Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine outside her Malibu home,one of several properties she has invested in.

Bats in the belfry : Shirley MacLaine

"There's no way I would be attracted to a man of my own age-he couldn't keep up"

The oscar-winning actress, still frisky at 66, is on a natural high, fuelled by her belief in herself and an appetite for life (and past lives). The seducer of Charlemagne in a former incarnation says that this is time round she has yet to fall in love- but on her spiritual journey, she's learning to love herself.

Andrew Duncan

Andrew Duncan The Pacific Ocean hurls itself against the foot of her house in Malibu, drowning the raucous laughter with which she mocks herself before you can - she's even written send-ups of her "odd" beliefs for talk-show hosts "because I want them to be funny. If they're not I'm embarrassed." She sits cross-legged on the sofa, freckled, frisky, flirtatious, a 66-year-old with a vivid sexual history, anticipating warily the love of her life a soothsayer predicts she'll meet in three years' time. Her present constant companion, a rat terrier called Terri, chews the carpet near crystals placed symbolically by a large window facing the ocean before deciding I might be a more substantial plaything. I swat her away. "Come over here and bother me, my little honey," she coos (to the dog).

First thing every morning she does an hour's xigong ("xi" means life force; "gong" is the cultivation of it), which she demonstrates for me with a fluid movement of her arms. "You let the energy go wherever it wants. I have such a rich spiritual life. Most people take drugs to experience that. I've only smoked two joints in my life - once at the Grosvenor House in London and it made me so hungry I nearly ate the furniture, and the other time at a party near here. I stared at a TV test pattern for 14 hours. I don't need drugs to have imaginative fantasies." She points to a doormat on the balcony - "Welcome UFOs and aliens" - and says she doesn't take herself too seriously. "How can I? I'm used to people thinking I'm wacky, but what I've said for 30 years is now mainstream. I don't feel 'I told you so'. I'm prepared to be misunderstood."

In past lives she has been a Japanese geisha, a Moorish girl summoned to cure a fellow countryman of impotence, a suicide in Atlantis, a Toulouse-Lautrec model, an orphan raised by elephants and the seducer of Charlemagne who was subsequently reborn as Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, with whom she had an affair (in her present life), pretending for years he was a British MP. "We're all playing parts," she insists. "You're acting as a journalist, doing your best, and I'm trying to impress you. That's what we do throughout our lives, and you're empowered when you come to terms with it. What's imagination, what's real? I don't know. If you're playing a role, you can rewrite it any way you want."

So long ago,so unclear : The Ratpack
Rat Packer MacLaine (right) in 1962 with friends Dean Martin, Audrey Hepburn, director William Wyler and Frank Sinatra

Unkind souls claim she is not so batty as she sometimes sounds, that she is a shrewd businesswoman with her own website, (advising on feng shui, UFOs, vitamins and other metaphysical issues), a 6,000-acre New Mexico ranch as well as the multimillion- dollar Malibu house she has converted into apartments, who writes books (nine volumes of autobiography so far) to make money. "Are you kidding?" she chortles. "My reputation would have been less complicated if I hadn't written them." Her latest, The Camino: a Journal of the Spirit, is a fascinating account of a 31-day, 458-mile pilgrimage along the Santiago de Compostela Camino in northern Spain, which has been trudged for thousands of years by those in search of their souls. She travelled light - no bra, because her backpack would rub against the straps. For an Oscar-winning (Terms of Endearment) veteran of more than 50 films, she was careless of her appearance. The dye came out of her hair and she says, "I thought I was an apparition from another planet, but I like aliens so that didn't matter." Earplugs were her only concession to comfort - against the advice of her homeopath, who warned they'd obstruct meridians to the kidneys - because she knew she'd share refugios with fellow pilgrims who might snore. She dispatched two friends with Indian blood to hold down the energy at her New Mexico home and set off, accompanied by an invisible angel called Ariel. Her biggest problem was Spanish paparazzi, who took pictures of her in the primitive showers en route. "What is the socially appropriate modality of them if they think that's OK?" she asks, and fortunately doesn't wait for me to decipher the question before continuing, "I smashed their cameras, so there are no pictures of me in the shower."

