MacLaine, Shirley

views updated Jun 08 2018

MacLAINE, Shirley

Nationality: American. Born: Shirley MacLean Beaty in Richmond, Virginia, 24 April 1934; sister of the actor Warren Beatty. Education: Attended Washington School of Ballet; Washington and Lee High School, Arlington, Virginia, graduated 1952. Family: Married Steve Parker, 1954 (divorced 1977), daughter: Stephanie (known as the actress Sachi Parker). Career: In dancing chorus of Oklahoma, 1950, Me and Juliet, 1952, and understudy to Carol Haney in The Pajama Game, 1954; 1954–61—contract with Hal Wallis; 1955—film debut in The Trouble with Harry; 1971–72—in TV series Shirley's World; 1974—co-directed film The Other Half of the Sky; 1974—formed nightclub act for Las Vegas, and in 1976 toured with the act in Europe and Latin America. Awards: Best Actress, Berlin Festival, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for Ask Any Girl, 1959; Best Actress, Venice Festival, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for The Apartment, 1960; Best Actress, Berlin Festival, for Desperate Characters, 1971; Best Actress, Academy Award, and Best Actress, New York and Los Angeles Film Critics,

for Terms of Endearment, 1983. Agent: c/o MacLaine Enterprises, 25200 Old Malibu Road, Malibu, CA 90262, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


The Trouble with Harry (Hitchcock) (as Jennifer Rogers); Artists and Models (Tashlin) (as Bessie Sparrowbush)


Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as Princess Aouda)


Hot Spell (Daniel Mann) (as Virginia Duval); The Sheepman (George Marshall) (as Dell Payton); The Matchmaker (Anthony) (as Irene Molloy); Some Came Running (Minnelli) (as Ginny Moorehead)


Ask Any Girl (Walters) (as Meg Wheeler); Career (Anthony) (as Sharon Kensington)


Can-Can (Walter Lang) (as Simone Pistache); The Apartment (Wilder) (as Fran Kubelik); Ocean's Eleven (Milestone) (as tipsy girl)


All in a Night's Work (Anthony) (as Katie Robbins); Two Loves (Walters) (as Anna Vorontosov); The Children's Hour (Wyler) (as Martha Dobie)


My Geisha (Cardiff) (as Lucy Dell/Yoko Mori); Two for the Seesaw (Wise) (as Gittel Mosca)


Irma La Douce (Wilder) (title role)


What a Way to Go! (Thompson) (as Louisa); John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (Thompson) (as Jenny Ericson)


The Yellow Rolls-Royce (Asquith) (as Mae Jenkins)


Gambit (Neame) (as Nicole Chang)


Woman Times Seven (De Sica) (as Paulette)


The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (McGrath) (title role)


Sweet Charity (Fosse) (as Charity Hope Valentine)


Two Mules for Sister Sara (Siegel) (title role)


Desperate Characters (Gilroy) (as Sophie Brentwood)


The Possession of Joel Delaney (Hussein) (as Norah Benson)


The Turning Point (Ross) (as Deedee Rogers)


Being There (Ashby) (as Eve Rand)


A Change of Seasons (Richard Lang) (as Karen Evans); Loving Couples (Smight) (as Evelyn)


Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks) (as Aurora Greenway)


Cannonball Run II (Needham) (as Veronica)


Madame Sousatzka (Schlesinger) (title role)


Steel Magnolias (Ross) (as Ouiser Boudreaux)


Waiting for the Light (Monger) (as Zena); Postcards from the Edge (Nichols) (as Doris Mann)


Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks) (as woman at past lives pavillion)


Used People (Kidron) (as Pearl); Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (Haines) (as Helen)


Guarding Tess (Wilson) (title role)


West Side Waltz (for TV); The Celluloid Closet (Eptsein and Friedman—doc) (as interviewee)


The Evening Star (as Aurora Greenway); Mrs. Winterbourne (Benjamin) (as Grace Winterbourne)


A Smile Like Yours (Samples) (as Martha—uncredited)


Looking for Lulu (Paris) (as Narrator)


Get Bruce (Kuehn) (as herself); Joan of Arc (Duguay—for TV) (as Madame de Beaurevoir); Forever Hollywood (Arnold Glassman and Todd McCarthy) (as herself)

Film as Director:


The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir (doc) (co-d, + pr, sc)


Bruno (+ ro)

Film as Writer:


Out on a Limb (Butler—for TV) (as herself +co-sc)


Kingdom Come


By MacLAINE: books—

Don't Fall Off the Mountain, New York, 1970.

