Editor’s Note: This article is part of CNN’s Undivided series, which chronicles how Americans of very different backgrounds have found common ground. In this series, which runs through the midterm elections, we profile unlikely friendships between people of differing ages, races, religions and cultures.
Annie Korzen begins auditions with a statement most people wouldn’t expect from an 83-year-old:
“Hi, I’m Annie Korzen. I live in Los Angeles. I’m 5’3”. And I have almost 400,000 followers on TikTok.”
It still amazes Korzen, an actor who describes herself as a longtime bit player who’d struggled to find a large audience. Now her TikToks have more than 8 million likes and thousands of supportive comments. And none of it would have happened, she says, if it weren’t for an unexpected friendship with someone who’s more than 50 years younger.
“Even though we have totally different backgrounds in every way possible,” she says, “we really are soulmates.”
Mackenzie Morrison, 31, says she felt drawn to Korzen the moment they first met at a charity event.
Korzen was magnetic – a master storyteller who could make a roomful of people laugh. She had an impeccable sense of style. And she loved thrift shopping – a pastime Morrison also adores.
“When you meet another thrifter, you speak the same language very naturally,” Morrison says.
“She’s very much into finding the deal. And I love when you find something just so odd and interesting there’s nowhere else you can find it except if you were thrifting. … That’s what naturally drew us together.”
Change is good #fun #colorful #fulloflife #fyp
♬ original sound – Annie Korzen
The day they met, neither one of them realized a rich friendship was taking root.
“No one expected us to be so close,” Morrison says.
Their shared love of vintage fashion soon led to a partnership reselling some of their favorite thrifting finds online.
But it would be more than a year before they embarked on a project together that both women describe as “life-changing.”
For years, Korzen was best known for appearing in several episodes of Seinfeld as Doris Klompus, a neighbor in Jerry’s parents’ Florida condo complex. More recently, she’s appeared on “Jane the Virgin” and “Pen15,” and she’s shared her storytelling skills on tour with The Moth.
But for the most part, the larger audience she craved eluded her.
“I’ve always been a bit player,” she says. “I’m the person who knows how to get a laugh on one line.”
One day, Korzen told Morrison she’d been thinking about trying to build a following by posting videos on Instagram.
Morrison steered her friend toward TikTok instead and offered to help shoot and edit the videos.
Neither one of them imagined how successful their foray into TikTok would become – though Morrison says there was no doubt in her mind that it was the perfect platform for Korzen.
“When we started, it was literally just like two teenagers running around her house, making videos. There was no plan. We were just laughing and having so much fun,” Morrison says.
Mackenzie created this thing for me where I walk out in the street and people come up to tell me how much they love me. That’s a big deal in my life. … And it’s given me a different kind of focus creatively and professionally.
Annie Korzen, 83, on her friendship with 31-year-old Mackenzie Morrison
That was in April 2021. And it wasn’t long before a TikTok started gaining steam that featured Korzen talking about how working on Seinfeld changed her life. In a matter of weeks, she went from having just eight followers to nearly 200,000.
Korzen and Morrison discovered they share common values, interests and a similar sense of humor. The age gap is the most obvious difference between them. But it’s not the only one. Korzen describes their unlikely friendship as “the world’s oddest couple.”
Korzen is from New York. Morrison is from Los Angeles.
Korzen’s hair is red and wild. Morrison’s is brown and straight.
Korzen grew up in a secular Jewish family. Morrison was raised Christian.
But Korzen says the biggest difference between them is something deeper.
“I’m the first generation (child) of very poor immigrants. I grew up in a Jewish ghetto in the Bronx. … I always feel, in this country, wherever I go, I’m an outsider,” she says.
Morrison’s family’s roots in the United States go back for generations. And in her, Korzen sees a sense of belonging that she’s never felt.
In a column she wrote about their relationship, Korzen described Morrison as “tall,” “thin” and “model-beautiful.” She described herself as “short” and “average-looking.”
“I always knew I was not pretty,” she told CNN in a recent interview. But making TikToks with Morrison, she says, has changed her perspective.
