Classic Movie Legend Tribute: Shirley MacLaine

Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend, Shirley MacLaine, born April 24th, 1934!

The “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” is pretty common trope, dating back to ole the pre-feudalism days. The trope is pretty self-explanatory: you have a character who’s profession is outside of what polite society deems acceptable and thus, at first, is seen as a wise-talking, street smart, street-walker. However, as the narrative progresses, we learn that underneath the sex kitten façade is a sweet, good-natured person who only wants to help and be helped. And in the 50’s and 60’s, no one played that trope better than Shirley MacLaine.

Shirley MacLaine and dog in Irma La Douce (1963, Billy Wilder director)

To quote MacLaine’s own words, “I’ve made so many movies playing a hooker that they don’t pay me in the regular way anymore. They leave it on the dresser.” For me, that’s the beauty of MacLaine.  She embraced the trope like no other and rather than accept the trope at face value, she managed and developed it beyond the red light district. Understanding the psychology of a hooker with a heart of gold, she transposed it to other similarly damaged characters.

Shirley MacLaine, with Jack Lemmon, as the broken but well intentioned Fran in The Apartment. (1960, Billy Wilder director)

Look at Fran from the Billy Wilder flick The Apartment. A hooker: no. Sleeping with her married boss: yes. Different professions, different situation but the same psychology applies. With Fran, MacLaine was able to portray the veneer of a strong professional, albeit quirky, woman who, in reality, is very broken and personally shamed due to her torrid love affair. Although she is engaged in activity that society deems immoral, Fran is not. Although a small part of her morality is blinded by that crazy little thing called love, nothing about Fran makes her seem malicious. In fact, she’s incredibly friendly and easy-going. Despite her situation, despite her self-proclaimed “brokenness,” she tries as hard as she can to project a positive person who is there to help others.

Unfortunately, at 84 years old, it appears her heart-warming street walker days are over. But hey, a good thing can’t last forever. And besides, who doesn’t love the elder Shirley MacLaine. Have you seen Steel Magnolias?

If you haven’t, I wont speak with you until you do.


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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