MacLaine, Shirley (Shirley MacLean Beatty)
(1934– )
World-famous actress, dancer, movie star, and writer, whose
books on her search for spiritual fulfillment have created widespread
popular interest in psychic phenomena, channeling of
spirit guides, and New Age teachings. She was born on April
24, 1934, in Richmond, Virginia, and attended high school in
Washington, D.C. She began taking dancing lessons before she
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was three years old; by the time she was 16 she was a chorus girl
in New York in a City Center revival of Oklahoma! Four years
later, she was dancing in the chorus of Pajama Game and acting
as understudy to Carol Haney, the show’s leading dancer.
When Haney injured her ankle soon after the show’s opening,
MacLaine replaced her in the lead. After enthusiastic reviews,
the Hollywood producer Hal B. Wallis signed her for a longterm
film contract.
Her first motion picture role was in The Trouble with Harry,
directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Later, her performance in Irma
la douce earned her a Golden Globe Award and the third of four
Academy Award nominations. Honors for her acting have continued
into the 1990s.
Apart from her acting, MacLaine has gained a considerable
reputation as an outspoken political and humanitarian activist,
notably for civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental protection.
During the Vietnam War, she supported George McGovern’s
1972 presidential campaign. She was the first woman
ever to speak at the National Democratic Club, where she addressed
the dangers of overpopulation. MacLaine’s extensive
travels have included such remote parts of the world as East Africa,
where she lived among the Masai tribe, and the Himalayan
kingdom of Bhutan, where she was detained by border
guards during a political crisis. When traveling in India, she
became sympathetic to the plight of the ‘‘gutter babies’’ and
helped to establish an orphanage for them in Calcutta. Her
best-selling autobiography Don’t Fall Off the Mountain (1970),
which detailed her experiences in Africa, India, the Far East,
and Hollywood, was translated into eight languages.
In 1973 MacLaine led a delegation of 12 American women,
including filmmaker Claudia Weill, on a six-week tour of the
People’s Republic of China. With Weill acting as her codirector,
MacLaine produced and wrote the narration for the
film The Other Half of the Sky A China Memoir, a documentary
of the trip broadcast by Public Broadcasting Service (1975).
Her second autobiographical book, You Can Get There from Here
(1975), discussed her China trip and her involvement with
George McGovern’s presidential campaign. In 1976, after a 20-
year hiatus as an entertainer, she returned to the theatrical
stage in A Gypsy in My Soul, which attracted rave reviews. By
1983 she had appeared in some 35 movies.
Her third autobiographical book, Out on a Limb (1983), described
a spiritual odyssey that developed from her world travels.
It is a heady exploration of New Age beliefs, including meditation,
psychic healing, channeling of spirit guides,
reincarnation, UFOs, extraterrestrials, and out-of-the-body
travel. If at times the book appears naive, it is redeemed by its
transparent honesty and sincerity and a deep desire for a spiritual
framework to life. The book became the basis for a fivehour
prime-time ABC-TV mini-series. Her inner search continued
in her book Dancing in the Light (1985), in which she stated
‘‘I like to think of Dancing in the Light as a celebration of all
my ‘selves.’ It was a fulfilling and satisfying exploration of the
promises I made to myself in Out on a Limb. In it I look with
pleasure, humor and some contentment upon my experiences
as a daughter, a mother, a lover, a friend, a seeker of spiritual
destiny and a voice calling for peace in the world.’’
The book cites several channels from whom she received
guidance, but her kindest words are reserved for J. Z. Knight,
who channels an entity named ‘‘Ramtha’’ and has since attracted
a large following.
In the late 1980s MacLaine emerged as a New Age teacher
and leader of Higher Life Seminars. Profits from the seminars
have funded several New Age centers. MacLaine has continued
to write New Age books.
Sources
MacLaine, Shirley. Dancing in the Light. New York Bantam
Books, 1985.
———. Don’t Fall Off the Mountain. New York W. W. Norton,
1970.
———. It’s All in the Playing. New York Bantam Books,
1987.
———. Out on a Limb. New York Bantam Books, 1983.
———. You Can Get There from Here. New York W. W. Norton,
1975.
Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan Kelly. New Age
Encyclopedia. Detroit Gale Research, 1990.