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Thursday, April 24, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine

On this, Shirley MacLaine's Birthday, it only seems appropriate to celebrate the great lady. And she is great. She's fab'. She's talented. Mostly, she's fun. Shirley's great allure as an actress is her immediate accessibility. She is a down to earth and open woman whose sincere presence and authentic approachability makes her more of a chum than a movie star. In truth, one doesn't really equate her with the grand glamour of the typical Hollywood goddess, and this certainly isn't because her effect is any less profound. It's because she wouldn't want it that way. Even in her characterizations, she cuts through all the BS and the posturing and gets to the meat of the matter, whether to do so she has to paint herself as a clown, a crab apple, a vulnerable child-woman, or simply a breath of fresh air. You can't help but fall in love with her. A member of the original Rat Pack, and a woman who was able to get Robert Mitchum to fall head over heels for her, she must have been doing something right.

I've always found Shirley's work much more fascinating than her actor/filmmaker brother's. What Warren Beatty was unable to totally strip off in terms of emotional exposure, Shirley did without effort. An intelligent and insightful actress, her smarts do not reveal themselves in pompous intellectualization but are rather insinuated through her actions and receptivity. Shirley openly indulges in her personal life in expeditions into a "higher plane" of consciousness and general existence, and this is evident in her work. Her accuracy in interpreting the world she sees around her is razor sharp, and indeed it hits you right in the heart when her gritty, earthy honesty is truly unleashed (Terms of Endearment, The Apartment). Like all the best actors and actresses, her craft is seamless. It effects you without showing its hand. Mostly, she is just enjoyable to watch, even in her dramas. There is a lightness to her spirit that elevates the viewer and provides a safe place in the theater, the living room, etc. When she's on screen, one can relax, sit back, and just let whatever brazenness or intensity is about to occur unfold, because what she gives occurs on the screen is delivered and shared through one of the most genuine of performers.

Shirley was (and is) a hard worker who earned her stripes on the stage, where she got her start as a dancer. When she filled in as an understudy for an indisposed Carol Haney in a production of "The Pajama Game," she was recruited by Hal B. Wallis and signed at Paramount, a little twist of fate that would change her life and reward her fierce persistence and devotion to her art. Her first picture was, in fact, with the notorious Alfred Hitchcock in the dark comedy The Trouble with Harry. Hitch was pleased to be working with a film acting novice, as Shirley's adaptability to his very specific directorial touches were unencumbered by the typically jaded experience of most stars. Her charisma was instant, as was her strange blend of innocence and ripe but natural sex appeal. Her reputation only grew as she showed that she was more than a pretty face, adding gravitas to her performances in The Apartment (as the jilted and suicidal lover), Some Came Running (as the "low-class" but adorable martyr), and The Children's Hour (as the deeply conflicted and unaware homosexual whose life is torn asunder by rumor).

Shirley had a gift for tragedy, which she often revealed through her comedy. Her heroines were never simple, one-level ladies. Even her big musical triumph Sweet Charity revealed this as she created a woman from the wrong side of the tracks with a heart of gold. She exposed a deep hurt that was combatted by courage, in this and all of her films. As she matured, so too did her work, and her abilities as a character actress were more fully realized as she entered the 1970s-- Two Mules for Sister Sarah, The Turning Point, Being There, Steel Magnolias, Postcards from the Edge, etc, etc, etc. The result of her compelling work has been a legacy of artistic integrity and resounding industry (and public) respect. The woman is still going strong, committed to telling stories, embracing life, and sharing the beauty of it through her performances.

Yes, I'm a fan. She's the bees knees. (Also has an awesome birthday. Just sayin').

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