Nationality: American. Born: Shirley MacLean Beaty in Richmond, Virginia, 24 April 1934; sister of the actor Warren Beatty. Education: Attended Washington School of Ballet; Washington and Lee High School, Arlington, Virginia, graduated 1952. Family: Married Steve Parker, 1954 (divorced 1977), daughter: Stephanie (known as the actress Sachi Parker). Career: In dancing chorus of Oklahoma , 1950, Me and Juliet , 1952, and understudy to Carol Haney in The Pajama Game , 1954; 1954–61—contract with Hal Wallis; 1955—film debut in The Trouble with Harry ; 1971–72—in TV series Shirley's World ; 1974—co-directed film The Other Half of the Sky ; 1974—formed nightclub act for Las Vegas, and in 1976 toured with the act in Europe and Latin America. Awards: Best Actress, Berlin Festival, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for Ask Any Girl , 1959; Best Actress, Venice Festival, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for The Apartment , 1960; Best Actress, Berlin Festival, for Desperate Characters , 1971; Best Actress, Academy Award, and Best Actress, New York and Los Angeles Film Critics,
The Trouble with Harry (Hitchcock) (as Jennifer Rogers); Artists and Models (Tashlin) (as Bessie Sparrowbush)
Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as Princess Aouda)
Hot Spell (Daniel Mann) (as Virginia Duval); The Sheepman (George Marshall) (as Dell Payton); The Matchmaker (Anthony) (as Irene Molloy); Some Came Running (Minnelli) (as Ginny Moorehead)
Ask Any Girl (Walters) (as Meg Wheeler); Career (Anthony) (as Sharon Kensington)
Can-Can (Walter Lang) (as Simone Pistache); The Apartment (Wilder) (as Fran Kubelik); Ocean's Eleven (Milestone) (as tipsy girl)
All in a Night's Work (Anthony) (as Katie Robbins); Two Loves (Walters) (as Anna Vorontosov); The Children's Hour (Wyler) (as Martha Dobie)
My Geisha (Cardiff) (as Lucy Dell/Yoko Mori); Two for the Seesaw (Wise) (as Gittel Mosca)
Irma La Douce (Wilder) (title role)
What a Way to Go! (Thompson) (as Louisa); John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (Thompson) (as Jenny Ericson)
The Yellow Rolls-Royce (Asquith) (as Mae Jenkins)
Gambit (Neame) (as Nicole Chang)
Woman Times Seven (De Sica) (as Paulette)
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom (McGrath) (title role)
Sweet Charity (Fosse) (as Charity Hope Valentine)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (Siegel) (title role)
Desperate Characters (Gilroy) (as Sophie Brentwood)
The Possession of Joel Delaney (Hussein) (as Norah Benson)
The Turning Point (Ross) (as Deedee Rogers)
Being There (Ashby) (as Eve Rand)
A Change of Seasons (Richard Lang) (as Karen Evans); Loving Couples (Smight) (as Evelyn)
Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks) (as Aurora Greenway)
Cannonball Run II (Needham) (as Veronica)
Madame Sousatzka (Schlesinger) (title role)
Steel Magnolias (Ross) (as Ouiser Boudreaux)
Waiting for the Light (Monger) (as Zena); Postcards from the Edge (Nichols) (as Doris Mann)
Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks) (as woman at past lives pavillion)
Used People (Kidron) (as Pearl); Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (Haines) (as Helen)
Guarding Tess (Wilson) (title role)
West Side Waltz (for TV); The Celluloid Closet (Eptsein and Friedman—doc) (as interviewee)
The Evening Star (as Aurora Greenway); Mrs. Winterbourne (Benjamin) (as Grace Winterbourne)
A Smile Like Yours (Samples) (as Martha—uncredited)
Looking for Lulu (Paris) (as Narrator)
Get Bruce (Kuehn) (as herself); Joan of Arc (Duguay—for TV) (as Madame de Beaurevoir); Forever Hollywood (Arnold Glassman and Todd McCarthy) (as herself)
The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir (doc) (co-d, + pr, sc)
Bruno (+ ro)
Out on a Limb (Butler—for TV) (as herself +co-sc)
Don't Fall Off the Mountain , New York, 1970.
You Can Get There from Here , New York, 1975.
Out on a Limb , New York, 1983.
Dancing in the Light , New York, 1986.
It's All in the Playing , New York, 1987.
Going Within , New York, 1989.
Dance While You Can , New York, 1991.
My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir , New York, 1995.
"The Two Faces of Shirley," interview with R. Bean, in Films and Filming (London), February 1962.
Photoplay (London), April 1984.
Interview with L. Farrah, in Films and Filming (London), May 1988.
