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Toronto Star (31/Aug/1991) - Shirley MacLaine



Shirley MacLaine

Which Academy Award-winning actress, famous for her unique spiritual beliefs, has recently become the queen of the Crazy Old Ladies?

No, not Vanessa Redgrave. (You in the back, sit down.) It's Shirley MacLaine, Best Actress Oscar winner for Terms Of Endearment in 1983. Her latest character performance, as the eccentric Aunt Zena in Waiting For The Light, hits video this week. The actress has also written a number of books detailing her questionable astral experiences and put out her own workout tape. Oh, and she's also Warren Beatty's sister.

Shirley's success story is exactly the kind of show-business legend that starts untold thousands of starry-eyed wannabes on the road to success. At 20, a Broadway chorus girl, MacLaine understudied Carol Haney in The Pajama Game. Haney fractured her ankle, MacLaine went on in her place, and a sensation was born. MacLaine hit the silver screen in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 black comedy The Trouble With Harry (opposite John Forsythe) and kept on going ... right into the instantly forgettable Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis vehicle Artists And Models.

A struggle for more memorable roles (in more memorable films) landed the actress an appearance in Michael Todd's Around The World In 80 Days, and from there it was a short jump to her Oscar-nominated performance as the doomed Ginny in Some Came Running. The movie re-teamed her with Dean Martin and added Frank Sinatra to the mix, forming the basis for the Hollywood "Rat Pack" of the '60s. The very next year, MacLaine appeared opposite Sinatra again in Can-Can, and pulled another Academy Award nomination for Billy Wilder's comedy-drama The Apartment, where she played harried executive Jack Lemmon's love interest. A series of varied, challenging roles followed: She was a repressed teacher in The Children's Hour, a has-been dancer in Two For The Seesaw, a hooker with a heart of gold in Irma La Douce (earning her third Oscar nomination), an Old West nun opposite Clint Eastwood in Two Mules For Sister Sara and another hooker with a heart of gold in Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity.

In the early '70s, she spent a couple of years on TV as a photojournalist in the tailor-made series Shirley's World. Her nightclub act, "If They Could See Me Now," took her across the United States and, adapted into a TV special, won three Emmy Awards. A subsequent one-woman show, "Gypsy In My Soul," won another Emmy.

MacLaine returned to the screen in The Turning Point, where she received her fourth Academy Award nomination as a dance teacher alongside Anne Bancroft and Mikhail Baryshnikov. A series of mainstream comedy roles followed, as she starred with Peter Sellers in Being There, Dudley Moore in A Change Of Seasons and James Coburn and Susan Sarandon in Loving Couples. But she finally got her Oscar in 1983, when she played cranky, eccentric Aurora Greenway in James L. Brooks' Terms Of Endearment, a role that nabbed her that elusive statuette.

Since then, MacLaine has written a number of books, produced a relaxation video, Shirley MacLaine's Inner Workout, and has played a number of character roles: A cranky, eccentric piano teacher in Madame Sousatzka, a cranky, eccentric widow in Steel Magnolias, Meryl Streep's cranky, eccentric mother in Postcards From The Edge and most recently cranky, eccentric Aunt Zena in Waiting For The Light. (She has a decidedly uncranky cameo in Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life, due on video next month.) It would appear that Shirley has found her niche as the new Bette Davis.

The queen is dead. Long live the queen.