Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1st with Shirley MacLaine

A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful night at a short fine arts program performed by some elementary school students in San Francisco.  Before it began, I chatted with the parents of one little boy in the show.  The husband and I started talking about old movies and he said, "I didn't know Shirley MacLaine was a babe!"  He knew Shirley MacLaine from her roles as irrepressible older ladies in the films Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias and her current spot on the hit PBS series, Downton Abbey.

Yes, she was a babe as audiences discovered when they first saw the screen newcomer in the 1950s.  Audiences fell in love with the kooky new personality sparkling in Artists and Models, the 1955 Paramount comedy starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

Shirley got Jerry.  Dorothy Malone got Dean.

At home, the married guy and his wife had rented a DVD of MacLaine as the popular French hooker who falls in love with a totally honest new cop on her beat.  She was Irma La Douce.  The Billy Wilder comedy re-teamed her with Jack Lemmon.

I made him promise to rent the first film the actors did together -- Billy Wilder's The Apartment.  You, too, should rent this Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1960.

I'm being a total film geek here:  One of my favorite guilty pleasure movie rentals is a 1964 Shirley MacLaine satirical comedy.  The movie opens with a wealthy widow, still in a state of grief, on her way to donate millions of dollars -- to the IRS.  This could only be a comedy.  She's frustrated trying to make the donation because it's April the 1st.  The IRS clerk assumes she's part of an April Fools' Day office prank.  In What A Way To Go!, we see how a girl who only wanted a simple life kept marrying men who died in some wacky manner and made her rich, rich, rich.  She'd prefer country hills to Beverly Hills.

Louisa recently laid to rest Hollywood's Pinky Benson.  A freak accident took him at his last Hollywood premiere.  She was there -- decked out in his favorite color.
After Hollywood stardom hit, their married life was always "in the pink."
It's a big, glossy, goofy, star-packed extravaganza that always puts a smile on my face.

As Louisa, the poor little rich girl, Shirley MacLaine had top stars to play the men she loved and tried not to lose to the Grim Reaper.  She's had bad luck with husbands.  The lovely millionairess thinks she needs therapy. A psychiatrist puts her on the couch.

We go back to Louisa's humble beginnings and then meet the men who just couldn't keep her out of the  poorhouse.  Her co-stars included a flirty and funny Dean Martin...

...a bearded Paul Newman as the beatnik American in Paris painter....
...the millionaire playboy who decides to settle down is played by Robert Mitchum...

...and the corny entertainer called Pinky Benson is played by the MGM star famous for being An American in Paris -- Gene Kelly.  Pinky meets and marries Louisa when he's a nobody.  He'll become one of Hollywood's biggest -- and most egotistical -- stars.

Shirley MacLaine started her career in Broadway musicals.  She was an understudy in The Pajama Game and went on for Carol Haney when Hollywood heavyweights were in the audience.  The late Carol Haney repeated her performance in the film version starring Doris Day.  Shirley got discovered in The Pajama Game and made her screen debut as a young widowed mother in Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955).  Her first Best Actress Oscar nomination came for Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running (1958).  MacLaine was slated to star in MGM's screen version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Debbie Reynolds got the part.   Many years later, Shirley got the part that Debbie Reynolds wanted in Postcards From The Edge.  Like Debbie in Singin' in the Rain, she got to dance onscreen with movie legend Gene Kelly.  They danced in this movie.

For all the big name male star power helping her get laughs in this comedy, Shirley MacLaine's biggest co-star wasn't even seen onscreen.  This movie is one fabulous fashion show.  Those kids on Project Runway need to study What A Way To Go!

MacLaine was practically a Project Runway season unto herself here thanks to the many original costumes from Hollywood's superstar designer highlighted in the opening credits:

You could not write about top Hollywood costume designers and exclude Edith Head.  She truly was an icon in that field.  She won 8 Academy Awards and got 35 Oscars nominations in her long and illustrious Hollywood career.

Edith designed the comic book-inspired costumes for Shirley in Artists and Models.

The celebrated designer outdid herself creating festive wear for Shirley in What A Way To Go!  You can see what I mean because this comedy finally made it to DVD a couple of years ago.  It's not a really classic film like The Apartment and Terms of Endearment but I really dig this comedy/fashion show.  I miss this movie era.  Head was great in Hollywood.

I think you'll love the deluxe look of this movie.  Besides...what's not to love about a movie that puts Shirley MacLaine in a giant champagne glass with Robert Mitchum?
She was a real babe in this fun satire and the story starts on April 1st. No fooling.  Enjoy.


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