That same year she first talked to Wallace about her preoccupation with her past lives and with extraterrestrials. This past May, at 66, she took all that one step further, as she explained after reviewing the original piece.
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She was approaching 50 at a time when that age might have been considered a watershed for an actress whose capital are her looks, legs, and dancing and acting ability.
"But it's getting better. I mean there are some things I suppose that will sort of become rusty, but I'd move off of them anyway, whether I was 50 or not," MacLaine said.
She was born Shirley MacLaine Beaty in Richmond, Va. (Her younger brother, Warren, changed the spelling of the family name to Beatty when he entered show business.) MacLaine was a chorus gypsy on Broadway at the age of 18. Her first big break came in 1954 while serving as an understudy to Carol Haney in Pajama Game. Just the way the movies say it is supposed to happen, the star got sick, the understudy went on, a movie producer was in the audience, and the rest is history.
Acting, dancing and singing have never been enough for MacLaine. Her appetites are diverse. She has been a political activist, made a documentary film on China and written three best-selling books. Some of her film performances have been better than the movies themselves. She's made 39 movies altogether, including Irma la Douce, The Apartment, and The Turning Point and Some Came Running.
While making Some Came Running with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, MacLaine was invited to be the only woman in the Sinatra coterie called the Rat Pack. She was a sort of mascot, and they taught her a lot about dealing with live audiences as a solo performer, she said.
Her pastimes include writing, mountain climbing and supporting orphanages in Third World countries.
To accomplish all this is she a person of extraordinary discipline?
"I can be a lazy slob. You'd be surprised," she said.
The private Shirley MacLaine was somehow unexpected. She had none of the usual trappings of a movie star, no entourage. She didn't own a car. In fact, she lived downright modestly for someone who commands huge salaries. For several years, she had spent endless time searching for her spiritual identity. She peered into corners few have cared to exlore. That search is the subject of her book Out on a Limb, dealing mainly with her belief in reincarnation.
About that last book, good friends are said to have warned her, "Shirley, for Pete's sake, don't write about your karmic destinies."
"It wasn't for Pete's sake; it was for Christ's sake," MacLaine recalled. "It was for God's sake, I mean, on your mother and your friends and everything that is sacred, don't do this."
Wallace cited controversial material such as claims that her daughter was her mother in a prior life, that she had been a prostitute, that she had been a man at one time - not to mention a belief in extraterrestial beings.
Then the interchange got a little testy, as follows:
- MacLaine: "It's very easy to be cynical like you are just now."
Wallace: "Skeptical. I reject the word."
MacLaine: "Well it had a panache of sarcasm in it."
Wallace: "OK, OK."
MacLaine: "A large dash of it."
Wallace: "Yeah. You really believe that you've lived lives before."
MacLaine: "There is no doubt in my mind about it."
Wallace: "Uh-huh. And you really believe in extraterrestrial have they do they come and visit you on the porch? Now you're being unpleasant, Wallace, is what you're saying.
MacLaine: "Yes. This is what I was a little afraid of."
Wallace: "Hold it!"
MacLaine: "Now, you don't have to be that unpleasant. It doesn't become you, you know? I mean, I'm just speaking of my own experiences and my own desires, and it's a kind of a childlike wonder that could really possibly speculate on other dimensions. What's wrong with that?"
Wallace: "Shirley, what the heck has all this got to do with singing and dancing? I mean this seriously."
MacLaine: "Because it's expression."
Wallace: "As we sit here and we talk, and it's it's fascinating, good talk, and then I think about those long legs."
MacLaine: "Nothing wrong with lower chakra stuff at all. It's all part of the (same) body."
May 2000 Report
What does she think now when she sees the original piece?
"I think I've gained weight," she said with a sigh. "I think all those vanity things....I think I was really sweet with you. I've gotten crankier in my old age."
- Wallace: "I don't believe it."
MacLaine: "I have."
Wallace: "Still live alone?"
Wallace: "Currently there's no guy currently?"
Wallace: "You think you're over the hill for that kind of thing?"
MacLaine: "Thank yofor putting it so diplomatically. I think the hill one has to trudge in order to understand a man's baggage is more of a trek than I'd like to take right now. I'm very happy."
Wallace: "You still have the house in Malibu."
Wallace: "Where the - they landed on..."
MacLaine: "On my front porch."
MacLaine's abiding interest in her past lives hasn't faded. Quite the contrary. A while back, she made a daunting walking pilgrimage across northern Spain called the Camino or the Santiago de Compostella Camino.
"It's a trek that thousands, millions of people have taken over the last 3- 4- 5,000 years. Charlemagne took it, Chaucer, St. Francis of Assissi," she explained.
MacLaine chronicled her 500-mile journey in her just released book, her ninth, The Camino. Along her trek MacLaine was guided by visions and people from ancient civilizations who became the gateway to her past lives, she wrote.
"I was a Moorish girl who was tending to the sick on the Camino path; I had been there before," she said.
"And then as I pursued," she said laughing, "as time progressed, I went deeper, is all I can say, and back into time further."
She wrote that she had an affair in this life with the late Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, who in a past life was Charlemagne, the conqueror of western Europe who died in 814 A.D.
"Well, that's what it said in my vision," she said, adding that in the vision, while she was a Moorish girl, she had an affair with Charlemagne, "one of many."
She also witnessed androgenous people giving birth to androgenous children, and she was androgenous, according to the vision.
What does she imagine the public reaction to her book to be?
"Well, I think Jay Leno, and God forbid, David Letterman, will have a field day," she quipped. "Now, the public - oh, I think you'd be surprised how mainstream some of my stuff is."
There's more about her journey on her newly launched shirleymaclaine.com.
"It's a portal," she explained. "If you're somebody like me, and there's millions of us out there who are interested in astrology, meditation, numerology, feng shui, aging - you should log onto it for that - good health, women's health."
"I've got the best UFO footage in the world. You ought to go down to Mexico and talk to your cohorts there," she told Wallace. "I know you don't want to 'cause you don't want to believe it. But they're there."
She is also director of a new independent film called Bruno. "It's about the triumph of individuality," she said.
She also co-stars in the film, telling the story of a 9-year-old boy who has a penchant for wearindresses, much to the dismay of his Catholic school's mother superior.
Now 66, MacLaine takes good care of herself, but she is hardly a health nut. Earlier this year, she went for a coronary examination, with an interesting result for her and for the doctors.
"There's six doctors in the room," she recalled. "They said, 'Sit down.'... 'Oh my God, they're going to tell me I've got, you know, 85 minutes to live."
"'What do you eat?' and I told them the truth. 'Really? Do you drink?'...And finally, I said, 'Guys, am I going to die? Do I have to have a transplant, or a bypass, what?'"
She said that after sufficiently grilling her, the doctors said she was in tiptop shape.
"So they said, 'Well, how do you live? How do you do this at your age?'" she said. "Now, I get up, and I said, 'Well, doctors, what I do is I get in touch with my past-life recall. I have a real good kind of dimensional truth about that. Sometimes my extraterrestrial friends talk to me. And I do my feng shui in my house, and I have all frequencies that I get in touch.'"
"And little by little, one by one, these doctors left the room. It's such a joke," she said amid laugher.
- Wallace: "She's a nut case."
MacLaine: "But she's healthy." (Laughs)
Wallace: "Wait a second. She's a nut case, but she's heal - do you resent that?"
MacLaine: "Listen, they said that about Christopher Columbus. They certainly said it about Jesus Christ. Ho, ho, they killed him for it. I mean they say it about everybody who's innovative. I think I'm innovative. I am old enough to have earned the right to be innovative and get a big kick out of the people who think I'm a nut case."