Senior Sex Symbols Steal the Screen

Sure, Paris can pull off a miniskirt and Scarlett can rock short shorts. But you don't have to be in your 20s to be hot in Hollywood.

Some might say that no one does a plunging V-neck justice like 61-year-old Helen Mirren.

Mirren, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar today, is one of many aging Hollywood heavyweights proving that sex symbol status isn't just for kids. With a nod from the Academy under her belt, Mirren's at the top of her profession and still winning red carpet raves for her sexy, yet classic style.

And she's in good company: along with fellow Oscar nominees Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, a generation of older stars are redefining what it means to be seductive and successful.

On the red carpet, Mirren, Streep and their peers, including Sophia Loren, Susan Sarandon and Candice Bergen, dazzle in couture gowns and flawless hair and makeup. But with these icons, unlike their younger counterparts, sex appeal isn't just about designer dresses and StairMaster-toned thighs.

"There's something incredibly sexy about a Helen or Meryl who are the antidote to the Britneys and Parises --they are people of real substance and drive," said Michael Musto, longtime gossip columnist and author of the new book, "La Dolce Musto."

The 'Silver Foxes' Score

While pretty young things come and go, the screen's senior sirens survive because of their talent.

"A lot of the younger counterparts are going to fall by the wayside," Musto said. "These are women who've survived, so therefore, they exude a sense of accomplishment. They wouldn't still be there if it was a matter of looks. They've got real talent."

The older actresses can command attention and acclaim. After years of seeing younger starlets walk off with Oscar hardware, Mirren is the odds-on favorite to win for Best Actress for her headlining role in "The Queen."

"This year, they're not just emblems of class -- Helen Mirren is a lock to win… It's the biggest lock since Mother Theresa's chastity belt," Musto said. "Best Actress has traditionally become an award for younger people -- Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank, et cetera. This is a great stride where the Academy is finally not afraid to pick someone of substance."

Clark Collis, a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly who recently interviewed Mirren, Streep and Judy Dench, believes Streep's role in "The Devil Wears Prada" and Mirren's in "The Queen" show that the industry is willing to cast older actresses in key parts.

"In an earlier age, once an actress passed 40 there was a sense that they moved into character parts. Both 'The Queen' and 'The Devil Wears Prada' are character parts, but clearly both of those actresses are capable of being very attractive on screen," he said. "It's the first time in a while that people have had the 'silver foxes' in these kind of roles."

Classy and Unscarred

Of course, in today's celebrity culture, appearance reigns supreme, even if function trumps form. Mirren, for one, doesn't let chronology hinder her appeal.

Musto says Mirren has played her cards right on the red carpet this year, appearing in a series of low-cut yet tasteful gowns.

"She shows cleavage and I think that's a smart move. She's winning all these awards for playing a stuffy, buttoned-down Queen Elizabeth, and she's anxious to show the world who she really is, so she comes off classy, but not too sexy," he said.

Contrary to the celebrity trend of nipping, tucking and lifting every bit of unwanted skin, Hollywood's older sex symbols may be better off avoiding the knife.

"There's certainly a sexiness and an attractiveness in being comfortable in your skin -- the skin that's still in the same region of your body as it was when you started out," Collis said.

By not overhauling their time-worn facades, the "silver foxes" retain the features that made them appealing in the first place. They stand out from the pack of aging celebrities desperate to look younger.

As for surgery, there's no way to know which of the older stars have taken the plunge, and they're certainly not telling. But Musto said whatever they've done, it's not major.

"They haven't tampered with their looks in a way that makes them unnatural," he said. "It's a way to remain individual. Everyone who's had surgery seems to go to the same doctor, or at least it looks that way."

Starlets, Take a Cue

What do Hollywood's older sex symbols have that many younger stars do not? Private lives, for one.

While it might be fun for young stars to see themselves splashed across the cover of sumpermarket tabloids, that fleeting public fancy doesn't necessarily bode well for career longevity.

"We don't know an awful lot about their private lives. Meryl Streep was never photographed barhopping through Hollywood," Collis said. "One does wonder if that mystique contributes to their attractiveness and their ability to retain it."

But not every member of Hollywood's younger generation is tabloid trash.

Entertainment Weekly's Collis pointed out three young women poised to become senior sex symbols: Emily Blunt, who recently won a Golden Globe for the TV movie "Gideon's Daughter"; Rachel Weisz, who has made the transition from arm-candy roles to serious parts; and Reese Witherspoon, whose role in "Walk the Line" won her the Best Actress Oscar last year.

As for the actors and actresses splashed across tabloid covers on a weekly basis, Musto advised they take a cue from the grand dames of the Hollywood game.

"Learn to say 'no' to certain things. You don't have to do every role that's offered, you don't have to attend every party you're invited to," he said. "You don't see Helen and Meryl running around at 3 a.m. Pace yourself, worry about your health and make some cautious career choices -- don't just do whatever's offered to you because you're hot."