February 21, 2006
CORRECTED: Shirley MacLaine enjoys Hollywood renaissance
Please read "Susan Hayward" instead of "Susan Heyward" in
By Craig Modderno
film debut in a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock and won an
Oscar. But Shirley MacLaine says one thing she never did was
sleep with anyone to get a job.
"You know I've never had a casting couch proposition in my
life. I thought there was something wrong with me. Men always
know if you're going to laugh at them, which I would if they
did," she said in a recent interview, adding:
"It's nice not to have a career that's based on being a sex
object anyway. When I was 20, I saw myself as a character
actor, and I still do now."
With a career now in its sixth decade, an Oscar for best
actress in 1983's "Terms of Endearment," 10 best-selling books
and a reputation as one of Hollywood's sharper wits, MacLaine
has earned her icon status.
But at 71, Warren Beatty's older sister has also become
surprisingly a hot Hollywood actor. If you need a grandmother:
She won rave reviews playing granny to Cameron Diaz and
Toni Collette in the melodrama "In Her Shoes" and co-stars with
Jennifer Aniston in "Rumor Has It," also as a grandmother. She
also appeared with Nicole Kidman in the summer box office bomb
The experience has given MacLaine a unique insight into
today's modern stars. They are not a curious lot. Or at least,
none of the above-named stars was much interested in MacLaine's
past life as a superstar.
"Cameron used to spend the first hour of the rehearsal
period talking about the problems she had getting out of her
house and avoiding the photographers outside," MacLaine said.
"Nicole Kidman, who I adore, asked me questions about
longevity when we made 'Bewitched' but nothing else about the
business. Jennifer Aniston and I ... talked a lot of human
emotion and truth since her problems with her husband (actor
Brad Pitt) were then surfacing in the press, but she never
asked me about the business either.
"When we made 'In Her Shoes' our rehearsal stage was where
my dressing room was when I made 'The Children's Hour,' 'Two
For The Seasaw,' 'Irma La Douce' and 'The Apartment.' I would
have been happy to share my experiences just on those films
alone, but Cameron and Toni never asked me anything off
But had they asked, what would she have told them?
Apparently: "Don't screw up like I did."
"I would have given them an example of one of my own
biggest mistakes. I regret turning down the lead role in 'Alice
Doesn't Live Here Anymore,' which Ellen Burstyn deservedly won
an Oscar for.
"I said to myself 'Who is this (director) Martin Scorsese
person? Why should I see this little film about 'Mean Streets'?
It was a terrible, terrible mistake on my part. I didn't do my
homework. I didn't see his movies. And it was an excellent role
"Never get in a comfort zone where you're not open to new
ideas and filmmakers with passion for their projects!"
As an actress, MacLaine so avoids the comfort zone that
Curtis Hanson, director of "In Her Shoes" compared her to
Russell Crowe, who worked for him in "LA Confidential."
"Shirley's his female counterpart. They're wild horses
knocking against a fence post, trying to push and see how far
their work can take them. I think being challenged as an
actress keeps Shirley young," Hanson said recently.
Be that as it may, MacLaine says she doesn't feel like part
of today's Hollywood, and her fondest memories are of times
when she hung out with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Jack
Lemmon and Clint Eastwood, whom she calls her favorite
"Every once in awhile I wake up and see my former life
here, and it's fascinating to be this old and this experienced
after so many decades of changes," she said.
"When I started women like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis,
Susan Hayward and Lana Turner ruled the industry. Julie Andrews
and myself were the last women out of the studio star system.
When studios stopped having actors, particularly women, under
contract they ceased to develop scripts for them, and the
entire industry changed almost overnight," she added.
"I think Hollywood is making a big mistake not making films
for people over 50. Young people are fickle. They'll stay home
and play video games or go out and party instead of going to
the movies on a regular basis unless they're dating someone."