“This is the nicest reception I’ve had in 600,000 years!” And with that telling introduction, Shirley MacLaine charmed a crowded house of adoring fans on a personal journey filled with funny stories and pithy insights from an immortal career that could make even a hard-core skeptic believe in reincarnation. Joined onstage by moderator Peter Marks, Chief Theater Critic for the Washington Post, An Evening with Shirley MacLaine was a delightfully intimate conversation with an inimitable, kooky Grand Dame Diva and local-girl-done-good. The stage of The Music Center at Strathmore was the perfect ambiance for Shirley MacLaine, a bona fide star, to present the incredible panorama of her life story.
At 81 years of age, Shirley MacLaine is still going strong. Her illustrious career includes some 50 films, television, theater actress, singer, dancer, activist, and best-selling author. She received an Academy Award for Terms of Endearment, 5 Golden Globe Awards, 2 BAFTA Awards, one Emmy, the Cecil B. Demille Award, and numerous nominations. The American Film Institute also recognized her contributions with the Lifetime Achievement Award and she was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient.
The foreground to An Evening with Shirley MacLaine was an hour-long — and a tad too long– personally narrated visual biography of family photo souvenirs, book covers and video clips from many of her best-loved movies. Born in Richmond, Virginia, raised in the Dominion Heights section of Arlington, VA, and dance-trained at the Washington School of Ballet under the famed Mary Day, Shirley MacLaine knew at the age of 2 that she was destined for show business. Although she and her brother, actor/writer/director Warren Beatty, came from a family of mostly academics, it was her mother, a Canadian-born drama teacher and would-be actress, who seemed to be the inspiration for Shirley and Warren’s love of performing.
During the two-hour interview format, Peter Marks fielded written questions from the audience and added many of his own. In an unrehearsed, unfocused, somewhat rambling but completely spontaneous chit-chat, Shirley captivated the audience with everything from funny stories about her days in Hollywood to personal spiritual pilgrimages that led to a New Age philosophy and a life in which she’s walked the “Camino” solo across northern Spain and sighted UFOs. Ever the sassy humorist, Shirley’s current op-ed is that the real extraterrestrials are the US Congress!
The evening was a free-flow, transparent stream of consciousness into Shirley’s memories about her days as a dancer on Broadway, and the personalities and luminaries she encountered during the heyday of her career in Hollywood. Shirley MacLaine knows a lot of people and she’s seen it all and done it all. Perhaps that’s what led her to write, I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions. Her candor and authenticity were refreshing for a Hollywood maven. She had a love-hate relationship with Alfred Hitchcock who directed her film debut in The Trouble with Harry. And she found James L. Brooks, who directed her in Terms of Endearment, her most important but a complex film, a brilliant but “serious neurotic.” She’s been a muse to the Rat Pack and a person of interest to Fidel Castro whom she also found fascinating. And who knew that “the Dalai Lama is a flirt?”
Sharing a few tidbits about her political activism, MacLaine was a staunch supporter of George McGovern’s presidential candidacy but feels closest to Jimmy Carter among all of the presidents she’s met along the way. She likes Hillary’s politics but not her economics. When asked if she is optimistic about this country, Shirley replied that, “What’s wrong with our democracy is our addiction to materialism. We are a nation of immigrants so we want more.”
New Age Thought plays a central role in Shirley’s life going back to 1986 when she wrote, Out on a Limb. More books followed that are an interesting mix of Hollywood fluff such as My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir and serious-edged spirituality including Going Within: A Guide to Inner Transformation among many other bestsellers. She doesn’t stay too serious for long, however, and a devilish sense of humor had the audience laughing all night. “Misery loves comedy” is a philosophy she swears by. When asked to say something about the subject of happiness, she joked that, “Happiness is a warm toilet seat!” Going further, however, she said that happiness is loving the moment you are in. Mixing East and West, Shirley shared the story about how she threw herself open to the universe to get into character for Madam Sousatzka. True to her spiritual calling, Shirley channeled the spirit of Sousatzka who came in and just as quickly left on the last take.
In a brief allusion to her performance in The Children’s Hour, an iconoclastic film that delved into homosexuality, there was a question about the androgynous leanings of today’s young people. In an insightful reaction about youthful sexual explorations and gender identity, Shirley commented that young folks today are testing the full capacity of the soul to have unlimited experiences implying that the current quest for civil rights for all sexual orientations have a deeper, more spiritual meaning.
On life advice, when asked, Shirley said that we should, “Trust the angel on your shoulder because there is always an angel there.” And in closing words of wisdom, she said that when we get up in the morning we should remember that we are in charge—just like in the theater. We are making it up all the time- just like in the theater- but we ourselves are the director of ourselves.”
An Evening with Shirley MacLaine was a tribute to the timeless staying power of true celebrity.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with no intermission.
An Evening With Shirley MacLaine was performed on Saturday, May 9, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events at Strathmore, check their calendar of events.