Cinema Arts Festival 2010

Sweet Memories: Award winner Shirley MacLaine dishes on Nicholson, Streep, Hepburn & the movies

Sweet Memories: Award winner Shirley MacLaine dishes on Nicholson, Streep, Hepburn & the movies

MacLaine signs a portrait made by a fan, who presented a copy to the actress afterwards. Photo by Carolina Astrain
Leydon and MacLaine talked to each other like old friends. Photo by Carolina Astrain
The star and her critic, MacLaine and Leydon. Photo by Carolina Astrain

A packed audience of weepy-eyed fans at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston gave Shirley MacLaine a standing ovation after the Saturday screening of Terms of Endearment, the Houston-based movie for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1983.

Looking like Hollywood royalty in a royal blue, sequined-collared suit dress, MacLaine sat down with Variety and CultureMap film critic Joe Leydon after being presented a genie-like statuette as the recepient of the Cinema Arts Festival's first Texas Film Award, and they spoke to each other like old friends during a conversation that lasted close to an hour.

MacLaine talked about working with Jack Nicholson, her Terms co-star, and how she enjoyed it, because he never played the same scene twice.

“One time he answered the door drunk, another time he answered it angry and another time he opened the door nude,” MacLaine said. 

To MacLaine’s surprise, the actress who played a younger Emma, MacLaine’s daughter in the film, also made an appearance at the Saturday night screening. Jennifer Josey, after being introduced by Leydon, went up for a warm hug with MacLaine.

“You’re all grown up,” MacLaine exclaimed.

MacLaine’s relationship with Houston goes beyond Terms. Her daughter, Sachi Parker, lived in Houston for 10 years, during which MacLaine often stopped at Tony’s for a soufflé.

“I like the friendliness of Houston,” MacLaine said. “In Houston things are very solid, and it helps you discover creative things about yourself. Austin doesn’t live up to its reputation.”

For a while, Leydon and MacLaine went back and forth about old Hollywood gossip.

On Billy Wilder (who directed her in the classic 1960 movie, The Apartment)… “He didn’t like women very much. He was from Austria. He’d say, ‘Do that scene again, but take 15 ½ seconds out of it.’”

On Meryl Streep (her co-star in Postcards from the Edge)… “Meryl… I adore, she truly becomes [her character]. She needs to for her own sanity.”

On Anne Bancroft (with whom she had a classic knockdown, dragout fight in The Turning Point)… “Annie… I adored, too. [The movie's director] Herb Ross was tough on her.”

On Audrey Hepburn (her co-star in The Children's Hour)… “Audrey… I taught her how to cuss, and she taught me how to sort of dress.”

MacLaine admitted, “I don’t know how to act. I don’t know. I don’t know. I only read the scenes the night before. I like being in the moment.”

The actress says she’s thankful she had an easy career most of her time in Hollywood.

“Auditioning is one of the most humiliating things you can go through,” MacLaine said. “The struggle [after her big break] was with myself.”

The evening ended on a spiritual note, perhaps not surprisingly given MacLaine's New Age proclivities.

“You are in my dream,” MacLaine explained during a discussion with Leydon about her turn to metaphysics. “I always felt like I had an angel on my shoulder, that I’ve always been in line with my destiny.”

Following the talk, crowds swarmed the dream-woman. She signed several tickets, programs and even a portrait of herself.


Don’t miss MacLaine in her new film, Bernie (2011), directed by Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater.