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Shirley MacLaine, Then And Now: From 'The Apartment' To 'Terms Of Endearment'

Entertainment | April 26, 2021

Actress Shirley MacLaine in London, 21st August 1960. (Photo by Don Smith/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

Shirley MacLaine, most famous for her comedic role in The Apartment (1960) and her tear jerking performance in Terms Of Endearment (1983), has been a force in Hollywood for over six decades. From day one, MacLaine knew she was destined to be an entertainer -- first setting her sights on ballet before blossoming into an Oscar-caliber actress who could make audiences laugh or weep. She also joined the elite Hollywood in-crowd, befriending Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies.

MacLaine's versatility makes her hard to pin down, though she seems to relish that ambiguity. She made her choices in a period when actresses were asserting more control over their careers, and she lives with no regrets. Her eccentric personality landed her an array of oddball roles in television and film, and has continued to define her as a writer and spiritual quester. There's nobody like Shirley MacLaine.

MacLaine Wasn’t Quite Built For Ballet

Source: Wall Street Journal

 Shirley MacLaine was born on April 24th, 1934 and was named after child star Shirley Temple, which seemed to be a foreshadowing of her future. Her younger brother Warren Beatty also became a successful actor. Her mother Kathlyn Corinne was a drama teacher who inspired her daughter to take up dancing just as a toddler. MacLaine was so passionate about ballet and knew she at least was determined to become an entertainer. Unfortunately, MacLaine’s ankles were fragile as she often sprained them or would spontaneously fall over. She later realized ballet was just not meant for her as she was not blessed with perfect dancer’s feet and she grew too tall for the skill. MacLaine gave up ballet for other forms of dance and thus sent her energy into musical theater.

MacLaine Started Her Entertainment Career On Broadway

Source: Pinterest

While still in high school, MacLaine traveled to New York City during the summers to pursue her performing dreams. The summer before her senior year she sang in the chorus of the production of Oklahoma! and after graduation, she became a dancer in the Broadway musical Me and Juliet. Her life took a monumental turn in 1954 when she sang in the chorus for the Broadway production The Pajama Game and worked as understudy for one of the main characters played by Carol Haney. Ironically, Haney injured her ankle so MacLaine took over her role for the remainder of the production. Film producer Hal B. Wallis attended one of the performances and was so impressed with MacLaine he signed her with Paramount Pictures and thrust her into a new career that would last throughout the rest of her life. The first film she appeared in was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, in which MacLaine won the Golden Globe Award for “New Star Of The Year -- Actress.”

MacLaine Landed Roles In Some Of The Most Popular Movies Of The Era

Source: Pinterest

From the moment of her film debut, MacLaine’s career launched her into a plethora of various kinds of films. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Some Came Running, where she played a woman who falls in love with Frank Sinatra’s character, and she then became great friends with Sinatra and the rest of his Rat Pack, including Dean Martin. By 1960, MacLaine had appeared in numerous high profile films alongside the era's biggest stars, including Artists And Models (1956) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Around The World In 80 Days (1956) with David Niven, and Hot Spell (1958) with Shirley Booth and Anthony Quinn. 

In 1960, audiences and critics went mad for one of her most famous performances, the co-starring role in Billy Wilder’s romantic-comedy-drama The Apartment. The plot involves C.C. Baxter (played by Jack Lemmon) who opens up his apartment for his co-workers to have secret affairs outside their marriages. MacLaine plays the young elevator attendant who engages in an affair with Baxter’s boss until she ends up falling for Baxter, who had romantic feelings for her the entire time. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and although MacLaine lost the Best Actress award to Elizabeth Taylor (who won for Butterfield 8), she was recognized for her outstandingly charismatic performance and humor that brought the film to life.

Not Everyone Enjoyed MacLaine’s Strong Personality

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Throughout the next decades MacLaine continued to star in a plethora of films that included Sweet Charity (1969), the Clint Eastwood western Two Mules For Sister Sara (1970), and the acclaimed adaptation of the Jerzy Kosinski novel Being There (1979). Notorious for her spirited, tomboyish personality she was not liked by everyone off-screen as much as she was on-screen. The most famous case of rivalry was the clashing between MacLaine and her co-star Anthony Hopkins in their 1980 film A Change Of Seasons. Nonetheless, the 1980s brought one of MacLaine’s strongest films of her entire career, Terms Of Endearment (1983), the movie that brought tears to everyone’s eyes. MacLaine plays Aurora Greenway who has been experiencing a strained relationship with her daughter, played by Debra Winger, for thirty years and falls in love with Jack Nicholson’s character. Terms Of Endearment was nominated for eleven awards at the Academy Awards and MacLaine finally won her first Oscar. She starred in another ‘80s classic Steel Magnolias in 1989 alongside Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and Dolly Parton who all play a group of close friends coping with the death of their fellow companion.

Today MacLaine Is Very Involved With Spirituality 

Source: Vanity Fair

MacLaine has never stopped acting and continued to star in films such as Used People (1992), Guarding Tess (1994), Rumor Has It (2005), In Her Shoes (2005), The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013), and The Little Mermaid (2018) along with several television specials. In 1984, she divorced her husband-at-the-time Steve Parker after thirty years of marriage with whom she had one daughter named Sachi. Today, MacLaine considers herself a very spiritual person who is extremely passionate about metaphysics and has portrayed these interests in many of her works. She also studies UFOs and claims to have experienced several alien sightings while also discussing her past lives including living in Atlantis thousands of years ago.  

Tags: Ladies | Shirley MacLaine | Then And Now | Warren Beatty | The Apartment | Terms Of Endearment

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.