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Jane Curtin shows us how far we’ve come

Jane Curt(left) appearing Oprah Winfrey’s show is taking hefor saying her “Saturday Night Live” co-star John Belushi sabotaged female writers

Jane Curtin (left), appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show, is taking heat for saying her “Saturday Night Live” co-star John Belushi sabotaged female writers on the show. | NBC photo

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Updated: May 18, 2011 12:26AM

It’s too bad they didn’t want to listen to Jane Curtin. What she was saying was pretty interesting.

The actress and comedian was on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on Tuesday along with several other past “Saturday Night Live” regulars — Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Tracy Morgan and Tina Fey. Curtin was one of the show’s original cast members.

The Emmy Award-winning Curtin, who went on to star in two popular sitcoms, “Kate & Allie” and “3rd Rock from the Sun,” tried to paint a picture of what it was like for a woman working in a man’s world in 1975.

When asked how she was treated on the show, Curtin recalled that for herself, the late Gilda Radner and Laraine Newman, things weren’t bad. Ah, but the female writers didn’t fare as well.

Curtin said John Belushi didn’t think women could write funny and he did his best to sabotage their efforts. If a female writer had written a piece for Belushi, she explained, “He would not read it in his full voice. He would whisper it.”

Now, the Belushi attitude is what’s getting a lot of buzz on the Internet. Online headlines are asking whether Belushi was a misogynist, and that’s not really the point of Curtin’s comments. This wasn’t said to besmirch a dead man’s reputation.

Curtin, 63, was trying to tell the audience that things were different then. She reminded them that 1975 was soon after the height of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s. So many women had flooded the workplace, and for a lot of men that took getting used to. Some of them worried that now, in addition to the other men they had to compete with in the work force, now there were these women. And in a situation like that, people don’t always behave well. Some men acted very poorly, and yet the women persevered.

That was Curtin’s point. It was nice to hear Fey say that by the time she was on “SNL,” there were a number of women on set in prominent positions to back up other women that what they thought was funny really was.

Curtin also told the audience that there she was, on the wildly popular “SNL,” and she couldn’t get approved for a credit card. Why? Because in 1975 women still had a hard time getting credit, even ones whose faces were on billboards and magazines.

That little nugget of information didn’t really have a chance to sink in because others on the panel started to joke about their bad credit.

Maybe, because the show was supposed to be about “SNL,” which is all about comedy, Winfrey kept things light. Or maybe, because she wanted a range of experiences, she couldn’t stop and pick up on what Curtin was saying.

I was sorry we didn’t get to hear more from Curtin. (Nudge, nudge, some other TV talk show needs to sit down with her.) And before folks start e-mailing me about “bitter feminists,” let me say there was no rancor in Curtin’s comments. She was plainly laying out the facts that this is how it was then.

Sometimes people — particularly young women — don’t realize how much things have changed. Are they perfect now? Of course not.

But Curtin’s message shows that attitudes and workplaces have progressed over the years. And that’s something worth remembering.

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