Oprah is counting down the last few weeks of her show and I’m sure the Harpo team has been going through an intense selection process, mulling, deliberating, and debating each possible guest.
So it said a lot when Shirley MacLaine came on last week and Oprah called her “one of my greatest teachers.”
I’m certainly not in Oprah’s league, but I’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing Shirley MacLaine, whose birthday happens to be today, April 24, 2011. Ironically it’s also Easter Sunday, the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Shirley MacLaine is a big believer in reincarnation and life after death.
At 77 years old she has not only had many past lives, but she has enjoyed many incarnations in this lifetime as an award-winning actress, dancer, honorary mascot of the Rat Pack, best-selling author, political activist, metaphysical student and teacher, and let’s not forget Warren Beatty’s older sister.
As Hollywood Royalty, Shirley has starred opposite a long list of leading men including Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Anthony Hopkins, Jack Lemon, Michael Caine, and Jack Nicholson.
During her illustrious 56-year career she has starred in more than 63 films and earned four Oscar nominations for Some Came Running (1958), The Apartment (1960), Irma LaDouce (1963), and The Turning Point (1977), before winning for Terms of Endearment (1983).
It was Rock Hudson who presented Shirley MacLaine with her Oscar for Best Actress. As I watched a video clip from that night 1983, I felt profoundly sad that gay men, especially handsome, leading men like Rock Hudson, were forced to live inauthentic lives rather than be honest about their sexuality. Two short years later, in 1985, Rock Hudson died from AIDS. It was Rock’s friend, Elizabeth Taylor, who worked diligently to bring the disease out of the shadows and into the light, help educate the public, and find a cure.
Anyway getting back to Shirley MacLaine, here is part of her acceptance speech:
“I have wondered for 26 years what winning this would feel like. Thank you for terminating the suspense. If Terms of Endearment had happened to me five years ago I think I would have called it a thrilling, commercial, artistic accident, but I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t believe there is such a thing as accidents. I think we all manifest what we want and what we need. I don’t think there is anything different between what you feel you have to do in your heart and success. They are inseparable. Jim Brooks deeply wanted to make a film about the defects and imperfections and foibles of people in a humorous and loving way.He had such passionate. His sense of truth was so accurate that he overwhelmed his own insecurities and Paramount’s…Films and life are like clay waiting for us to mold it and when you trust your own insides and that becomes achievement, it’s a kind of principle that seems to work for everyone. God bless that principle, that potential we all have for making anything possible if we think we deserve it. I deserve this. Thank You.”
Shirley continues to work with today’s most popular actors – playing Nicole Kidman’s mother in Bewitched (2005); and Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette’s grandmother in In Her Shoes: (2005). She’s been in Rumor Has It (2005) with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner; she earned an Emmy nomination for her role as fashion icon Coco Chanel in the 2008 made-for-TV movie by the same name; and she was in Valentine’s Day (2010) with Ashton Kutcher, Julia Roberts, and Jamie Foxx.
LIFE LESSON: Most actresses who have been adored and catered to for years have a hard time as they get older and their parts get smaller, but Shirley seems very comfortable in her own skin, even as it wrinkles and sags. That is a something we should all take note of especially because we live in a society that is unfortunately obsessed with youth rather than with the wisdom of our elders. I admire Shirley for remaining curious and engaged; and I respect her for seeking knowledge and understanding of this life and the hereafter.
Shirley is also a prolific writer who has filled 12 books with her life experiences. The most recent is called I’m Over All That (2011) in which she writes about her love affairs with two prime ministers, scientists, journalists, and co-stars. She also shares her thoughts about a world that irritates, confuses, provokes and delights her with its beauty, humor and hope for the future.
I’ve posted part of the fascinating conversation I had with Shirley MacLaine when I interviewed her for the January 2009 issue of Luxury Las Vegas magazine from her home in New Mexico. It is still as relevant today as it was then when she talked about politics (George W. Bush, Dick Chaney, George McGovern); how Marlon Brando introduced her to social activism; her views on reincarnation; her adventures around the world; her Chakra Sky jewelry collection, and much more:
Marsala Rypka: What three people have had the greatest influence on your life?
