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THE LIFE OF HOLLYWOOD

Unsinkable

Why shouldn't she believe in reincarnation? Professionally and otherwise, Shirley MacLaine has already had countless rebirths.

November 27, 2005|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

Santa Fe, N.M. — IN the guest bathroom of Shirley MacLaine's Santa Fe home there is a framed and signed Gary Larson cartoon in which two snakes are lying in the desert, one telling the other: "I think in a former life I was Shirley MacLaine."

The walls surrounding the famous and notorious are often exhorted to speak; in MacLaine's home, they actually do. Even without the help of the spirits she believes live here, moving objects when no one is looking, darting past just as she turns to see, these walls speak volumes. The library is floor to ceiling with Proust and Frost and meditation guides and cookbooks. The front hallway is lined with photos of family and friends: her daughter Sachi, as a baby and an adult; Sachi's children; brother Warren Beatty and his family; Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson and, a recent addition, Kevin Costner.

A utility closet off the laundry room is hung with posters from some of her movies from the '80s and '90s -- "Terms of Endearment," "Guarding Tess," "Postcards From the Edge" -- and the dining room is filled with the table, hutch and buffet from Aurora Greenway's house in "Terms of Endearment." "What I had to put up with on that film," says MacLaine, sailing through what she calls the James Brooks room, after the "Terms" director. "I deserved the furniture."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 18, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Shirley MacLaine -- A Nov. 27 Calendar article about actress Shirley MacLaine said she had been nominated for seven Oscars and had won five Emmys. In fact, she has been nominated for six Oscars and five Emmys, and has won one Emmy.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 22, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Shirley MacLaine -- A Nov. 27 article about actress Shirley MacLaine said she had been nominated for seven Oscars and had won five Emmys. She has been nominated for six Oscars as well as five Emmys (winning one).

Many of the walls are actually windows overlooking the scrub- and tree-greened hills around Santa Fe. From the front porch, the lights of Los Alamos National Laboratory are visible at night, a reminder of New Mexico's complicated mixture of mysticism and military.

In the middle of it all is MacLaine, unmistakable. With few exceptions, her Hollywood contemporaries are either dead or retired. Her career stands as one of the few lighted windows for actresses older than 50. Unlike many of her peers, MacLaine managed to make the transition from waif to prickly matriarch almost as easily as she moved from stage to film to television and back again.

She has survived the glory days of the studio system and the Internet culture boom, 13 presidents and countless leading men, has documented this life, and many others, in 10 autobiographical books, one of which was made into a movie, and seen her name turned into a punch line even as it continued to appear on Oscar and Emmy nominee lists.

Yet somehow MacLaine remains incalculable, a sum of too many parts to quite fit the traditional social mathematics. She's as singular a presence in the shifting Hollywood landscape as a mesa rising from the tawny dust of the desert floor.

That red hair and stern mouth, the elfin blue eyes and exquisite posture, the abrupt manner -- in the middle of a sentence, she calls to her assistant to put "the goat's milk, those strawberries and a little Splenda" in the blender because, though it's not quite lunchtime, the actress feels like something "healthy." The milk, MacLaine will have you know, is from her goats, who live, along with 13 dogs, the Oscar, the Emmys, all the other awards and even more pictures and books, at her ranch 50 miles away. If this house, surrounded by high desert, seems in the middle of nowhere, the 6,000-acre ranch is an hour or so past the middle of nowhere.

"When it rains you can't get up the road," she says, explaining why she bought a place on the outskirts of Santa Fe. "So I really needed a house in the city." "City" is the literal description of Santa Fe, but coming from a woman who has stormed New York and Los Angeles, it seems a bit hyperbolic. But this is exactly where MacLaine wants to be and exactly where she plans to stay.

"Santa Fe is really the center of the spiritual movement in the U.S," she says matter-of-factly. "I was coming down here all the time for past-life regressions and cleansing, so I figured I might as well stay. All my needs are met right here -- emotional, physical, spiritual. I still keep the place in Malibu, but really, the traffic now. It makes no sense at all. I can't imagine wasting any more of my life sitting in traffic."

And there she is in her own words, the trademark mixture of New Age spirituality and urban pragmatism.

At home in disparate lives

EIGHT years ago, at age 63, MacLaine completed the 500-mile pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, during which time she came to believe she had been, in previous lives, a Moorish girl who cured the Emperor Constantine of impotence and an androgynous being of a time predating Atlantis. But here in New Mexico, she's more inclined to ask a photographer in tight pants what sort of underwear she has on than to read her aura.

"Have you ever worn a thong?" she asks. "I think they would be very uncomfortable, but some of my friends really love them."

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