You Can Get There from Here, New York, 1975.

Out on a Limb, New York, 1983.

Dancing in the Light, New York, 1986.

It's All in the Playing, New York, 1987.

Going Within, New York, 1989.

Dance While You Can, New York, 1991.

My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir, New York, 1995.

By MacLAINE: articles—

"The Two Faces of Shirley," interview with R. Bean, in Films and Filming (London), February 1962.

Photoplay (London), April 1984.

Interview with L. Farrah, in Films and Filming (London), May 1988.

"Shirley MacLaine Lives," interview with Pat Dowell, in Washingtonian, October 1988.

Interview with Janet Fitch, in American Film (New York), November 1989.

On MacLAINE: books—

Erens, Patricia, The Films of Shirley MacLaine, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1978.

Denis, Chiristopher, The Films of Shirley MacLaine, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1980.

Pickard, Roy, Shirley MacLaine, London, 1985.

Spada, James, Shirley and Warren, London, 1985.

Freedland, Michael, Shirley MacLaine, London, 1986.

Hanck, Frauke, Shirley MacLaine: Ihre Filme, ihr Leben, Munich, 1986.

On MacLAINE: articles—

Current Biography 1978, New York, 1978.

Dowell, Pat, "Collector's Choice: Woman of the Year: Coming to Terms with the Career of Shirley MacLaine," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1984.

Séquences (Montreal), July 1984.

Haskell, Mollly, "Shirley MacLaine: Still Here," in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1995.

Major, W., "'Star' Bright," in Boxoffice (Chicago), November 1996.

* * *

Shirley MacLaine's career has continued to thrive since she won her Academy Award in 1983. Terms of Endearment brought MacLaine full recognition as a performer and it also gave the actress an image for the latter stages of her career. The films that follow Terms of Endearment tend to present her as a combative person who, like Aurora Greenway in Brooks's film, struggles to set and maintain the "terms of endearment" of her personal relationships. In such films as Madame Sousatzka and Postcards from the Edge MacLaine is demanding, irascible, and generally exasperating; yet, by the film's resolution, she acknowledges that the relationship in question is at base essential and loving. The films illustrate the actress's willingness to play a difficult person who is in danger of alienating both the film's other characters and the viewer. MacLaine seems to delight in testing how far she can go before she pulls back and lets the viewer see that her character is in fact sensitive and capable of tenderness.

MacLaine has been highly successful in combining her status as a major star with that of a character actress; and the films are a testament to MacLaine's ability to sustain a career at an age when most of her contemporaries are no longer professionally active. Of the more recent films, Madame Sousatzka is perhaps the most outstanding and it provides MacLaine with an acting challenge she fully meets—Madame Sousatzka, a formidable piano teacher, is, in addition to being intelligent and creative, in equal measure bombastic and contemplative, willful and pliable. And John Schlesinger, who surrounds the actress with a group of strong performers, handles the material with insight and assurance. Similarly, Postcards from the Edge, another fine film, allows MacLaine to inject a degree of delicacy into her conception of an overbearing but insecure aging actress. Mike Nichols's film takes a gentle approach to satirizing Hollywood and tempers the mother-daughter conflict between MacLaine and Meryl Streep with low-key humor and a strong sense of compassion for both of these resilient but highly fragile characters. In these two films MacLaine is given the opportunity to bring depth and dimension to her characterizations; on the other hand, she also appears in Steel Magnolias and Used People, both shrill and crude films, and the bland Guarding Tess.

Besides working regularly as an actor, MacLaine continues to pursue her career as a writer. Her dual identity as actor/author came together most spectacularly with a telefilm dramatization of her book Out on a Limb in which she deals with transcendentalism. Out on a Limb is, aesthetically, undistinguished. The narrative is soap operaish, the performances are merely adequate and the direction is flat. MacLaine, like the film itself, is highly self-conscious and strains to convince that the material is engrossing and deserving of the time and money spent on the project. Out on a Limb's primary significance is that it forcefully acknowledges MacLaine's ongoing desire to control her star image. The film is essentially concerned with verifying that MacLaine is a serious thinker, has a social conscience, and aspires to personal growth.

