MacLaine Metamorphosis


Shirley MacLaine’s latest reincarnation will be as Martha Levinson, the Countess of Grantham’s Mum, in the phenomenal television series Downton Abbey.  Stepping back into the Edwardian era will not be difficult as most likely she has been there before.


While she was in between her astral wanderings, I met Ms. MacLaine when she was staying at the Sherry Netherland Hotel in Manhattan, where I was employed.  We met when she stopped by the front desk.  During her stay I also met her mother, father, brother, and her then husband, Steve Parker. 


The New York City Police Detective Squad brought us together, more informally.  I phoned her suite to announce the Squad’s request to speak with her.  She insisted I come up with them.  At the time there were recurrent robberies in the city’s finest hotels.  They cautioned her on how to avoid a big jewel heist.  She assured the detectives that what she owned wouldn’t interest any self-respecting thief: diamonds were not this girl’s best friends.


Being seated next to her made me aware of the woman I would increasingly admire.  After that, she would stop by the desk to chat.  Had I seen the new star on Broadway who was sensational in Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand? “I must,” she insisted! 


Years would pass before we would meet again.


I was living in San Francisco, now a member of the press.  She was booked to open at the Circle Star Theatre, in San Carlos.  I was invited to opening night.  Shirley captivated the audience with her unpretentious personality and talent.  We met up again, backstage.  She, alas, remembered me, we hugged.   I brought her frozen lasagna to keep her weight up and a surprise gift – an original poster from her very first movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, “Introducing Shirley MacLaine”.


Again, we met at a press luncheon at Trader Vic’s.  The table was set in the Tiki Garden; she motioned for me to sit across from her.  Later we had a scheduled PBS interview.  I rode around town with Shirley and her latest companion, reporter Pete Hamil.  The limousine pulled up in front of the Fairmont Hotel where she was staying.  She was rushing for a dinner date with Herb Caen, the San Fransisco Chronicle’s foremost columnist of the day.


I walked them to the elevator, “I’ll see you, Gene.”  Shirley waved goodbye as the elevator door closed.  It had been 10 years between visits.  Who knew where or when we’d meet again next time.


It will be in 2013, when Shirley will be cavorting among the 300 rooms in Downton Abbey and I’ll be in my downtown San Francisco studio, watching her on television.  Nevertheless, our spirits will transcend time and place.









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