“This is the first time in my life I’m being called beautiful. They (commenters) say ‘You’re gorgeous.’ ‘You’re beautiful.’ ‘I love your outfit.’ ‘I love your hair.’ ‘I love your style.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘You look so great,’” Korzen says. “I have never heard this in my life, especially not in Hollywood.”
And having a wider following on TikTok, she says, is changing the way Hollywood sees her, too.
“Mackenzie created this thing for me where I walk out in the street and people come up to tell me how much they love me. That’s a big deal in my life. … And it’s given me a different kind of focus creatively and professionally,” Korzen says.
She’s getting more writing opportunities and auditions for more important roles.
“I’m getting called in for series regular, which has not happened before,” Korzen says, “and I’m sure it’s because producers say, ‘Hey, this is someone who could bring us an audience.’ And they’re right.”
Korzen has said she’d love a job like Andy Rooney once had on “60 Minutes,” complaining about whatever she wants once a week. And indeed, sometimes her TikToks can be just as curmudgeonly as Rooney’s segments once were. She’s gotten millions of views with a question about a Krispy Kreme donut (“Was it crispy?” she asks) and, more recently, with a rant about hard-to-eat salads (“That is NOT attractive,” she says after shoving a large forkful of leaves into her mouth).
A petition for #salads
♬ original sound – Annie Korzen
In her TikTok bio she once described herself as “The Cranky New Yorker,” but many of her videos are less grouchy and more – as some commenters have put it – “the grandma you wish you had.”
Korzen also shares advice on style (“be fun and colorful and full of life”), shopping (“do not shop retail”) and relationships (“don’t look for a mirror image of yourself”). She reveals embarrassing moments, like the time she got caught lying during an audition decades ago. And she tears up when talking about her grandson.
Most of the TikToks are shot inside her Los Angeles home. Sometimes they feature her 84-year-old husband, Benni Korzen, an artist and film producer who won an Oscar for 1987’s “Babette’s Feast.” And even when he’s not onscreen, Benni’s paintings are often hanging in the always bold and brightly colored background.
But it’s rare for Morrison to appear in the TikToks. To her, Korzen is – and should be – the star. And she trusts Korzen will know what to say and how to say it.
“I feel like I’m like Oz. I’m behind the camera,” she says, smiling.
But her dog D.D. (short for Diesel Duke) has appeared numerous times. And in many videos, Morrison’s laugh bubbles up in the background. What Korzen says often catches her by surprise.
No matter what topic she tackles, Korzen says the responses have been overwhelmingly positive – often coming from a younger generation of fans that she never imagined would connect with her.
Morrison’s help has been a key ingredient. “I understand nothing about TikTok. Mackenzie forced me into it. … I can barely send a text. I can barely take a selfie,” Korzen quips in one of her early videos.
But over the past year and a half, the friends say they’ve learned a lot and found a winning strategy together.
Recording sessions that last two hours about once a week generate about 20 potential TikToks. Korzen will come up with a list of ideas beforehand. But she keeps her comments unscripted, and they never re-record a segment.
Through it all, she says, she’s learned to trust Morrison’s instincts.
When I was only hanging out with people my age, I was constantly comparing myself to where they are in life. Annie’s given me 40-50 more years to explore and have fun and be myself. It’s incredible.
Mackenzie Morrison, 31, on her friendship with 83-year-old Annie Korzen
“I tend to just say whatever comes to mind. And I might do a TikTok, and afterwards, Mackenzie will go, ‘I don’t think so.’ She’s aware of certain sensitivities – ‘You can’t say that, it’s body shaming.’ ‘You can’t say that, it’s divisive.’ We try very hard to avoid the ugly. She’s so tuned into a generation that I’m totally ignorant of,” Korzen says.
“I know that she will keep me safe, that she’s very protective of keeping me out of danger. So we have – like in any friendship, right? – we each have certain strengths that the other needs.”
