Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shirley MacLaine: Merry Widow

This week came the good news that Broadway dancer-turned-Hollywood movie star Shirley MacLaine will be a recipient of Kennedy Center Honors along with Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and Billy Joel. Great line-up.  I totally dig Shirley MacLaine.  She's a wonderful screen actress and a good writer.  I've read a number of her books.  They're all candid, intelligent, witty and provocative.  Back in her early Hollywood days, she was known for having an open marriage.  For someone who had a reportedly open marriage and some lively love affairs (according to her books), she sure has played a lot of widows in her film career.  And widowhood worked for her!  After she was discovered on Broadway in the musical comedy, The Pajama Game, she made her movie debut playing a young widow in the autumnal Alfred Hitchcock murder mystery/comedy, The Trouble with Harry (1955).  That kicked off a very successful and long film career.

Opposite David Niven, She starred as an Indian princess who was widowed in the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1956, Around the World in 80 Days.

She kept losing husbands and getting richer in What A Way To Go! (1964).
The poor little rich girl didn't want wealth.  She wanted a simple life.  But, in the meantime, the money allowed her to sing and dance with Gene Kelly...

...and have other fabulous leading men like Robert Mitchum and Paul Newman. AND... equally fabulous costumes designed by Edith Head.  This big deluxe satire is one of my favorite feel-good movies.  Shirley is one-woman fashion show in it.


She was a young widow being hit on at her husband's funeral.  Peter Sellers plays the flirt in the first episode of Vittorio De Sica's Woman Times Seven (1967).

 Not having a husband really paid off for her when she worked for director, screenwriter and producer James L. Brooks.  He cast her as the exasperating but loving widowed mother in Terms of Endearment.  MacLaine seemed born to play Aurora Greenway.

The Academy thought so too.  She won the Oscar for Best Actress, Jack Nicholson won for Best Supporting Actor and the movie was voted Best Picture.  Brooks won Oscars for directing, writing and producing the Best Picture of 1983. They hit a Hollywood gold mine.

When the Best Actress Oscar winner was a guest on my VH1 talk show, I asked Shirley MacLaine about her accent for James L. Brooks in Terms of Endearment.
Shirley eventually did use that originally-planned accent.  She used it playing another widow -- the constantly cranky Oiuser in the 1989 hit, Steel Magnolias.

She should've been up for Best Supporting Actress and Jack Black should've been up for Best Actor in Bernie.  Not only was she a widow in that movie too, based on a real-life murder case, she was the richest and meanest woman in the whole damn Texas town.
The only person she seems to care for is the shy, lonely and beloved funeral director named Bernie.  They become an odd couple.  This black comedy was one of my favorite films of 2011.  MacLaine was in top form.  She and Jack Black are excellent in Bernie.

Today, Shirley MacLaine has more fans thanks to her arrival on the hit PBS British TV series, Downtown Abbey, co-starring fellow Best Actress Oscar winner, Maggie Smith.

And guess what?  Shirley's a flamboyant American widow.  This could all be some past life karma that Shirley has worked out in her film and TV roles.

From Broadway musicals to starring roles in films, three of which won the Oscar for Best Picture (Around the World in 80 Days, Billy Wilder's The Apartment and Terms of Endearment), to writing best-selling books with independent views on Hollywood fame, feminism, politics, spirituality and even UFOs to now having a hit TV series to her credit, Shirley MacLaine has earned that Kennedy Center salute.  The artists are chosen for "...elevating the cultural vibrancy of our nation."  She has definitely done that.

The only thing Shirley MacLaine hasn't done has been to star opposite her famous actor/director brother, Oscar winner Warren Beatty, in a film or television project.

The Kennedy Center Honors special will air on CBS this coming December.  Congratulations, Shirley.

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