Shirley MacLaine kept her virtue in Hollywood
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Shirley MacLaine kept her virtue in Hollywood

The legendary Hollywood actor says that she never had a casting couch proposition in her life.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 14:52 IST

She ran with the

Rat Pack

, made her film debut in a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock and won an Oscar. But Shirley MacLaine says one thing she never did was sleep with anyone to get a job.

"You know I've never had a casting couch proposition in my life. I thought there was something wrong with me. Men always know if you're going to laugh at them, which I would if they did," she said in a recent interview, adding:

"It's nice not to have a career that's based on being a sex object anyway. When I was 20, I saw myself as a character actor and I still do now."

With a career now in its sixth decade, an Oscar for best actress in 1983's Terms of Endearment, 10 best-selling books and a reputation as one of Hollywood's sharper wits, MacLaine has earned her icon status.

But at 71, Warren Beatty's older sister has also become surprisingly a hot Hollywood actor. If you need a grandmother: please call.

She won rave reviews playing granny to Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette in the melodrama In Her Shoes and co-stars with Jennifer Aniston in Rumour Has It, also as a grandmother. She also appeared with Nicole Kidman in the summer box office bomb Bewitched.

The experience has given MacLaine a unique insight in today's modern stars. They are not a curious lot. Or at least, none of the above named stars were much interested in MacLaine's past life as a superstar.

"Cameron used to spend the first hour of the rehearsal period talking about the problems she had getting out of her house and avoiding the photographers outside," MacLaine said.

"Nicole Kidman, who I adore, asked me questions about longevity when we made 'Bewitched' but nothing else about the business. Jennifer Aniston and I talked a lot of human emotion and truth since her problems with her husband (actor Brad Pitt) were then surfacing in the press but she never asked me about the business either.

"When we made 'In Her Shoes' our rehearsal stage was where my dressing room was when I made 'The Children's Hour,' 'Two For The Seasaw,' 'Irma La Douce' and 'The Apartment.' I would have been happy to share my experiences just on those films alone, but Cameron and Toni never asked me anything off camera."

But had they asked, what would she have told them? Apparently: "Don't screw up like I did."

"I would have given them an example of one of my own biggest mistakes. I regret turning down the lead role in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, which Ellen Burstyn deservedly won an Oscar for.

"I said to myself 'Who is this (director) Martin Scorsese person? Why should I see this little film about 'Mean Streets'? It was a terrible, terrible mistake on my part. I didn't do my homework. I didn't see his movies. And it was an excellent role for me.

"Never get in a comfort zone where you're not open to new ideas and filmmakers with passion for their projects!"

As an actress, MacLaine so avoids the comfort zone that Curtis Hanson, director of "In Her Shoes" compared her to Russell Crowe, who worked for him in "L.A. Confidential."

"Shirley's his female counterpart. They're wild horses knocking against a fence post, trying to push and see how far their work can take them. I think being challenged as an actress keeps Shirley young," Hanson said recently.

Be that as it may, MacLaine says she doesn't feel like part of today's Hollywood and her fondest memories are of times when she hung out with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon and Clint Eastwood, whom she calls her favourite Republican director.

"Every once in awhile I wake up and see my former life here and it's fascinating to be this old and this experienced after so many decades of changes," she said.

"When I started women like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Susan Heyward and Lana Turner ruled the industry. Julie Andrews and myself were the last women out of the studio star system. When studios stopped having actors, particularly, women under contract they ceased to develop scripts for them and the entire industry changed almost overnight," she added.

"I think Hollywood is making a big mistake not making films for people over 50. Young people are fickle. They'll stay home and play video games or go out and party instead of going to the movies on a regular basis unless they're dating someone."

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 13:37 IST