THE ACTRESS/ACTIVIST, IN A MORE RESERVED MOMENT IN 1980.
Byline: Howard Kissel, September 1980
One corner of Shirley MacLaine’s sunny New York apartment overlooking the East River has a political cast to it. There are mementoes of John and Robert Kennedy and, in a glass case, a stuffed bird presented to her by Fidel Castro. (“He called me his dove of peace,” she says, recalling the difficulties she had bringing it through U.S. Customs. “I think he meant ‘piece.”‘)
But politics is not what MacLaine is about these days. She received an invitation to be a delegate at the Democratic convention, but her response was, “What has that got to do with anything?” There are still issues she cares about, but she talks with less rhetoric than she did a few years ago.
She speaks, for example, with considerable reserve about the right-to-life movement. “I’ve come to believe they have a misguided compassion,” she says. “I think we all share the understanding that the sanctity of human life is the only thing we can rely on. I’m disturbed by the fact that they care more about the unborn child than the mother who’s living. I sometimes have the impression they would kill for the right not to kill.”
She has no regrets about her activist past, for which she was often pilloried in the press. But she has decided politics is not the way you change society.
“One of the problems with politics is that people are not growing enough, not exploring their individual potential. What I’m really into, really happiest about, is my own growth. I guess that I began to realize in a definite way that the only real change you can make is with yourself. When everyone does a good job with that, we’ll have change in society….
“In the last few years, a lot of people have been talking to me about spiritual experiences. I think people have a sense of safety about who they can discuss things like this with. I’ve talked with several people who were pronounced clinically dead and came back to life. One of them was Peter Sellers….”
A maid brings iced tea as MacLaine, wearing no nylons and a flouncy, ankle-length dress, lounges cross-legged on the sofa. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels these little rappings in my skull all the time. Others may feel it, but they’re afraid to admit it in public. If you don’t believe cosmic forces are at work, all you have to do is look at the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. When you become conscious of these things, your attitude toward the domestic political scene is colored by more profound realities. If you don’t have these feelings, you have an enormous investment in doom and gloom. But when you have them, you’re more vulnerable, more in touch with your own feelings, which you can’t be when you’re cynical….
“What is a bigger problem today than human sexuality? Except inflation. If Richard Nixon had not been sexually repressed, he wouldn’t have had to bomb Vietnam or Cambodia. The more sex becomes a non-issue in people’s lives, the happier they are. The rule should be, ‘Do What You Want and That’s It.”