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Zelda Rubinstein
Born May 28, 1933
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died January 27, 2010 (aged 76)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other name(s) Zelda Rubenstein
Occupation Actress
Years active 1980–2010

Zelda Rubinstein (May 28, 1933[1] – January 27, 2010) was an American actress and human rights activist, best known as eccentric medium Tangina Barrons in the movie Poltergeist (1982) and its sequels, Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), and Poltergeist III (1988). She also made guest appearances in the TV spin-off Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996), as a seer, Christina. Rubinstein was also known for her outspoken activism for little people and her early participation in the fight against HIV/AIDS.[2]


Early life

Rubinstein was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 28, 1933,[3] to Polish immigrant parents.[4] She was the youngest of three children and the only little person in her family.[3] Rubinstein did not become comfortable with her short stature until she was an adult.[3] 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."[3]

She stood just 4 feet 3 inches (130 cm)[5] 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, "Little People 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."[6]

Rubinstein won a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor's degree in bacteriology.[3] She moved to Berkeley, California, at the age of 25,[4], studied at the University of California, Berkeley,[5] and worked as a medical lab techinican at blood banks.[3]

Acting career

Rubinstein entered the film industry comparatively late, upon returning to the United States after living in London for several years. Poltergeist was her first major film role. She remained active in film and television from thereon, frequently portraying various psychic characters, such as her appearance on the show Ann Jillian show, 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.[3]

Rubinstein's other minor/major film roles included Sixteen Candles, 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. 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.

Since 1999, she did voiceovers in television starting with the groundbreaking reality Fox Family TV Show, Scariest Places On Earth, commercials promoting movies such as Lady in the Water and products including Skittles candy. Her most recent film role came in 2007 when she made a cameo appearance in the horror film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.

Human rights and activism

Rubinstein became active in the fight against AIDS/HIV in 1984. She appeared in a series of advertisements, directed towards gay men specifically, promoting safer sex and AIDS awareness.[2] 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". She attended the first AIDS Project Los Angeles AIDS Walk.[7]

Illness and death

On December 29, 2009, it was reported that, after a month-long stay at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, her close companion and her family made the decision to take Rubinstein off life support due to both kidney and lung failure.[8] On January 2, 2010, friends reported she was not near death, and was well on her way to recovery.[9] On January 27, 2010, Rubinstein died at Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Los Angeles.[1] She was survived by her daughter, Nann Lutz;[3] five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. [3]


Year Film Role Notes
1981 Under the Rainbow Iris
1982 Poltergeist Tangina Barrons Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
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
1987 Anguish Alice Pressman, the Mother Alternative title: Angustia
1988 Poltergeist III Tangina Barrons
1989 Teen Witch Madame Serena
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
Little Witches Mother Clodah
1997 Critics and Other Freaks Theatre Director
Mama Dolly Mama Dolly
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
Angels with Angles Zelda the Angel
2006 Unbeatable Harold Bunny
Southland Tales Dr. Katarina Kuntzler
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon Mrs. Collinwood
Year Title Role Notes
1980 The Flintstone Comedy Hour Atrocia Frankenstone (Voice) 1 episode
1983 Jennifer Slept Here 1 episode
Matt Houston Flower Girl 1 episode
1984 Whiz Kids Madame Zerleena 1 episode
Santa Barbara Mental Patient 1 episode
1986 ABC Weekend Special Ralph's Mother 1 episode
1987 The Tortellis 1 episode
Faerie Tale Theatre Old Woman 1 episode
Sable Sister Glory 1 episode
1990 Mr. Belvedere Murphy 1 episode
1991 Darkwing Duck Voice 1 episode
The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw Butterfingers O'Malley Television movie
1992 Stormy Weathers Rosamund Television movie
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
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 48 episodes
2001 The Flintstones: On the Rocks Psychiatrist (Voice) Television movie


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