Wednesday night marks the premiere of ‘Sunset Daze’ (10/9c), We TV’s new reality series trailing a group of sexy seniors living – and drinking, and having sex (!) – in an Arizona retirement community. It’s this fun-loving and somewhat bawdy attitude that’s resulted in ‘Daze’ being dubbed the “Geriatric ‘Jersey Shore.’” And although these elders are tan and ready to party, the comparison to the guidos and the guidettes of JS makes one of the show’s stars, Gail Leibowitz, balk. “We’re smarter and we’re more sophisticated,” Leibowitz says dismissively.
Leibowitz, a high-energy “70-something” New York native (with the accent to prove it), is a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor who now spends most of her time working in the local theater and hanging out with her son, the hairstylist responsible for her bright red take on the Snooki poof, or in her words, her “signature flip.” It’s a remarkable ‘do Leibowitz is loathe to change. “I’ll have red hair and the flip ’til I die,” she admits.
Below, Leibowitz talks about what drove her to be a part of the show, her desire to be a soap star, and why she thinks no one should be afraid of growing old.
You are very cagey about revealing your age. You only say “70-something.”
It’s not important. I think age is very irrelevant. You can waterboard me, you can torture me, its 70+. I’m never never giving it up. Nobody knows but my son, and nobody will ever know but my son.
What is it that drew you to this show?
I want to be a star! Why not? I want to be famous.
How did you find out about it?
They came to my community and someone said ‘Why don’t you talk to Gail, because she’s in the theater.’ Then they came and talked to me, and I guess I must have impressed them.
Have you seen ‘Jersey Shore?‘
To tell you the truth, I haven’t. I don’t watch those reality shows, but I’ve heard they’re pretty raucous. They’re young people. Maybe their libidos are a little out of whack. They do what they want to do, and we do what we want to do. We’re having fun.
In your opinion, why do you think it’s so taboo to talk about older people and their sex lives?
What we do is not what the younger people do. We do our own thing.
Why do you think that hasn’t been portrayed before?
No one’s got the guts to do it. I think this WE Channel had the guts to do that. I think it’s going to be very innovative. I think people are going to think ‘Hey! I was so afraid of retirement. I was going to sit and read a book, sit by the pool, or talk about a doctor and operations.’ That’s not what we do here.
Why do you think everyone believes older people don’t have sex?
Well, I don’t know about that. That’s the way it’s portrayed. Maybe it’s because of TV. Older people with medicine commercials, and osteoporosis and diabetes. There are some people who have that but it’s not most of the population. We do have lives, a lot of people have grandchildren. I hope that this will cure that misconception of older people. You don’t have to be bored when you retire. You can’t live your life in fear. There are some places in this country where you can come and have a second life.
Did you have any reservations about putting yourself out there like that?
No. If its fun, why not? Fame is wonderful. I love it.
How have you been reaping the benefits of fame so far?
Oh my God. I’ve been getting calls from everyone. Everyone comes over to me and says ‘Wow, I saw you on TV.’ It’s wonderful. I love being recognized. That’s why I have red hair and a flip. You can always pick me out in a crowd.
What does it mean to be famous from this show?
I hope we get picked up for a second season. Maybe I can get on a soap. The opportunities are endless once you’ve made a success at something and people see it and like you and want to see more of you. That’s success to me.
Why is this happening at this point in your life and not earlier?
Well, when I was young I was a little shy and I didn’t take the opportunities that I could have had. Not that I didn’t work in the business, but I didn’t sing, I got smaller jobs. Then I was raising my son and I couldn’t travel. It’s difficult when you’re a single mom. I did as much as I could while working a full-time job. Now I’m free so I can do what I want.
What soap would you want to be on?
The Young and the Restless! I tape it every day. I want to be on it.
What’s the best thing about retirement?
Having the time to do what you want to do and not worry about getting caught up in the everyday, going to work, the pressure of work. The pressure of having to be someplace every day, I have more freedom to do the things I love. I think I’m more of a relaxed person, although most people don’t think I am.
Walk me through a typical day.
I have a dog so I can’t sleep too late. I get up about 7, and my day is filled with appointments, so many things. I don’t go to bed til 10. That’s late here, you know.
Do you feel like you are sort of an anomaly in the community?
Everybody does their own thing and I can’t speak for everybody. Maybe we’re a little more animated and out there? I don’t know. It’s a very culturally diverse community. I know the people I meet are like me, and going places, and doing things. It’s a live community.
Your son is openly gay. How did you react when he came out to you?
Well it is what it is. I love him and his lifestyle is his lifestyle and he’s happy and he’s healthy, and that’s all I care about.
And he knows how to style a good flip.
Yeah! He’s a hairdresser. No one can do this flip but him. Think of the money I save! I just love him. I’m glad he chose to be a hairdresser.