‘This House Is Clean’

Zelda Rubinstein
May 28, 1933-January 27, 2010

As the eccentric medium Tangina Barrons attempting to cleanse the Freeling family house of the ghosts that have kidnapped young daughter Carol Anne in the 1982  horror classic Poltergeist, Zelda Rubinstein famously uttered the words “This house is clean,” which has since become a catchphrase to summarize the conclusion of all manner of personal, political and cultural fiascos. But Ms. Rubinstein, at four feet, three inches in height, stood far taller than her physical height. In the mid-‘80s she was in the forefront of the AIDS public awareness campaign (one website dubbed her “the poster mother” of the AIDS awareness movement), and throughout her life she was an indefatigable advocate for the rights of little people.

This past December, David Taffet, of www.dallasvoice.com, reported that Ms. Rubinstein had been in Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles for a month suffering from kidney and lung failure and had been taken off life support. In early January came word that she had rallied and might recover fully. However, on January 27 her agent, Eric Stevens, announced her death, saying she had recently suffered a heart attack.

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Ms. Rubinstein made her film debut in in the 1981 comedy Under the Rainbow and went on to roles in Sixteen Candles, Southland Tales and the acclaimed, oddball TV show Picket Fences. She appeared in both Poltergeist sequels, reprising the role that made her a fan favorite and horror film icon. Sometimes the movie character and the real person seemed blurred in fans’ minds. "Shortly after the movie came about a lady in market where I shop came up to me and said, 'please, please, come to my house! Something's wrong with it!',” Ms. Rubinstein related of her post-Poltergeist fame.

‘Tell her to go to the light!’: Zelda Rubinstein as the eccentric medium Tangina Barrons in Poltergeist

In 2007, during the Poltergeist 25th anniversary celebration, which was marked by release of a special edition DVD, she revealed that her scenes in the movie were directed not by Tobe Hooper, credited as director, but by Steven Spielberg, who co-wrote and co-produced the film. Asked by Creepy L.A.—The Los Angeles Halloween Blog what it was like to work with Hooper, she shrugged. "I don't think I can,” she said, “because during the six days I worked Steven Spielberg primarily took over that helm in my scenes. I don't know what happened the other days."

She added that Hooper was on set the full time and set up every shot, but each time Spielberg would step in and make changes. "What he wants to show and say is what gets up there (on screen) the way he wants it. There's no deviation from that."

Though she laughed off any suggestions that she might be psychic herself, she did admit to being acutely sensitive to unseen forces around her, pointing as proof of this to an experience she had in a car accident during the filming of Poltergeist: "Just as the two cars impacted, I felt my deceased father reach in through the roof of my VW Beetle and grab me like a puppy by the back of the neck and pull me out, and after the collision, set me back down."

Rest in peace, Zelda. This house is clean.

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