"I'm a diva.If someone isn't doing something right,I tell them and they do it my way.I've earned the right"

On the first night she dreamt of all the men she's slept with. A bit of a nightmare, perhaps? "No it was very pleasant. It cleansed, balanced everything." Along the way she meets Javier, "a startlingly handsome man in his mid-thirties", who may, or may not, exist. "There's no way I would be attracted to a man of my own age because he couldn't keep up," she tells me. "I need someone 15 years younger. They listen better and are, er, more flexible. Why is it unseemly for a woman of my age to want a roll in the hay? When Oliver Stone asked if I still made love [she uses a vernacular expression], I threw a glass of wine in his face. The male attitude to sex is being the powerful figure, although every man loves to be overpowered, if he's honest, so he can touch his feminine side. And every woman secretly wants to exhibit power. The combination of a man and woman who go back and forth with their feminine and masculine energy makes a good sexual relationship, and the only way to achieve it is to become more spiritually attuned. That doesn't mean sitting on a mountain-top strumming a guitar, eating bean sprouts and mooning at the stars. It requires getting into the deeper spirituality of yourself and realising you are capable of every emotion anyone ever thought of. I've had many loving relationships, but don't think I've ever been in love - this time round - except maybe with my little dog. I've been too overachieving and goal-oriented. I hate to sound trite, but the more you learn to love who you are, the more you are capable of loving another person. I'm still trying to find out who I am. I don't know if I ever will, but the journey is the discovery."

Loving dogs and getting paid to do it
A role as Paris prostitute Irma la Douce in 1963 brought her third Oscar nomination.

During the pilgrimage she "meets" interesting strangers including John the Scot, a cleric in her lover Charlemagne's court who has a modern way with words - "You visited momentarily with your parents" - but a sense of humour remains. "I saw large screws along the path. I don't know if that meant I had a screw loose." She admits her emotions were out of kilter at the start. "You only have to ride along the LA freeways and see the road rage to know something is wrong with the world.In Hollywood, it's all about money and ratings. They've opted for the lowest common denominator of movie-goer, who's male between 14 and 17 and wants action and killing. It reflects the disintegration of decency and spirituality. We flaunt possessions yet want to be thin. And there's a growing spiritual movement which is a contradiction to materialism. The big question is whether we blow ourselves up." That might not worry her, as she was relaxed when told she had to be prepared to die on the pilgrimage. "I'm very interested in what's on the other side, and I've died many times before, although it's not close to my memory."
[What an idiot! There's no such thing as "past lives" because there's no such thing as a "soul",you can't die more than once,and there isn't "another side",spirits do not exist.Shirley has obviously played one too many roles,and now thinks that she has had "past lives".Wake up Shirley you used to be an actress who plays other lives,they weren't real! -LB]

"All my books have been bestsellers which is wonderful considering I'm not that great a writer"

In her present incarnation she grew up in Virginia where her father, Ira, was a teacher with frustrated ambitions to be a philosopher and violinist, and her mother, Kathlyn, was a poetess, drama teacher and actress manquée. She says she and her younger brother, Warren Beatty, pushed themselves in response to the deep sense of failure at home. "We are fulfilling our parents' disappointment with their own lives. My mother admitted to me just before she died that she'd been envious of me all my life. That was a wonderful release, for her to say and me to hear. I'd done what she always wanted to do, but she made the decision to stop and raise her children. She was Canadian and rather repressed. Dad was small-town Virginian, open about his emotions. He'd cry at the Star Spangled Banner. It was the perfect balance for us children, but they weren't happy." It's said she was annoyed when Warren started acting. "Not true. What's he going to do - wear my clothes and play my parts? It would be difficult to make a film with him, though. He likes 68 takes at a minimum. I did it straight away." Mike Nichols, who directed her in Postcards from the Edge (for which she received one of her four acting Oscar nominations), says she has no vanity. "Well, compared to other stars he's worked with I'd be a zero, but I think I'm vain. I like to look nice, and hate it when I'm fat. I was born pretty but not beautiful, thank God. Beautiful people are eighty-sixed [excluded] from being intelligent."

Where angels fear to tread:Little devil Jack
An oscar-winning turn with Debra Winger and Jack Nicholson in tearjerker Terms of Endearment (1983).

