COMING TO TERMS
by Jody Jacobs (page 2)
Shirley MacLaine-an Oscar-winning actress, acclaimed dancer, singer, and best-selling author-turned 62 on April 24, a fact she's not reluctant to admit. Having recently finished two films, she's at home on her ranch in New Mexico. Here is MacLaine's newest hideaway, a house she planned with famous Canadian architect Arthur Erikson. It is a home that affords her the seclusion needed for writing. And that is precisely what she's doing: working on an eighth book.
MacLaine's seventh book, My Lucky Stars, reflects on her friendship with the tightly knit group of high-living celebrities known as the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Peter Lawford, all stars she worked with. She was the only woman in the group, and they treated her like "one of the guys." What she later realized was that "I was really their maid. I made their beds, cooked and cleaned up after them." But their friendship affected her life, and that's what the book is all about.
MacLaine's writing first began as a product of her boredom "waiting around on (movie) sets. My writing came out of an impulse to share my motivation," she says. "I learned to write by writing." (The outline for her first book, Don't Fall Off The Mountain, ran to 750 pages!) "I have so many friends who are journalists and writers. The journalists said, 'When you can't not write, that's when you write.'" MacLaine writes in longhand, often while in bed.
While the boudoir may serve as her literary realm, MacLaine is not known for languid repose. She has always adhered to a strict physical regime-rigorous exercise, long walks, a sensible diet, and eight glasses of water. She's a firm believer that "if you've been a dancer, you're always a dancer." And being a dancer means "body priority and discipline."
It was as a dancer that MacLaine's career took off, a classic show-biz clichˇ discovery. After finishing high school, MacLaine moved to New York and became the understudy for Carol Haney in the Broadway production of Pajama Game. When Haney fractured her ankle, Shirley took over the role. Producer Hal Wallis saw her performance and signed her to a movie contract. Her first film was The Trouble With Harry, and with the money she earned on that one, she bought the Malibu apartment house she still owns and lives in when in Los Angeles. Some of the more than 40 films Shirley has made are The Apartment, Sweet Charity, Some Came Running, which earned her an Oscar nomination, and Steel Magnolias.
Though Carol Haney's fractured ankle got MacLaine onto the stage, her own physical problems interrupted her career in 1990. She had thought that hurting her knee more than once and spraining an ankle were accidents. "It's easy to blame others"-the man who beveled the soles of her dancing shoes, the cement stage in Denver-"but these were not accidents. I was programmed to fall."
The doctor who performed the surgery thought she'd never dance again. Dr. Leroy Perry, her physical therapist, also thought that was a possibility but never told her so. MacLaine was convinced she'd be back on stage dancing in six weeks. She did it in five. "I relearned the show from a handicapped point of view. I've learned that everything depends on alignment, that everything starts from the ground up."
If you've never caught a glimpse of Shirley MacLaine's live revue, you can currently catch a full two hours of a celluloid MacLaine in her new film Mrs. Winterbourne in which she co-stars with Rikki Lake. It opened in April to reviews that were sensational for her, though not so good for the movie. This Christmas will mark the opening of another new film, The Evening Star, the "continuation" of Terms of Endearment-for which she won her Oscar in 1983. Paramount does not refer to it as a sequel, although MacLaine plays the same character, Aurora Greenaway, who is now 20 years older and hasn't done a great job bringing up her grandchildren. Jack Nicholson, her neighbor in Terms, returns in a cameo appearance, and Robert Harling, who wrote it, wrote and directed the new screenplay.
MacLaine's personal life includes a few high-profile romances and an early marriage to Steve Parker (they're now divorced). She worked in Hollywood, and he spent most of his time working in Japan. Their daughter Sachi, now a housewife living with her husband in Greenwich, Connecticut, went to live with her father in Japan when she turned seven. Both parents agreed that growing up away from Hollywood would be to her advantage.
The well-traveled MacLaine doesn't shy away from long-distance relationships. Her latest is with former Australian politician Andrew Peacock, who is now a businessman and frequently travels to the States. Flirting with politics (or politicians) began in the 60s. Twice, in 1968 and 1972, she was a delegate from California for Robert Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention. Both she and her brother also campaigned for presidential candidate George McGovern. Today, however, politics is not a burning issue for her.
MacLaine is outspoken, even when she's talking about herself. Summing up her own talents she says: "I don't really do anything well...dancing, singing." She stops, adding, "I'm a very good actress."
Nobody will disagree with her on that last assessment.
About the author: Jody Jacobs has been society editor of the Los Angeles Times and fashion editor for Women's Wear Daily in New York, Los Angeles, and London. She has written one novel, The Right Circles, and is currently at work on a mystery. She lives in the Central Coast with her husband, novelist Barney Leason.