"Shirley MacLaine Lives," interview with Pat Dowell, in Washingtonian , October 1988.
Interview with Janet Fitch, in American Film (New York), November 1989.
Erens, Patricia, The Films of Shirley MacLaine , South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1978.
Denis, Chiristopher, The Films of Shirley MacLaine , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1980.
Pickard, Roy, Shirley MacLaine , London, 1985.
Spada, James, Shirley and Warren , London, 1985.
Freedland, Michael, Shirley MacLaine , London, 1986.
Hanck, Frauke, Shirley MacLaine: Ihre Filme, ihr Leben , Munich, 1986.
Current Biography 1978 , New York, 1978.
Dowell, Pat, "Collector's Choice: Woman of the Year: Coming to Terms with the Career of Shirley MacLaine," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1984.
Séquences (Montreal), July 1984.
Haskell, Mollly, "Shirley MacLaine: Still Here," in Film Comment (New York), May-June 1995.
Major, W., "'Star' Bright," in Boxoffice (Chicago), November 1996.
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Shirley MacLaine's career has continued to thrive since she won her Academy Award in 1983. Terms of Endearment brought MacLaine full recognition as a performer and it also gave the actress an image for the latter stages of her career. The films that follow Terms of Endearment tend to present her as a combative person who, like Aurora Greenway in Brooks's film, struggles to set and maintain the "terms of endearment" of her personal relationships. In such films as Madame Sousatzka and Postcards from the Edge MacLaine is demanding, irascible, and generally exasperating; yet, by the film's resolution, she acknowledges that the relationship in question is at base essential and loving. The films illustrate the actress's willingness to play a difficult person who is in danger of alienating both the film's other characters and the viewer. MacLaine seems to delight in testing how far she can go before she pulls back and lets the viewer see that her character is in fact sensitive and capable of tenderness.
MacLaine has been highly successful in combining her status as a major star with that of a character actress; and the films are a testament to MacLaine's ability to sustain a career at an age when most of her contemporaries are no longer professionally active. Of the more recent films, Madame Sousatzka is perhaps the most outstanding and it provides MacLaine with an acting challenge she fully meets—Madame Sousatzka, a formidable piano teacher, is, in addition to being intelligent and creative, in equal measure bombastic and contemplative, willful and pliable. And John Schlesinger, who surrounds the actress with a group of strong performers, handles the material with insight and assurance. Similarly, Postcards from the Edge , another fine film, allows MacLaine to inject a degree of delicacy into her conception of an overbearing but insecure aging actress. Mike Nichols's film takes a gentle approach to satirizing Hollywood and tempers the mother-daughter conflict between MacLaine and Meryl Streep with low-key humor and a strong sense of compassion for both of these resilient but highly fragile characters. In these two films MacLaine is given the opportunity to bring depth and dimension to her characterizations; on the other hand, she also appears in Steel Magnolias and Used People , both shrill and crude films, and the bland Guarding Tess .
Besides working regularly as an actor, MacLaine continues to pursue her career as a writer. Her dual identity as actor/author came together most spectacularly with a telefilm dramatization of her book Out on a Limb in which she deals with transcendentalism. Out on a Limb is, aesthetically, undistinguished. The narrative is soap operaish, the performances are merely adequate and the direction is flat. MacLaine, like the film itself, is highly self-conscious and strains to convince that the material is engrossing and deserving of the time and money spent on the project. Out on a Limb 's primary significance is that it forcefully acknowledges MacLaine's ongoing desire to control her star image. The film is essentially concerned with verifying that MacLaine is a serious thinker, has a social conscience, and aspires to personal growth.
In the film version of Out on a Limb , MacLaine wonders if the public is going to take her beliefs seriously or think that she is making a fool of herself; by the time of Postcards from the Edge , she manages to make on film a joking reference to her transcendent experiences. Yet, Out on a Limb stands as an extraordinary attempt by an actor to fashion her image and MacLaine's ambitious effort deserves credit. And, arguably, the project is influenced by a feminist impulse—-MacLaine appears to be indicating that she takes sole responsibility for her actions and identity.
There is recent evidence that suggests MacLaine's screen image is undergoing a modification. Two recent works, Guarding Tess and West Side Waltz , feature a MacLaine that is stately but without sacrificing her humor and prickly nature. The image she projects evokes the latter day Katharine Hepburn for whom, incidentally, West Side Waltz was a star vehicle on Broadway.
Like Terms of Endearment , the MacLaine films that have followed are "women's films." In these films, the actress invariably plays an imperfect person. MacLaine does not offer idealized images of women but, instead, she attempts to show that women are complex and very human beings. And, like her filmic creations, MacLaine herself, is a survivor.