Twenty years ago Shirley MacLaine stepped out of the chorus of the Broadway production of The Pajama Game to sub for an ailing Carol Haney. She not only stopped the show but landed a Hollywood contract. Now, at 40, the movie star, author, feminist and former McGovern campaigner is back to hoofing in front of a live audience. “You can take the girl out of the chorus, but not the chorus out of the girl,” she quipped to her receptive opening night audience of 1,200 at MGM’s Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Out came the same old Shirley—lithe, leggy, her auburn hair in the same tousled gamine cut she used to claim she combed with an eggbeater—belting out If My Friends Could See Me Now. With nine singers and dancers to back her, Shirley rollicked through a 60-minute revue tailored to display her legs, energy and comic flair. The act is more or less a Shirley MacLaine retrospective. There is new material, but essentially she re-creates her show-stoppers—Hernando’s Hideaway and Steam Heat from The Pajama Game, the title song from Irma La Douce, and a dramatic recitation, “I’m a Person, Too,” based on the character she portrayed in Some Came Running. When she finishes her 4-week engagement in Las Vegas Shirley will take her show on the road. Ultimately it will wind up as a TV special.
Today she’s disillusioned with politics in general and the McGovern effort in particular. “I can’t even relate to the damn thing anymore,” she says. The same thing is true of the old Sinatra rat pack. Home is now the Manhattan apartment she shares with journalist Pete Hamill. In January the pair will start their first joint venture—a film based on the life of Amelia Earhart. Hamill will write the script; Shirley will play Amelia.
So why has the previously serious-minded Ms. MacLaine decided to return to the stage and musical comedy? “To hear laughter and to be able to provoke it,” she says. “To shake my ass around and not have anybody say, ‘That’s not feminist.’ I like the direct communication. On the stage you really commit yourself. Totally.”