She was a difficult child. "I had temper tantrums. Now I'm a diva. If someone isn't doing it right, I tell them and they do it my way. I've earned the right. That's why I couldn't be a politician. A bunch of liberal Californian money men asked me to run for Senate but I told them I'd have to do six weeks in Las Vegas, and one-and-a-half pictures a year. I'm used to walking on set and saying this scene doesn't work and they fix it. In government there has to be a democratic vote. I couldn't go down on a street corner and say, 'Vote for me.'"

Her success as an actress was almost immediate - a 20 year old dancer elevated from the chorus to star in The Pyjama Game when the leading lady broke her ankle. Alfred Hitchcock was in the audience and cast her in The Trouble with Harry. "It was so easy it never occurred to me I wouldn't make it. There was an angel on my shoulder." Always has been, it seems. At 24 she became an honorary member of the so-called "Rat Pack" ("I was one of the fellows and there was no hanky-panky") after making Some Came Running with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. She fell in unconsummated love with Martin and says she's attracted to difficult men - "Always a good learning experience. I don't have a bitter feeling towards any of them. I have a couple of men in my life now, but they like to be married more than I do and complain I'm not around enough. I haven't a clue how long I'll stay anywhere. When I move I usually miss something that would have been disastrous - fires in Malibu, the earthquake. I've missed planes that turned out to have a problem. I'm invited out a lot, but friends always assume I'm at a wine-tasting festival in Romania, or something." Perhaps they think she's disappeared temporarily to another life. "That's a bad joke," she scolds.

She's got legs...and knows how to Xi-gong them
MacLaine's famous legs first caught the eye when she was a dancer

She married film producer Steve Parker in 1954 and divorced in 1987, although they were estranged and haven't met for many years. Their daughter, Sachi, was brought up mostly by her father in Japan. "I think she missed a lot, although I saw her for three months at Christmas, Easter and summer, but there was a Mafia threat on her and I wanted to get her out of America. Her ambition was to act and she was very good, but she has two children and stronger in her is the need to be a conventional mother like she never had. Acting is an extremely metaphysical experience because you're creating your own reality every day. There was a wonderful teacher here who put students through past-life recall to help them to access emotional adventures they may never have had in this life. If you play a killer you can find that you go into meditation and discover an experience where you were one. We've all been saints and sinners and everything the emotional landscape offers. Being on set is sexy because you're so emotionally available. I fell in love with someone [including Danny Kaye, Robert Mitchum and Yves Montand] on every picture I made for the first 30 years," she laughs. "Then I became a little more selective."

She directed her last film, Bruno "a darling movie, and I enjoyed everything except the money problems. Independent film-making is a roller coaster, but it's difficult for an actress to get parts these days. It's not just women over 50. It's those over 25, which is ridiculous. After I won the Oscar I decided to play only character parts. Why be a woman who's just a sidekick to a guy?" Her current venture is These Old Broads, directed by Carrie Fisher and co-starring Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, about three fading former musical-comedy stars brought together for a TV series. "We spoof ourselves. I'm the woman everyone wanted to marry who has a gangster boyfriend and about $50 million, a New Ager who talks about karma and reincarnation. We hate each other because we've all been boffing the same director and none of us knew it. In real life if I was boffing the director I'd know if he was boffing another actress - and so would she."

From actress to old batty ditz
Broadway From left: with Steve Parker, her husband for 33 years; accompanying little brother Warren Beatty to the Oscars ceremony In 1966; with daughter Sachi at the Oscars in 1984, when she was named best actress.

Writing seems now to be her first love. "All my books have been bestsellers, which is wonderful considering I'm not that great a writer. I have very clear thinking and, wacky as it might appear to some, it's obvious to those who understand what I'm saying. Journalists rarely do because they refuse to look inside themselves. I should know. I've lived with enough of them."

I wonder if she's satisfied with the way she has lived her present life. "What kind of a question is that?" Well, is she happy? "Very. I guess I could say my happiness comes from having had a lot of experiences and not from being successful, rich or powerful. I'm blessed, and I want to share that." She chortles again, and asks if I want to see the lucky charms without which she never leaves her home. Of course I do.

WEBWATCH You can hear extracts from this interview at

Further Reading

Shirley MacLaine's latest book The Camino: a Journey of the Spirit, published by Simon and Schuster, is available in shops now, price £17.99





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Email:Radio Times 12 - 18 August 2000 File Info: Created 8/8/2000 Updated 25/8/2003 Page Address: