Actress. Singer. Dancer. Author. Activist. There seems to be nothing that Shirley MacLaine can’t do. Shirley MacLaine Beaty was born April 24, 1934 in Richmond Virginia to Ira Owens Beaty and Kathlyn Corinne. Shirley was performing in front of people at a young age, first beginning with ballet. Unfortunately, many of her roles were boys’ roles because there were no boys in her ballet class and she was the tallest girl available. While warming up backstage before a performance as Cinderella’s fairy godmother, she broke her ankle — but this didn’t stop her from going out there and performing the role anyway. Within time however, MacLaine realized that ballet wasn’t for her, and she instead pursued Broadway dancing — and then acting.
After high school graduation, MacLaine headed to Broadway, and a year later she was chosen to be Carol Haney’s understudy in The Pajama Game. In an ironic turn of events, Haney would end up breaking her ankle, and MacLaine would fill in for her. A few months later, MacLaine would again fill in for Haney — this time, the same night that well-known film producer Hal B. Wallis was in the audience. Impressed with MacLaine’s performance, he signed her to work for Paramount Pictures.
MacLaine’s feature film debut was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), which won her a Golden Globe for New Star Of The Year. I apologize for breaking the fourth wall here, but if Hitchcock sees enough talent in a person with no film experience to feature them in his film, then this person must be fantastic. A year later, MacLaine would star in Some Came Running, for which she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Her second Best Actress nomination would come two years later with The Apartment, but she lost to Elizabeth Taylor. When speaking about her chances, she said, “I thought I would win for The Apartment, but then Elizabeth Taylor had a tracheotomy”.
Nomination three of five came in 1963 for the film Irma la Douce, which reunited her with Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon. Again, she would lose Best Actress, this time to Patricia Neal for her performance in Hud. In the 70’s, MacLaine would be nominated two more times, one for Best Documentary, The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir, and the other for Best Actress in The Turning Point. In The Turning Point, MacLaine portrays a retired ballerina, which was probably a role all too familiar to her.
In 1978, MacLaine won the Women in Film Crystal Award, which is awarded to outstanding women who helped expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. In 1983, MacLaine finally won her first Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Aurora Greenway in the James L. Brooks film Terms of Endearment. The film would also win Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson.
Josh Kaye for Classic Movie Hub