Striving to Be a Good Person
"Don't worry 'bout a thing 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."
The popular reggae tune blares over the studio speakers, and Ellen DeGeneres' audience members are on their feet and boogying, waiting for the talk-show host and winner of 25 Emmy awards to emerge from backstage. But when she does, it is clear everything is not all right. It should be a great day. The night before, the United States elected a new president, whom Ellen vigorously supported. Her guest on the show today is actor Samuel L. Jackson, a 60-year-old African-American who grew up in the segregated South and is beside himself with happiness and wonder. But Ellen looks as though she's about to cry. That famous blinding smile is clearly forced. She is taking the passing of Proposition 8 in California -- the law that overturns the legality of gay marriage, and thus may call into question the validity of her own marriage to actress Portia de Rossi -- very, very hard.
We meet 48 hours later, on the porch of the Beverly Hills home the 51-year-old DeGeneres shares with de Rossi, her love of four years. Formerly owned by Jackie Collins and by comedienne Totie Fields, the expansive modern house is filled with art and antiques, including an enormous Warhol named Tennis Shoes that was bought to commemorate DeGeneres' sneaker obsession. The house smells delicious, a mixture of cedar and Southwestern pine, which I assume is some New Agey/relaxation/aromatherapy thing. "Um, not really," she says. "I just don't want the place to smell like the animals." At which point I notice an audience has gathered around us --three dogs and three cats, all rescues. DeGeneres has been an animal lover since childhood. They stare at DeGeneres as though she's the Second Coming. "Aw, don't worry, George is just loving you up," she says, as one of the cats attempts to gnaw off my hand.
Over a plate of fresh fruit, pumpkin muffins, and cinnamon-infused coffee, we discuss the events of the past few days. Like so many comedians, Ellen is at heart a serious woman; unlike most, she is neither angry nor communicating any need to be "on." Most days, she says, the thing she strives for is not to be funny or fabulous but to simply be "a good person. I work every day to try to get better and to treat people with kindness," she tells me. It's easy to believe her.
But in any case, the subject of the day is something she is a little less comfortable with: her singular fresh-faced beauty, which CoverGirl has recognized by making DeGeneres the spokesmodel for Simply Ageless, its new line of anti-aging foundation. Despite her glowing skin and cornflower-blue eyes, DeGeneres insists she is an unlikely choice for a beauty campaign. And though she's delighted to be considered pretty, she is thoughtful about what her looks mean. "To me it's sad to be defined by beauty, because it's something that goes away, and changes," she says. "If you're trying to chase that forever, you're in trouble." At the same time, DeGeneres adds, "as I've aged and matured, I just feel better about myself, more confident and more comfortable in my own skin. As that's happened, I think I look better than I've ever looked, because that's just what happens when you feel better about yourself."