May 11, 1992 12:00 PM

by Sheila MacRae with H. Paul Jeffers

From MY diary: I’ve been chosen ‘Hollywood Mother of the Year.’ My marriage is a shambles! My Gordon, my darling, is a total addict. Both liquor and pills…He’s given up on AA—and on me, too, I fear.”

So Sheila MacRae begins this giddy, startling and often moving book. Gordon is actor-singer Gordon MacRae, best known for his starring roles in such films as Oklahoma! and Carousel. The MacRaes wed in 1941, had four children, divorced in 1967; he died of cancer, at 64, in 1986. Drinking and gambling had ruined his career, but those early film roles, his loyal ex-wife tells us, “bestowed upon Gordon MacRae a grace, which we all seek and hope for. Immortality.”

Well, maybe. But this is her story, not his—the lively account of a promising young actress who devoted herself to raising children and coping with a drunkard husband, while making a career of her own. (Sheila starred from 1966 to 1967 in The Honey moaners with Jackie Gleason and had her own syndicated TV talk show in 1971.)

She is more than candid about her private life. “We had sex everywhere,” she says of the early years with Gordon, “under a blanket in Long Island Railroad coaches…on boats…in his dressing room at Warner’s…He referred to me as ‘my wife the nymphomaniac’…sex became my obsession.”

Many men, however, misperceived Sheila’s affectionate nature. Gary Cooper’s wife, Rocky, told her at a party that “one of the Hakim brothers, foreign movie producers,” desired a tryst. (” ‘You may tell him I have several good reasons not to accept their offer,’ I replied. ‘My children, Gordon, my self-esteem.’ “) She rejected Henry Fonda, Peter Sellers and JFK’s telephoned invitation to lunch at the White House (” ‘Just the two of us. Very, uh, discreet. Quite, uh, intimate’ “). And when LBJ took her into an upstairs bedroom after a While House gala (” ‘This is where your President sleeps…. Come away from that door and come sit by me, darlin’ ‘ “). she rebuffed him as frostily as she had the Hakims: ” ‘Mr. President…you may not believe this, but it has been interesting.’ ”

Frank Sinatra did not get turned down, nor did Bob Fosse, Albert Finney and a dazzling lover identified as JP (for “Jewish Prince of Comedy”).

A second marriage to TV producer Ron Wayne, soon after the divorce from Gordon, didn’t last. But at 68, Sheila is working now, most recently on TV’s General Hospital, and it’s hard to believe this energetic, upbeat woman won’t continue to find excitement. Hollywood Mother of the Year includes a sample of her poetry, a melancholy lament that includes the couplet: “Spilling sands in the hourglass still/ Every grain I wail immobile.”

What could daunt a woman who can rhyme like that? (Birch Lane, $19.95)

You May Like