In the film version of Out on a Limb, MacLaine wonders if the public is going to take her beliefs seriously or think that she is making a fool of herself; by the time of Postcards from the Edge, she manages to make on film a joking reference to her transcendent experiences. Yet, Out on a Limb stands as an extraordinary attempt by an actor to fashion her image and MacLaine's ambitious effort deserves credit. And, arguably, the project is influenced by a feminist impulse—-MacLaine appears to be indicating that she takes sole responsibility for her actions and identity.

There is recent evidence that suggests MacLaine's screen image is undergoing a modification. Two recent works, Guarding Tess and West Side Waltz, feature a MacLaine that is stately but without sacrificing her humor and prickly nature. The image she projects evokes the latter day Katharine Hepburn for whom, incidentally, West Side Waltz was a star vehicle on Broadway.

Like Terms of Endearment, the MacLaine films that have followed are "women's films." In these films, the actress invariably plays an imperfect person. MacLaine does not offer idealized images of women but, instead, she attempts to show that women are complex and very human beings. And, like her filmic creations, MacLaine herself, is a survivor.

—Richard Lippe

MacLaine, Shirley

views updated May 23 2018

MacLAINE, Shirley

Born Shirley MacLean Beaty, 24 April 1934, Richmond, Virginia

Daughter of Ira O. and Kathlyn MacLean Beaty; married Steve Parker, 1954; children: Suki

Born Shirley MacLean Beaty (brother Warren added the second "t") into what she describes as "a cliché-loving, middle class Virginia family," MacLaine was raised to be respectable and conventional. She found an early outlet for her energies in ballet lessons, which she began at age three. By the time she graduated from high school, she had abundant professional credits as a dancer. Heading for New York City, she made her way into the chorus of some hit musicals, among them Rodgers and Hammerstein's Me and Juliet (1953).

In 1954 Carol Haney broke an ankle three nights after the Broadway opening of Pajama Game, and MacLaine was called upon to replace her. Performing without rehearsal, she emerged a star. Hollywood producer Hal Wallis instantly signed her to a long-term contract, and she played the first of many madcap roles in Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955).

In the next decade, MacLaine played a number of major movie roles, specializing in kooks and good-hearted prostitutes. She received Academy Award nominations for Some Came Running (1959), The Apartment (1960), and Irma La Douce (1963). Her offbeat marital life also generated much comment.

When not before the cameras, MacLaine devoted a great deal of time to travel, exploring lifestyles radically different from her own. She toured the deep South with black leaders in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, and researched her role in Irma La Douce by witnessing at close range the working life of a Paris streetwalker. MacLaine's travels are described in her bestselling book Don't Fall Off the Mountain (1970, reissued 1983).

In 1971 a television series for which MacLaine had great hopes turned out to be a commercial and artistic disaster. Alienated from the Hollywood establishment, she turned from show business to politics, playing an active role in the presidential campaign of Senator McGovern. Her second publication was McGovern: The Man and His Beliefs (1972), a collection of writings she selected and edited. Although the McGovern campaign was unsuccessful, MacLaine retained an interest in public affairs and social action. In the spring of 1973, she was asked to lead the first women's delegation to the People's Republic of China. This six-week trip became the central episode of her second bestseller, You Can Get There from Here (1975). Another outgrowth of the trip was a documentary film, The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir (1974), which MacLaine produced and which received an Academy Award nomination.

After the trip to China, MacLaine returned to her theatrical career with renewed vigor. In 1974 she made her hugely successful Las Vegas debut, and has since had triumphs on stage, screen, and television. For her ballet film The Turning Point, MacLaine was once again honored with an Oscar nomination.

MacLaine's books are marked far less by her stylistic skills than by a keen eye for detail and a refreshing candor. Genuinely interested in all she surveys, MacLaine is not ashamed to reveal the ambivalence of her personal reactions. This is especially true of her account of the China trip: Her focus is not so much on the fact of China as on the way the impact of the Chinese experience threw a group of American women into total mental confusion. In her unflagging eagerness to probe and evaluate the world around her, MacLaine shows herself to be very different from other writers of show business memoirs.

