It was only 12 degrees outside in Harvard Square on Feb. 4, but dangerously freezing temperatures didn’t stop die-hard Jennifer Cooldige fans from gathering on Mass Ave. to get a glimpse of the actress as she was honored with a parade as Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year. Fans glanced up and down the street, clutching themselves to stay warm, anxious to see her familiar blond waves and hear that unmistakable voice. Suddenly, the distinctly eerie harp melody and operatic yodeling of “The White Lotus” theme song could be heard in the distance, underpinned by an energetic EDM beat: Jennifer Coolidge was near.
Coolidge, who just won her first Golden Globe for her role as Tanya McQuoid in the hit HBO series “The White Lotus,” is the 73rd person to be named Woman of the Year by Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals. Coolidge was honored alongside actor Bob Odenkirk as Man of the Year. The Woman of the Year festivities included a parade through Harvard Square, a roast, a press conference, and her attendance at the Pudding’s staging of their show “Cosmic Relief.”
Jennifer Coolidge established herself as a Hollywood icon with her scene-stealing comedic roles in popular 2000s movies like “Legally Blonde, “American Pie,” and “A Cinderella Story.” But it was her role as Tanya McQuoid — the only recurring main character in Seasons 1 and 2 of Mike White’s “The White Lotus” — that recently skyrocketed her career to new heights and garnered her attention during awards season. Coolidge’s hilarious portrayal of the well-meaning but vacuous and bumbling millionaire Tanya has endeared her to a new legion of fans.
Some spectators braved serious wind chills to see Coolidge in the flesh, waiting expectantly on the street before the parade began; others emerged from J.P. Licks shocked to hear she was in the neighborhood — cries of ”No way!” and “Shut up!” were yelled in disbelief as they realized the actress was in their midst.
Several Harvard students were in attendance in addition to other residents from the Boston/Cambridge area.
“I think it's exciting, I actually just watched ‘White Lotus’ over break, and she’s in both seasons and she’s kind of the common element across the show. So I think because I just watched it, it's super relevant in my mind right now,” said Annika S. Huprikar ’24, who waited on the sidewalk with friends for the parade to start.
Coolidge coasted down the street in a convertible Bentley, surrounded by Hasty Pudding members wearing a variety of whimsical and colorful outfits. Dressed in a leopard fur coat and pink fuzzy hat, she waved graciously to the crowds surrounding her parade car. Patrons of Clover and students in the Smith Campus Center alike stopped what they were doing to gaze out the windows as the parade turned the corner onto Holyoke St., where it would end in front of Farkas Hall. Some fans held signs with adoring messages like “J. Cool U Rule.”
Later in the day, Coolidge was welcomed on stage at Farkas Hall for her honorary roast, in which she had to endure some pointed wisecracks and complete a few challenges in order to earn her Pudding Pot. For example, roasters Aidan Golub ’24 and Sarah Mann ’23 listed her characters from “American Pie,” “A Cinderella Story,” and “The Emoji Movie” as “iconic MILFS” — Miscast in Lackluster Films.
Her first task was to be the judge of a Jennifer Coolidge pageant, rating four different impersonators of herself on a scale from one to ten.
“Can they both be ones?” she asked after the first two impersonators came on stage, doing impressions of Coolidge in “Legally Blonde 2” and “A Cinderella Story.”
The fourth impressionist, Matthew Cole ’25, delivered the iconic line “I’m takin’ the dog, dumbass,” from “Legally Blonde.” The crowd screamed in approval, and even Coolidge herself couldn’t disapprove. “That’s a ten,” she said.
Coolidge didn’t even have to say much to amuse the crowd — her mannerisms seemed to reflect some of her famous comedic characters, and even a simple “alright” or “wow” delivered in her signature airy voice was enough to elicit laughter from the audience.
Coolidge continued to participate gamely in each subsequent task. After giving an impromptu makeover to Golub, she was prompted to lead a master class in the bend-and-snap maneuver, another beloved moment from “Legally Blonde.” “But put your boobs up,” she said as a token of advice.
Later in the roast, Coolidge was asked to dress as a dolphin named Tuna McQuoid — she once said she wanted to play a dolphin — and read queue cards for a skit. “Oh my God, please please, these rays, they’re trying to murder me! These rays, these rays!” she cried out as Pudding actors dressed as sting rays flocked on stage. To the audience’s delight, this was an homage to her line “These gays, these gays, they’re trying to murder me!” from “The White Lotus” — a quote that took over the Internet and became an instant classic once heard in the Season 2 finale this past December.
Once she was finally deemed deserving of her Pudding Pot, Coolidge was welcomed to say a few words to the audience.
“Am I allowed to put it down?” she asked, à la her Golden Globes speech delivered in January. “I’ve been so blown away that this experience is happening. I never saw it coming and it blows away any sort of movie or television show I’ve ever done,” she said.
Coolidge began to choke up as she talked about her late father, Paul Constant Coolidge, who graduated from Harvard in 1942.
“Seriously, you know, my dad went here. I wish he was here,” she said. “And his brothers went here, so it’s a big deal. And like I said, this is amazing.”
Coolidge and a few Hasty Pudding members joined journalists in the press conference room of Farkas Hall immediately following the roast, where she was able to elaborate on her father’s influence on her life and career. She revealed that it was her father who first told her to pursue acting.
“That’s why this night is such a big deal, because my father was such a practical person, but I love that he had impractical ideas for me. It was so out of my father’s character, you know he said to me, ‘I think you should be an actress’... This would have just been his dream come true…. Truly, one of the greatest nights of my life, because it just came full circle. It just has so much meaning,” she said.
Coolidge also spoke of the overall arc of her career, and how it felt to be celebrated as Woman of the Year at this point in her journey.
“My feelings as a young person would be extremely hopeful, and having giant dreams, and you know, having very, very low moments too. And to be here, tonight, I don’t know. It was all worth it. It was all worth it.”
—Staff writer Jaden S. Thompson can be reached at email@example.com.