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50 years with Shirley MacLaine

50 years with Shirley MacLaine — The ”Bewitched” star talks about her time in Hollywood

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The watier is not now — nor has he ever been, in a past life — Anthony Perkins. But Shirley MacLaine insists on calling him Tony, and honestly, he does look an awful lot like Anthony Perkins. Besides, Santa Fe is Shirley’s town, this restaurant is one of Shirley’s haunts, and if She of the Famous Legs wants to call the waiter Tony, it’s her cosmic prerogative.

One of them, at least. Self-parody is another. ”They all think I’m a witch anyway, so why not play one?” this doyenne of New Age spirituality says of her decision to take on mystical materfamilias Endora in Nora Ephron’s Bewitched, alongside Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. ”It was such great typecasting, I almost turned it down. What kind of tea is this?” ”Iced,” replies Not-Tony-Perkins. Rather icily.

”I know that!”

”Sorry,” says Not-Tony. ”Stupid answer.”

”Supernatural?” mishears MacLaine. She is 71, after all, though her ornery aura of vitality and that flawlessly maintained strawberry pixie cut make the years easy to forget.

”I don’t know,” answers Not-Tony, at a loss. ”I’ll check.”

”Can it be chamomile?”

”I don’t know if they have it.”

”Or maybe they could make it,” says MacLaine, managing to sound both impish and imperious. ”Wouldn’t that be a feat?”

”Anything is possible,” says Not-Tony, as he withdraws.

He’s right. Anything is possible. But it sure helps if you’re Shirley.

Reincarnate yourself, for a moment, as Shirley MacLaine. Here’s just a smidge of what’s in your wake: a film debut with Alfred Hitchcock at age 21 (The Trouble With Harry, 1955), your first Oscar nomination (Some Came Running, 1958), your lessons in gin rummy with Sam Giancana, your second Oscar nomination (The Apartment, 1960), your long ”one of the boys” party with the Rat Pack, your third Oscar nomination (Irma La Douce, 1963), your close friendship with Bobby Kennedy, your countless romances (Robert Mitchum, Yves Montand, Danny Kaye) conducted during your long and (mostly) happy open marriage to gadabout/swindler Steve Parker. (It ended in the early ’80s; their one child, Sachi, 48, lives in Connecticut.) Then comes your fallow professional period in the ’70s, dominated by political activism, your first comeback picture, The Turning Point (1977), and another Oscar nomination, your second comeback picture, Terms of Endearment (1983) — and, with it, your first Oscar. Your ”I deserve this!” acceptance speech. Your third memoir, Out on a Limb, which told of a romance with a British MP, a spiritual awakening in Peru, past-life regression — and helped popularize the ’80s New Age movement. To say nothing of your adventures in China, Bhutan, the civil rights-era South. . .

Metaphysics aside (we won’t get into the Atlantean incarnation or the tryst with Charlemagne), that’s a lot of lives to cram into one life, especially for ”an old-fashioned conservative Mason-Dixon Line social liberal” from Richmond. She credits her parents, dream-deferred performers themselves, for instilling her with self-possession, a trait she shares with brother Warren Beatty. (He kept the family name, and added a t.) ”You never feel as if her life peaked a while ago,” says Ephron, an old friend. ”She truly savors every second.”