In the public mind, MacLaine is first and foremost a Hollywood star. Prior to 1983, her reputation as a writer was based on two candid, colorful travel memoirs. But the publication in 1983 of Out on a Limb (reprinted 1986) brought MacLaine into a new arena. In this book, which was to become a bestseller, she recounts her search for her own spiritual identity, ending in her embracing such New Age concepts as reincarnation, trance channeling, and astral projection. For the spiritually unconvinced, her best writing here details her trip to the remarkable Mantaro River Valley, high in the Peruvian Andes. But the bulk of the book is divided between MacLaine's tortuous love affair with a married British politician and her ongoing movement from skepticism to spiritual certainty.

Dancing in the Light (1985, reissued 1996) opens in 1984, with MacLaine, at the top of her profession, looking back on a year that included the Academy Award for best actress for Terms of Endearment, the overwhelming success of Out on a Limb, and the record-breaking run of her one-woman musical show on Broadway. Amid all this joy, she must contend with the health problems of her aging parents. She speculates on their complex interrelationship and why they chose to spend this lifetime as a couple. To probe the mystery of the entangled lives of her parents and other family members, she journeys to Santa Fe for a session with a spiritual acupuncturist. The book climaxes with her multiple visions of herself in previous incarnations—as an elephant princess in Africa, a desert nomad swept away by a marauding chieftain, a helpless liberal in czarist Russia. Ultimately, she meets her own androgynous Higher Self, who will serve as her personal inspiration and spiritual guide.

Some of the most convincing passages of Dancing in the Light deal with the life of a working dancer. Similarly, It's All in the Playing (1987, 1988) effectively brings the reader behind the scenes into the filmmaker's self-absorbed world. The book also probes MacLaine's further spiritual development during the filming of a television miniseries based on Out on a Limb.

Going Within: A Guide for Inner Transformation (1989, 1990), inspired by seminars MacLaine has given from coast to coast, introduces the reader to additional spiritual possibilities. They include forms of meditation, the seven chakras, and something called psychic surgery. The book extends the optimistic vision of each individual's godlike potential that has marked MacLaine's earlier works. MacLaine is always a refreshingly honest writer, but the intensity of her spiritual beliefs may try the patience of many readers. On the acting front, MacLaine was lauded for performance in Steel Magnolias.

In Dance While You Can (1992, 1993), MacLaine returns to explorations of her relationships with her parents, her mother's ambitions for her children and her father's anxieties, and to the struggle to resolve the tensions she has faced with her own daughter. Beginning with memories of Hollywood, the book details MacLaine's experience of aging, as an actress in Postcards from the Edge, coping with injury and pain, more often alone. Less insistent on detailing her spiritual development, the book continues MacLaine's account of her search "to become harmonious with the music of the universe." She also released her first video, Shirley MacLaine's Inner Workout to considerable success.

In the later 1990s, MacLaine continued to write, act, and perform on stage. Her recent book, My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir (1995), about some of the Hollywood movers and shakers she's known, was another bestseller. In addition, she appeared in several films, including with Wrestling with Ernest Hemingway, Guarding Tess, Mrs. Winterbourne, and Evening Star, the long-awaited sequel to Terms of Endearment. She then turned her attention to directing: her directorial debut was a film entitled Bruno, in which she also acted, along with Kathy Bates.


Denis, C., The Films of Shirley MacLaine (1980). Freedland, M., Shirley MacLaine (1986). Gordon, H., Channeling Into the New Age: The "Teachings" of Shirley MacLaine and Other Such Gurus, An Unauthorized Account (1988). Gordon, H., Extrasensory Deception: ESP, Psychics, Shirley MacLaine, Ghosts, UFOs (1988). Kaminer, W., True Love Waits: Essays and Criticism (1996). Pickard, R., Shirley MacLaine (1985). Sire, J. W.,Shirley MacLaine & the New Age Movement (1988). Spada, J., Shirley & Warren (1985).

Reference works:

CA (1982, 1999). CANR (1991).

Other references:

LJ (1 July 1983, 1 Nov. 1985). New Statesman (14 Oct. 1983). Newsweek (11 Jan. 1971). NYRB (1 May 1975). NYT (23 Mar. 1975). NYTBR (16 Mar. 1975, 18 Sept. 1983, 3 Oct. 1985). Time (28 Dec. 1970, 3 Mar. 1975, 14 Oct. 1985). TLS (16 Apr. 1971). VV (10 Mar. 1975).



MacLaine, Shirley

views updated May 18 2018

MacLAINE, Shirley

(b. 24 April 1934 in Richmond, Virginia), dancer, actor, political activist, and writer who developed from a quirky, kooky antistar into a well-versed actor and influential activist in the 1960s.

MacLaine was born Shirley MacLean Beaty, the daughter of Ira O. Beaty, a bandleader, high school principal, and real-estate broker, and Kathlyn MacLean Beaty, an actor. MacLaine's younger brother followed her into show business and became known as Warren Beatty. MacLaine's early life consisted of conforming to a conservative, upper-middle-class lifestyle and learning to be a lady. However, MacLaine was a mischievous, outspoken tomboy who never fit the mold.

Born with weak bone structure in her ankles, MacLaine had difficulty walking and was enrolled in ballet lessons at age two-and-a-half "for therapeutic reasons." As she states in her autobiography Don't Fall Off the Mountain (1970), "I loved it from the beginning." In 1945 the family moved to Arlington, Virginia, where MacLaine continued ballet classes at the Washington School of the Ballet. It became apparent that at five feet, seven inches MacLaine was too tall to be a ballerina, so she shifted her focus to musical comedy.

After graduating from Washington and Lee High School in 1952, MacLaine moved to New York City to continue dance lessons and find a job. She was picked out of a line of girls at an audition for dancers for the Servel Ice Box traveling trade show because of her long legs and red hair. When her new employer could not pronounce her last name, he asked for her middle name: "Okay, Shirley MacLaine, you're hired." With a job and a new name, she was on her way. After a stint in the chorus of Me and Juliet (1952), MacLaine joined the chorus of Pajama Game. She was also the understudy to the dance lead Carol Haney, who "never got sick." In May 1954, on the fourth day of the run, Haney broke her ankle, and MacLaine went on with no rehearsal. She was a hit, and a film contract from the producer Hal Wallis followed. Before relocating to Hollywood, MacLaine was interviewed by Alfred Hitchcock, who offered her a part in The Trouble with Harry (1955).

On 17 September 1954, before leaving for location in Vermont, MacLaine married Steve Parker, an actor twelve years her senior. They had one child, Stephanie Sachiko (later the actor Sachi Parker), born in 1956, and divorced in 1982. In Vermont, MacLaine, who had been living "cheap," was astounded at the amount of free food available for the cast, and gained twenty-five pounds in three weeks. After the film finished shooting in Hollywood, MacLaine rented a one-room shack on Santa Monica beach. She refused to be refashioned in the glamour-girl image popular at the time. She cut her own hair, showed complete indifference to her clothes, never dieted, and would not consider posing for "cheesecake" pictures.

Her first film for Wallis was Artists and Models (1955); other films followed, none notable until she played the role of Ginny Moorehead, a pathetic hooker, in Some Came Running (1958), starring Frank Sinatra, and received her first nomination for an Academy Award. Working with Sinatra resulted in MacLaine's becoming the mascot of "The Clan," also called the "Rat Pack." It was Sinatra who got her the lead in Can-Can (1960). During a rehearsal attended by Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, MacLaine welcomed him in Russian. Khrushchev was pleased by her speech but thought her dancing was "immoral" and stated, "The face of humanity is more beautiful than its backside."

Other notable films MacLaine made during the 1960s were The Apartment (1960), for which she received a second Academy Award nomination, and My Geisha (1962), produced in Japan by her husband. In 1962 she starred with Audrey Hepburn in The Children's Hour, which, due to fear of censorship, was rewritten to remove the playwright's lesbian scenario. MacLaine felt the moral climate of America was changing and regretted that she didn't fight to have the film reflect the playwright's exploration of the relationship between the two women. A battle she did fight was against Wallis, in an attempt to be released from her contract. This battle went to court but also was tried in the press. The gossip columnist Mike Connolly published a number of lies about MacLaine, who reacted by slapping him in public. Many applauded her efforts, including President John F. Kennedy, who telegraphed, "CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR FIGHT STOP NOW IF YOU HAD REAL GUTS YOU'D SLUG WALLACE—GOVERNOR NOT HAL."

For her title role in Irma la douce (1963), MacLaine spent hours interviewing prostitutes in Paris. Many were scandalized, but MacLaine received her third Academy Award nomination. Her other films in the 1960s included The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (1968), Sweet Charity (1969), another movie that, according to MacLaine, suffered due to an excess of prudery, and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1969), with MacLaine once again playing a prostitute, this time disguised as a nun.

Reflecting the decade's involvement in activism and self-discovery, MacLaine devoted time to political campaigning and a number of causes. She campaigned for Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy, was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and campaigned for Robert Kennedy. After Senator Kennedy's assassination, she threw herself into George McGovern's U.S. Senate campaign in 1968 and in 1972 worked tirelessly on his presidential campaign. MacLaine, always outspoken, was vocal in her efforts to save the convict-author Caryl Chessman from execution. During the mid-1960s she traveled throughout the South to register African-American voters. MacLaine was against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. She was named the national chair for the Dooley Foundation, which operates medical clinics, hospitals, and orphanages in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, India, and Nepal. In November 1969 she participated in the huge peace rally held in Times Square.

To educate herself about different lifestyles, MacLaine went to a number of exotic spots during the 1960s. In addition to frequent trips to Japan to see her husband and daughter, she traveled throughout Russia, exercising her facility to "talk to anyone about anything," despite language barriers. In 1964, in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan during a coup, she was detained overnight and threatened by guns and bayonets. She went to East Africa, lived with the Masai tribes and became a "blood sister," and in 1967 spent six weeks in India, studying the principles of yoga. Reflecting on her travels, MacLaine stated, "I think I've logged more miles than the secretary of state."

In 1965, to alleviate boredom during filming, MacLaine started to write reflections on her life. Her book Don't Fall Off the Mountain took five years to complete. Since then she has written seven more autobiographical books. All have been immensely popular. MacLaine continues to appear in films and won the Oscar for best actress for her work in Terms of Endearment (1983).

During the 1960s MacLaine was one of the first show business stars to realize the potential of Hollywood actors to be agents for change. Providing funds and stimulating media coverage, in addition to physically campaigning for people and causes, MacLaine used her notoriety to influence the political process.

Good sources for information about MacLaine are her autobiographies, particularly Don't Fall Off the Mountain (1970).Other sources include Roy Pickard, Shirley MacLaine (1985), and James Spada, Shirley and Warren (1985). MacLaine's political activities are detailed in Ronald Brownstein, The Power and the Glitter: The Hollywood-Washington Connection (1990). Articles include Joseph Roddy, "New-Style Star Tries a Rough Role," Look (29 Jan. 1963), on her work in Irma la douce; Howard Thompson, "Far from Ol' Virginny with Miss MacLaine," New York Times (24 May 1964); and William A. Henry III, "The Best Year of Her Lives; Shirley MacLaine, at 50, Is Still a Rising Star," Time (14 May 1984). An overview of her films can be found in Molly Haskell, "Shirley MacLaine: Still Here," Film Comment 31 (May to June 1995): 20–26.

Marcia B. Dinneen

MacLaine, Shirley (Shirley MacLean Beatty)(1934-)

views updated May 17 2018

MacLaine, Shirley (Shirley MacLean Beatty)(1934-)

World-famous actress, dancer, movie star, and writer, whose books on her search for spiritual fulfillment have created widespread popular interest in psychic phenomena, channeling of spirit guides, and New Age teachings. She was born on April 24, 1934, in Richmond, Virginia, and attended high school in Washington, D.C. She began taking dancing lessons before she was three years old; by the time she was 16 she was a chorus girl in New York in a City Center revival of Oklahoma! Four years later, she was dancing in the chorus of Pajama Game and acting as understudy to Carol Haney, the show's leading dancer. When Haney injured her ankle soon after the show's opening, MacLaine replaced her in the lead. After enthusiastic reviews, the Hollywood producer Hal B. Wallis signed her for a long-term film contract.