Shirley MacLaine: My parents gave me a strong work ethic. They tried to place protective boundaries around my life, but I couldn’t stand the constraints and I become an investigator, a revolutionary, a person who seeks change.
My mother was a drama teacher who gave up her dream of being an actress to raise her family. She was a great gardener and said that was why she partially understood the theory of reincarnation. Same bush, different rose every spring; same soul, different life every rebirth.
My daddy was a violinist who turned down a scholarship in Europe because after all that studying he didn’t want to end up playing in the pit of a Broadway musical. Instead he became a real estate agent. He was a hometown philosopher who asked questions like: ‘Are we alone in the universe? Why are we here? What is energy? Is there life before life?’ And he never stopped me from asking my own questions.
He had a doctorate in philosophy and psychology from Johns Hopkins. I remember reading one of his papers on music where he said he could prove that notes had the same vibrational frequency as colors. He didn’t know he was talking about the human chakra system. When I told him that the seven notes on the scale corresponded to the seven rainbow colors and the seven chakras, he welled up with tears. He’d been trying to prove something intellectually that he intuitively knew was true.
And my husband. I believe the people who hurt us the most are true servants to our learning. I believe it’s time to give up the role of victim and pay tribute to those who open our eyes regardless of how harsh their methods might be. They are masters who stimulate us to know ourselves. Steve was a master for me. Because of him I became free of blinding dependence upon a man. When a dreadful experience occurs, I ask how I contributed to this reality. If I have the power to create or allow unhappiness and misery, I also have the power to un-create it.
I believe the people who hurt us the most are true servants to our learning. I believe it’s time to give up the role of victim and pay tribute to those who open our eyes regardless of how harsh their methods might be. They are masters who stimulate us to know ourselves.”
LIFE LESSON: When our heart has been wounded by someone’s insensitive actions or hurtful remarks, it’s hard to regard them as our teacher. But as I reflect on those who have angered or disappointed me, I realize that their way of being shows me the importance of being more sensitive, more caring, more open, more truthful, more considerate, more forgiving toward others. How would I learn that otherwise? If you believe in reincarnation like Shirley MacLaine does, maybe they volunteered to take on the role of the bad guy in order for us to grow.
MR: How did you come to believe in reincarnation?
SM: I suppose I got my metaphysical leanings from my parents. Mother told me that she was at her father’s side when he died and at his passing he said to her, ‘Oh, it’s so beautiful.’
My father told me about an out-of-body experience he had when he cracked up his car. He left his body and met his father and mother again. He saw the light of God around them and knew that was his real home. He wanted to go into the light, but a voice stopped him and said he needed to go back to Earth and finish the work he’d agreed to do.
My dad never told anyone about his experience until I brought home my first metaphysical book. He was glad to talk to someone about it. I knew how he felt. It had happened to me in Peru when I sat on a mountaintop in the Andes and left my body to witness the Earth below me. I wondered if I was crazy or if I was liberated from limitations. Dad told me he’d seen his best buddy appear at the foot of his bed at the exact moment that he died in World War II. I asked him if he thought anyone ever really died. He looked at me with a quizzical expression, but didn’t say anything.
Probably one of the reasons why reincarnation makes sense to me is because I understand how each one of us is so many people. I don’t mean multiple personalities in the sense of a psychological disorder. I mean each of us has had multiple experiences in past lifetimes that equip our souls with memories and intuitions that can’t be explained any other way.
How did I know and recognize streets and temples when I first went to India? Why did I find myself speaking Portuguese when I was in Brazil? Each human being can point to any number of similar experiences, specific moments that make them wonder why and how they know what they know.
When one understands karma and reincarnation, then the physical re-embodiment of the soul is paramount. I believe that every human soul is in control of his or her destiny, depending on what each human needs to work on the next time around. The soul lives on and the learning of self continues.
MR: When you were 60 you spent 31 days walking 458 miles alone along the Santiago de Compostela Camino, an ancient pilgrimage in northern Spain that you write about in your book, The Camino: A Journal of the Spirit. What was that like?
