Shirley MacLaine has had so many past lives that she’ll have to devote one of her future lives to doing nothing but writing autobiographies. As it is, she’s already written eight books about herself in her current incarnation. This one, MY LUCKY STARS: A HOLLYWOOD MEMOIR, is about stranger things than the UFO that hovers over her head in It’s All in the Playing or the recollections of her previous life as a Mongolian nomad in Dancing in the Light. It’s about Hollywood, and it’s a collection of anecdotes and vignettes about the people she’s worked with, fought with, and slept with (this last category includes Robert Mitchum, Yves Montand, Danny Kaye, and an anonymous film crew member) while making 40-plus movies, beginning with Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry (1955). She can be as shrewd about other actors as she was naive in previous books about Ramtha, the channeled spirit from Atlantis.
The book’s best portrait is of Mitchum, an elusive, evasive poetic soul trapped in a hard-drinking barroom brawler’s body, with whom MacLaine had a long, stumbling affair (he tended not to show up, leaving her waiting for days alone in faraway hotel rooms). His stoical passivity was, of course, baffling to a woman who isn’t satisfied with just one life: ”He demanded nothing. He had no desires … ”
She also presents a sharp-focus picture of Frank Sinatra as the world’s touchiest man, a human explosive device who punched holes in hotel room walls as a way of requesting service and expressed friendship by saying ”Oh, I just wish someone would try to hurt you so I could kill them for you.” MacLaine was the honorary ”girl” member of his Rat Pack in the early ’60s, which included Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. After shows on an early-’90s tour that she did with Sinatra, they would end up at an Italian restaurant, where waiting for them would be food, $1,500 bottles of wine, and local Mafia bosses, whom Sinatra deferred to for a couple of drinks and then insulted the rest of the night, clearly in his element.
Sometimes MacLaine leaves the reader hanging. She says James Garner was one of the wittiest men she worked with, but doesn’t offer any evidence. Her capsule descriptions of Jack Lemmon, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts, and others are arresting, though hard to swallow when washed down with metaphysical vapors: Peter Sellers ”inhabited his various characters in such a deep way that, I now believe, they came from his past life experiences and inhabited him.”
But wherever MacLaine goes, metempsychosis is sure to follow. Her mother was sensible and reserved, which drove little Shirley to tantrums, but they were cosmic, therapeutic tantrums: ”I believe that in lifetimes prior to this one I experienced such a profound lack of resolution with anger that I needed to come to terms with it and literally chose my mother because she would provoke me to resolve it … The Hindus call it samsara.” I call it horsefeathers, and you may call it something more unprintable, but you may still find yourself, as I did, enjoying eight tenths of this book. B