Her first motion picture role was in The Trouble with Harry, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Later, her performance in Irma la douce earned her a Golden Globe Award and the third of four Academy Award nominations. Honors for her acting have continued into the 1990s.

Apart from her acting, MacLaine has gained a considerable reputation as an outspoken political and humanitarian activist, notably for civil rights, women's rights, and environmental protection. During the Vietnam War, she supported George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign. She was the first woman ever to speak at the National Democratic Club, where she addressed the dangers of overpopulation. MacLaine's extensive travels have included such remote parts of the world as East Africa, where she lived among the Masai tribe, and the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where she was detained by border guards during a political crisis. When traveling in India, she became sympathetic to the plight of the "gutter babies" and helped to establish an orphanage for them in Calcutta. Her best-selling autobiography Don't Fall Off the Mountain (1970), which detailed her experiences in Africa, India, the Far East, and Hollywood, was translated into eight languages.

In 1973 MacLaine led a delegation of 12 American women, including filmmaker Claudia Weill, on a six-week tour of the People's Republic of China. With Weill acting as her co-director, MacLaine produced and wrote the narration for the film The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, a documentary of the trip broadcast by Public Broadcasting Service (1975). Her second autobiographical book, You Can Get There from Here (1975), discussed her China trip and her involvement with George McGovern's presidential campaign. In 1976, after a 20-year hiatus as an entertainer, she returned to the theatrical stage in A Gypsy in My Soul, which attracted rave reviews. By 1983 she had appeared in some 35 movies.

Her third autobiographical book, Out on a Limb (1983), described a spiritual odyssey that developed from her world travels. It is a heady exploration of New Age beliefs, including meditation, psychic healing, channeling of spirit guides, reincarnation, UFOs, extraterrestrials, and out-of-the-body travel. If at times the book appears naive, it is redeemed by its transparent honesty and sincerity and a deep desire for a spiritual framework to life. The book became the basis for a five-hour prime-time ABC-TV mini-series. Her inner search continued in her book Dancing in the Light (1985), in which she stated:

"I like to think of Dancing in the Light as a celebration of all my 'selves.' It was a fulfilling and satisfying exploration of the promises I made to myself in Out on a Limb. In it I look with pleasure, humor and some contentment upon my experiences as a daughter, a mother, a lover, a friend, a seeker of spiritual destiny and a voice calling for peace in the world."

The book cites several channels from whom she received guidance, but her kindest words are reserved for J. Z. Knight, who channels an entity named "Ramtha" and has since attracted a large following.

In the late 1980s MacLaine emerged as a New Age teacher and leader of Higher Life Seminars. Profits from the seminars have funded several New Age centers. MacLaine has continued to write New Age books.


MacLaine, Shirley. Dancing in the Light. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.

. Don't Fall Off the Mountain. New York: W. W. Norton, 1970.

. It's All in the Playing. New York: Bantam Books,1987.

. Out on a Limb. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.

. You Can Get There from Here. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975.

Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan Kelly. New Age Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.

Maclaine, Shirley

views updated May 14 2018


MACLAINE, Shirley. American, b. 1934. Genres: Autobiography/Memoirs, Biography. Career: Motion-picture actress. Films include: The Trouble with Harry, 1955; The Matchmaker, 1958; The Apartment, 1960; The Children's Hour, 1962; Irma la Douce, 1963; Sweet Charity, 1968; Two Mules for Sister Sara, 1970; The Turning Point, 1977; Terms of Endearment, 1983 (Academy Award: Best Actress); Steel Magnolias, 1988; Postcards from the Edge, 1990; etc. Publications: Don't Fall off the Mountain, 1970; (ed.) McGovern: The Man and His Beliefs, 1972; You Can Get There from Here, 1975; Out on a Limb, 1983; Dancing in the Light, 1985; It's All in the Playing, 1987; Going Within: A Guide for Inner Transformation, 1989; My Lucky Stars, 1995; The Camino, 2000; Out on a Leash, 2003. Address: PO Box 569, Tesuque, NM 87574, U.S.A.