Screen legend Shirley MacLaine talks about everything under the sun …. and a few things beyond it
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
Maybe Shirley MacLaine is onto something with all her talk of otherworldly topics. When I asked the screen legend about her iconic status in the gay community — due to appearances in such films as Steel Magnolias, The Children’s Hour and even Postcards from the Edge — her phone cuts out. She doesn’t skip a beat on the return call.
“See how it went dead when you said the word ‘iconic?’ That’s a sign!” she says with a true guffaw.
At 77, MacLaine is still a spitfire who can quickly turn a question back on the interviewer. She’s a veteran at talking about her work and life, but admits that there are some things she doesn’t know about herself.
“I don’t know why the gays might think of me that way. What do you think?” she asks. The humor for one thing, I say — and how gays can’t resist a good, strong-willed woman.
“I’m curious what strikes me and what doesn’t,” she says. “Oh, and I think Madame Sousatzka is also popular. It’s the humor and that’s what I loved about those parts. There’s nothing more sophisticated than the gays’ sense of humor.”
So true — especially when it comes to Broadway. MacLaine raves enthusiastically over The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker and the musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Both show an irreverence as well as artistic merit, which MacLaine thinks is just what art needs right now.
“I just got back from New York and the audiences were so receptive,” she says. “Mormon is quite astonishing. You’ve just got to see it. You know, the world is in such bad trouble that [artists] don’t give a shit anymore. The feeling is, ‘We’ll make humor out of it.’ And Priscilla was moving and well done and over the top. It was such an exercise in imaginative clothing and shoes and humor. I had no idea.”
She has less to say about Promises, Promises, the musical revival based on her famed film, The Apartment. “Everyone keeps asking me that, but I just haven’t seen it,” she says.
MacLaine is onstage in North Texas with her show An Evening with Shirley MacLaine, which stops at Bass Hall Saturday. Despite her musical theater cred (she was Sweet Charity, after all), don’t expect singing and dancing — she’s over all that. Instead, the Oscar winner will talk about her movies, her life and her loves.
She’s been doing that a lot lately. She’s been making the media rounds lately for her 13th book, I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions, including a spot on Oprah. But the show isn’t necessarily the live version of her latest autobio.
“The show is really fun and just a retrospective of my life — I tell stories about my films and Broadway, television, travels, love affairs,” she says. “It’s just me and a remote control up there.”
Hopefully that will includes anecdotes about another screen legend, her late friend Elizabeth Taylor. MacLaine was part of the Golden Age that introduced the world to the likes of Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon and Taylor. But Liz’s passing (from this world, at least) struck MacLaine the hardest.
“That affected me more than I thought it would, to tell you the truth,” she says. “I met her when I was 20. I knew how she was feeling and I knew this would happen. I’ve been calling her and am talking to her still, but I don’t like to think of a world without her in it.”
Umm, still talking to Taylor? Well, MacLaine is almost as famous for her new age beliefs as for her acting prowess. She has written books that cover topics such as reincarnation, spiritual exploration and transcendentalism. So when she says she’s talking with Elizabeth Taylor … well, who can doubt her? A headline in a British tabloid recently labeled her “kooky,” but that’s nothing new to her. For years, she’s been mocked about her beliefs, but she uses the same thick skin needed for her acting career and she never let the media get to her.
Even having reached living legend status, MacLaine says that there is one thing she still hopes to accomplish in this lifetime.
“I’d like to go into space,” she says. “But not with an astronaut — an extraterrestrial spacecraft. I know a lot of people who’ve been taken aboard one. I haven’t done that yet in this lifetime.”
Of course, there’s always the next one.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.