Shirley MacLaine's AFI tribute: Thanks parents, shares world vision
Shirley MacLaine soaked in the tributes Thursday night at the 40th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony at Sony Pictures. And they were plenty. Warm words came tumbling out of the mouths of her brother -- and former recipient himself -- Warren Beatty, as well as such costars as Jack Nicholson, Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep.
Streep presented the trophy to the eclectic MacLaine, noting the award was "long overdue."
Other tributes, of sorts, came from Jack Black, MacLaine's most recent costar in the independent film "Bernie," who offered up a pre-taped riff on MacLaine's many awards -- over several lifetimes. There was Moses holding the Ten Commandments, noting that God's chosen should not bow down before false gods, but a few glowing words about MacLaine would surely be acceptable. And a future alien was moved to tears over the reincarnation of MacLaine on his planet.
Veteran comic Don Rickles brought the house down with his cantankerous take on the room, firing shots at Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston and just about anyone else within his line of vision -- except Sidney Poitier, whom Rickles notably spared. John Travolta also made an appearance to honor MacLaine (his first public event since being accused last month in lawsuits of groping by male massage therapists; the cases were rather quickly dropped).
MacLaine, a vivacious 78, earned four lead actress Oscar nominations -- for 1958's "Some Came Running," 1960's "The Apartment," 1963's "Irma la Douce" and 1977's "The Turning Point" -- before finally winning for 1983's "Terms of Endearment," playing one of the screen's great mothers, Aurora Greenway.
Taking the stage late in the evening, MacLaine clearly was delighted with the tributes and film clips spanning her career, including scenes from "Sweet Charity," "Can Can," "The Apartment," "Postcards From the Edge" and "Steel Magnolias," among many others. She always thought of herself as a dancer first, she told the crowd, and learned her love for discipline and hard work while studying ballet.
She credited her parents for shaping her life and career -- her father for her curiosity about the world and the metaphysical, and her mother for pushing her toward the creative arts but reminding her to "keep her feet on the ground and her head in the stars." She pointedly noted to director Steven Spielberg that her interest in otherworldly matters would make her perfect for one of his films.
But mostly she made a heartfelt plea for the women in the room, and everywhere, to take a stronger part in shaping cinema and the world. It is the feminine -- including the feminine within men -- she said, that will make the world a better place.
The gala will be shown on TV Land on June 24.
-- Elena Howe
Photo: Honoree Shirley MacLaine at the 40th AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards on Thursday. Credit: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for AFI