1999 Frank in Five Waitress
2000 Maria & Jose Doctor
2002 Wishcraft Medical Examiner
2004 The Wild Card Mrs. Stanfield Direct-to-DVD release
2005 Cages Liz
2005 Angels with Angles Zelda the Angel
2006 Unbeatable Harold Bunny
2006 Southland Tales Dr. Katarina Kuntzler
2006 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon Mrs. Collinwood Cameo
2014 Strange Matters Agnes Sampson Posthumous release (final film role)
List of television credits
Year Title Role Notes
1980 The Flintstone Comedy Show Atrocia Frankenstone (Voice) 1 episode
1983 Jennifer Slept Here 1 episode
1983 Matt Houston Flower Girl 1 episode
1984 Whiz Kids Madame Zerleena 1 episode
1984 Santa Barbara Mental Patient 1 episode
1986 ABC Weekend Special Ralph's Mother 1 episode
1987 The Tortellis 1 episode
1987 Faerie Tale Theatre Old Woman 1 episode
1987 Reading Rainbow Herself (Voice) 1 episode
1987 Sable Sister Glory 1 episode
1990 Santa Barbara Gladys Bittleworth, ghost psychic 5 episodes
1990 Mr. Belvedere Murphy 1 episode
1991 Darkwing Duck Voice 1 episode
1991 The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw Butterfingers O'Malley Television movie
1992 Stormy Weathers Rosamund Television movie
1992 Tales from the Crypt Nora 1 episode
1992–1994 Picket Fences Ginny Weedon 44 episodes
1993 Acting on Impulse Nosy Lady Television movie
1996 Poltergeist: The Legacy Christina 1 episode
1997 Martin Nurse Froyd 1 episode
1997 Chock 2 - Kött Mother Television movie
1998 Caroline in the City Phyllis 1 episode
1999 Hey Arnold! Patty's Mother (Voice) 1 episode
2000 The Pretender Pawn shop lady 1 episode
2000–2006 Scariest Places on Earth Narrator 41 episodes
2001 The Flintstones: On the Rocks Dr. Schwartzen Quartz (Voice) Television movie


  1. ^ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VM8Q-1MF[bare URL]
  2. ^ McLellan, Dennis (2010-01-27). "Zelda Rubinstein, who played psychic in 'Poltergeist', dies at 76". kdvr.com. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 27 January 2010.
  3. ^ Obituary London Independent, April 22, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Broverman, Neal (January 27, 2010). "Poltergeist Star and HIV Activist Zelda Rubinstein Dies at Age 77". Shewired.com. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Rizzo, Frank (2010-02-02). ""Poltergeist"'s Zelda Rubinstein Dies; Starred in Hartford Project". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on 2013-01-02. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  6. ^ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KQ6J-4H7[bare URL]
  7. ^ a b c d e f McLellan, Dennis (2010-01-28). "Zelda Rubinstein dies at 76; actress played psychic in 'Poltergeist'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 30, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  8. ^ a b Fox, Margalit (2010-01-29). "Zelda Rubinstein, 76, 'Poltergeist' Actress". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  9. ^ Thomas-Matej, Elisabeth (2002). "What's in a Diagnosis? A Medical Biography of Michael Dunn". NCTC.net. Retrieved 2008-06-08.
  10. ^ "Zelda Rubinstein, Iota - University of Pittsburgh". Phisigmasigma.org. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  11. ^ Kael, Pauline (2011) [1991]. 5001 Nights at the Movies. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 588. ISBN 978-1-250-03357-4.
  12. ^ a b "'Poltergeist' actress dies at age 76". CNN. January 28, 2010.
  13. ^ Actress Zelda Rubinstein taken off life support : LGBT | POV

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