When they’re not making TikToks together, all Morrison has to do is look inside the closet of her Hollywood apartment to be reminded of what Korzen has given her.
Korzen often picks out clothes for Morrison when she’s thrift shopping.
“She really knows my style. It’s pretty simple compared to hers. She loves loud, bold colors, and bold jewelry. But for me she will always find a simple silhouette,” Morrison says.
She treasures a lacy, white cardigan Korzen picked out.
And then there are the dresses.
Morrison was engaged when she first met Korzen, and knowing their shared love of thrifting and vintage fashion, it wasn’t long before Korzen started searching for something Morrison could wear on the big day.
“She was trying to find my wedding dress for a dollar,” Morrison says.
But eventually, Morrison broke off the engagement. It was a rocky relationship, she says, that endured through the pandemic but ended earlier this year. Without Korzen’s support, she says, she never would have gotten through that time. She split up with her one-time fiancé, but she kept Korzen’s dresses.
And Korzen kept on shopping.
“She went from buying me dollar wedding dresses to like these super sexy, shoulder-exposed clothes. I have very subdued dollar wedding dresses and a lot of sexy, going-out dresses,” Morrison says, laughing. “Put them in a row, it shows my year in review.”
And it shows something more powerful: an enduring friendship that Morrison says has brought stability and joy to her life.
As the two field questions about their friendship from CNN, Morrison jumps in to ask Korzen something she’s been pondering:
“Do you remember what you were like when you were 31? Would you be my friend?”
Korzen answers without hesitation: “Probably not.”
Back then, in 1970, she was working as a piano teacher and taking care of a young son.
“I wouldn’t feel we had anything in common, and we wouldn’t, because I was a very different person at your age than I am now. It took me a whole lifetime to find myself and to get to be confident about who I was,” Korzen says.
“I was very unsure and insecure for most of my life. I didn’t feel I had any talents. And when I finally decided I had talents, I didn’t feel they were appreciated in any way. I’m only getting that now, when I should be dead.”
Morrison interjects. “Annie, don’t say that!”
Like they have so many times, the two friends banter and break down in laughter together. But to Morrison, Korzen’s answer underscores how lucky they were to find each other when they did.
@akorzen ♬ original sound – Annie Korzen
And when Korzen talks about trying to find herself, Morrison knows what she means.
Morrison once helped start a record label. She was also a personal assistant to a Japanese pop star.
Now she’s a freelance writer. She works on a mayoral campaign. She’s a server at a restaurant. And she also gets a cut of Korzen’s TikTok-related earnings, which include payment for personalized greetings Korzen sends to fans via the Cameo website, sales of her husband’s artwork to TikTok viewers and proceeds from a T-shirt featuring Korzen’s viral donut quip.
Asked how to describe her profession, Morrison says, “ask me in six months, and I’m going to have an even better answer.” She says her recent breakup has led to a new phase of growth.
“I’m kind of rebuilding myself. … The last six years I was sort of supporting someone else’s life, and now this is my time,” she says.
Seeing Korzen’s fulfilling and very busy life, she says, makes her realize she still has plenty of time to find her path.
“When I was only hanging out with people my age, I was constantly comparing myself to where they are in life,” Morrison says. “Annie’s given me 40-50 more years to explore and have fun and be myself. It’s incredible. I can’t wait to be 80.”
More than a year after their TikTok collaboration started, Korzen’s account has more than 350,000 followers and her cranky commentary and life lessons have gotten millions of likes. Korzen’s career has gotten a boost.
And for Morrison, the experience has brought something she feels is just as valuable.
She treasures the breaks between recording TikToks, when the two women share stories with each other. She loves the texts they send each other almost every night. And she cherishes the special time when a recording session is done and Korzen makes a point of walking her to her car.
“There’s always this sentimental, sweet, tender moment,” Morrison says.
In these moments Korzen often shares some last bit of wisdom before Morrison gets into her white Toyota Mirai, sometimes carrying thrift store deals Korzen found for her.
As Morrison heads home, she thinks about what her friend said that day, and how much fun it will be to share it with the world.