SM: The Camino is sacred ground that millions of people including Charlemagne, Chaucer, and St. Francis of Assisi trekked over the last 5,000 years. Its meridians are aligned with the Milky Way.
While walking the Camino one of the things I remembered was being a Muslim gypsy girl who had migrated from Morocco and was living with the Coptic Christians in the hills of Spain. I remembered a cross I wore, which when I presented it, protected me from both the Muslims and the Christians. One day in present time, I was guided to a jewelry store in a small village on the Camino. I looked in the window and saw that cross that I remembered from several hundred years before. I went in and questioned the proprietor. He gave me the same information I remembered from the past-life memory; it had belonged to a gypsy girl (me) from Morocco, and she had used it for protection. The cross was the only thing I bought on my journey and I always take it with me whenever I leave home.
My life often seemed to me like a story that has no beginning and no end. I had the feeling that I was an historical fragment, an excerpt for which the preceding and succeeding text was missing. I could well imagine that I might have lived in former centuries and there encountered questions I was not yet able to answer; that I had been born again because I had not fulfilled the task given to me.”
- Carl Jung
MR: Who would you like to be for 24 hours?
SM: This old soul has been around for millions of years. I’d like to experience all of my previous lifetimes at once.
MR: You’ve had quite a few adventures in this lifetime.
SM: I was always in search of this other truth or dimension. I thought perhaps in the older, ancient cultures of foreign lands I could find a hint of something besides the stardom, success and materialism of Hollywood and America.
I don’t know how I’ve survived some of my traveling antics. I was caught in a coup d’etat in Bhutan in the Himalayas. I got smuggled illegally into Leningrad University in the Soviet Union and had my passport stolen.
I lived with the Masai in East Africa and birthed a few babies who were named after me. I took a women’s delegation to Communist China; I traveled alone across the United States and took up with an Indian medicine man in Arizona who taught me the ways of the Great Spirit.
I never wanted to stay in one place except to make a movie. Once after a trip through Romania and Czechoslovakia, I came back to L.A. and turned right around and flew to Mexico. I went to India for a week and stayed for a month and a half. The wanderlust was an elixir for me. I always went alone and splashed up against foreign environments where I learned about myself.
In North Africa I studied the Koran outside of mosques with friends I met. In India I studied the Bhagavad Gita while wondering if I had lived there before.
In Brazil a friend with a private plane took me to visit many of the psychic surgeons and healers in the Amazon. As a person of years, I am more concerned with longevity and the connection of mind, body and spirit. Medicine that addresses healing through energy and consciousness has helped me greatly. I don’t like drugs or the cut, burn, and poison approach.
MR: What five people would you invite to dinner?
SM: Hitler because of his mistreatment of the Jews and Jesus because he was a Jew. I’d like to find out what was wrong with Hitler; maybe Jesus could help him. I’d invite Einstein because of his brilliance and understanding of spirituality and quantum physics, and Joan of Arc because I’d want to know what spoke to her.
Dick Cheney because maybe some of these probing intellects could find out what’s wrong with him. Oh, I’d like to include W as the butler and let him come and serve them since he’s so interested in serving God and let’s see how he could be helped. I mean our (then) president invades a country because God told him to. Wow! And people think I’m wacky for believing in other lives and guiding spirits who channel through humans.
MR: Did you see the movie W?
SM: Yeah. I had dinner with Josh Brolin and Oliver Stone. They did a hell of a good job. It’s good because Oliver didn’t do his usual “hit you over the head with a hammer.” He let all those things that were accurately reported about Bush tell the story.
MR: You’re known for being politically outspoken.
SM: My initiation into political activism was inspired by Marlon Brando. I’d been in Hollywood a few years still learning the ropes when Marlon called. He said he was against capital punishment and he wanted me to come with him to Sacramento to protest an execution. He said I’d be living up to my responsibilities as a citizen and a human being. I wondered why anyone would care what I thought, but Marlon had a way of making you feel guilty about things that never occurred to you. I’d never seen stars and politicians interact before and here was Brando, the finest actor-activist in the country, Steve Allen, whose “Tonight” show was influential on TV and me, a budding novice.
