Shirl

From Picture Show 1961, published by Fleetway Publications

“I did everything short of standing on my head in Times Square to get recognition and tried everything short of Greek tragedy to get experience.”

So says that captivating, rust-haired, freckle-faced actress Shirley MacLaine. Exceedingly versatile—her screen roles have ranged from the dramatic to comedy — she has rightly been acclaimed as one of the brightest stars to zoom across the Hollywood horizon during recent years.

Shirley does not deny that she has been fortunate but she’d like a little credit for effort!

Born Shirley MacLaine Beaty on 24th April 1934 in Richmond, Virginia, she started out studying ballet. As soon as she was old enough to leave her family she chose to settle in New York. A chorus girl in the shows Oklahoma!, Kiss Me Kate and Me and Juliet, she says: “I spent so much time in choruses I could recognise every star on the New York stage by the back of his head.”

Shirley also appeared on television, modelled for stores and photographers and danced with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington? Characteristically she made the most of every part, no matter how small, and never stopped her studying.

“I took voice lessons mainly to make certain I could make myself heard in the last row of the balcony,” is her explanation.

Her gamine personality — she has been described as a “personable pixie” — was first noted by Producer Hal Wallis during the New York production of the Pajama Game when Carol Haney, the star of the show, fractured her ankle, and Shirley, who was understudy, replaced her. Wallis went backstage and signed her to an exclusive contract.

Her first film test was a charming informal reel in which she merely did a dance step without music and talked with sincerity about herself. This test has since become a tonic for everyone watching it — all are entranced by the girl who had done nothing on the screen but be herself.

It was shown to Alfred Hitchcock and he, always astute in his choice of leading ladies for his productions, decided she was the girl he needed for the fey character of Jennifer Rogers in the macabre comedy The Trouble With Harry — his “comedy about a corpse.” Hitchcock acclaimed her as “a great dramatic actress.”

Hal Wallis, who then starred her with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in a musical comedy Artists and Models in which she sang, danced and acted, said of her “she combines continental charm with American wholesomeness.”

Shirley seems to have made as great an impression on her co-stars, for throughout her film career she has appeared more than once with a number of them. Her newest comedy with Dean Martin is All In a Night’s Work, and she also played with him in Career, a drama. Remember her teaming with David Niven in the late Mike Todd’s vast production of Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in Eighty Days and also in the lively Ask Any Girl? She has twice starred with Academy Award winner Shirley Booth, first in Hot Spell, which was her foremost dramatic role followed by The Matchmaker, a period comedy. Her next co-star was Frank Sinatra — she played the loose-living girl who loved him — in Some Came Running. Dean Martin was also in this film. Frank then personally requested her for Cole Porter’s extravaganza Can-Can. In it she played a dancer in the Paris of 1896. Her only Western was The Sheepman. Her latest picture is The Apartment, opposite Jack Lemmon.

Natural, friendly and outspoken with absolutely no personal vanity, she says hard work, ambition, coincidence, good teachers, her husband’s help (she married Steve Parker on 17th September 1954) and — characteristic of her sense of humour — Carol Haney’s ankles are circumstances that enabled her to achieve success.

In 1956 she took time out for motherhood, giving birth to her first child, Stephanie. An enthusiastic actress, who in between film work appears on television and occasionally on stage, Shirley admits that the possibility of a homeful of children (hers) could modify many of her plans.

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