From there my political attitude evolved in earnest. I got involved with the civil rights movement. I went into the Deep South and saw firsthand the injustice of segregation. The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the front lawn of a family I stayed with.
Then came Vietnam. I couldn’t abide that America was the self-appointed policeman of the world and when George McGovern said ‘No longer can we send young men to die for old men’s ideas,’ I got involved. I spent weekends with the Kennedy clan in Palm Springs and attended the 1968 Democratic Convention as a Robert Kennedy delegate. When McGovern ran for president in 1972 against Nixon I dropped all my movie projects and went to work for him.
My first year campaigning put me in touch with the souls of some real American people. Seven days a week I spoke in living rooms, at union rallies, fund-raisers, ladies’ lunches and college campuses. I talked about military spending, the tax system, the problems cities faced, the necessity of having quality people on the Supreme Court and the abortion issue. I registered voters on the street and marched in anti-war rallies. If George McGovern had gotten elected, I would have given up performing, fame, Hollywood, and the good life to work for his administration.
MR: I’m assuming you’re thrilled that Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States.
SM: On a spiritual level I was never opposed to George W. Bush being president. He was so appalling that he made us realize what a participatory democracy has to be. We elected this guy. You can’t say he stole it completely. In my opinion, the rest of the world is right for being upset with us for electing him. It’s time we understand that the gift of democracy is something that must be exercised. We fell in love with materialism and look what’s happened. Bush presided over materialistic abuse and during a Republican administration we found ourselves in the throes of Socialism. With Obama the truth will be welcomed.
SM: It’s challenging to realize I’m older than I think I am. I feel like a “sage-ing icon,” as the young people call me. When I’m at a dinner party everyone becomes silent expecting me to talk about enlightenment. As I look back over my life and how I’ve lived, loved, protested and questioned, I realize that aging well isn’t about the search for happiness, it’s about quietly feeling content with what I’ve experienced. I’ve come to understand the value of conflict. Everything isn’t always meant to be light and love. The dark times, the conflicts are where real learning can happen.
MR: What last words of wisdom can you share?
SM: I try to be nonjudgmental and open-minded so that the truth can emerge. For me the search for “truth” is paramount, whether it’s the truth of a character I’m playing, the truth of the subject matter I write about, or the truth of why we are alive and how it relates to our destiny. People are questioning the difference between religion and spirituality. I’m more interested in the science of the spirit, the stuff that is provable on many levels.
I see life as a creation each of us paints for ourselves. We create our own reality in order to be aligned with our destiny. The search then becomes a search for self. It is the most important journey we will ever take.
LIFE LESSON: Connect, communicate and celebrate yourself. Take the time to discover who you really are. As Shirley MacLaine says, it’s the most important journey we’ll ever take. Read biographies about inspiring people, as well as self-improvement and how-to books. If you don’t want to buy the books, visit the library, which is a great resource. Start keeping a journal and write down three things everyday that you are grateful for. And make time, even if it’s only ten minutes, to still your mind and see what your higher consciousness sends bubbling up to the surface.
We may live other lifetimes, but let’s make this one count!
I am in exact accord with the belief of Thomas Edison that spirit is immortal, that there is a continuing center of character in each personality. But I don’t know what spirit is, nor matter either. I suspect they are forms of the same thing. I never could see anything in this reputed antagonism between spirit and matter. To me this is the most beautiful, the most satisfactory from a scientific standpoint, the most logical theory of life. For thirty years I have leaned toward the theory of Reincarnation. It seems a most reasonable philosophy and explains many things. No, I have no desire to know what, or who I was once; or what, or who, I shall be in the ages to come. This belief in immortality makes present living the more attractive. It gives you all the time there is. You will always be able to finish what you start. There is no fever or strain in such an outlook. We are here in life for one purpose—to get experience. We are all getting it, and we shall all use it somewhere.”
- Henry Ford
Some of Shirley MacLaine’s books: