The PR campaign for a new Shirley MacLaine movie to be released in a couple of months has begun. I always perk up when her name is mentioned because Ms. MacLaine and I have a personal connection – sort of.
You see, some people think I’m Shirley MacLaine. Well, not lately, but there was a time – a period of several years in the 1980s and 1990s when I was regularly approached for autographs and no amount of denial on my part would convince people – mostly tourists - that I wasn’t Ms. MacLaine.
It happened frequently enough that I’d sometimes stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, turning my head this way and that trying to catch a glimpse of what others saw. Maybe it was something similar in the set of our jaws or the shape of our eyes. Or a mannerism I am unaware of. I couldn’t be sure, but a lot of other people had no doubt.
There is a certain kind of woman they seem to breed only in Queens, New York. They dress in bright, bold colors – all worn together in the same outfit - and have that accent (think Fran Drescher in The Nanny). You can hear – and see – them coming for ten city blocks. Invariably, they are brash, loud, smart as whips and devastatingly funny.
I had a friend like that in the mid-1990s. Carol and I worked together in midtown Manhattan and on one cold, winter day, we avoided the nasty weather by making our way underground through the labyrinth of shops below Rockefeller Center toward a favorite restaurant.
Wading through knots of noontime tourists consulting their maps as we turned a corner, I saw a woman eyeing me in a way I had come to know well; I was about to be accosted for an autograph.
Sure enough. With her friends in tow, she rushed over, grabbed my arm and gushed: “I am your biggest fan ever. I’ve seen every movie you ever made. You…”
I interrupted. “I know you think I’m Shirley MacLaine, but I’m not.”
“Don’t you try to fool me, Shirley,” said the woman wagging her finger. “I’m your biggest fan and I know Shirley MacLaine when I see her.”
Now a crowd was gathering as the name Shirley MacLaine was passed from one person to another and people dug in their bags and pockets for paper and pen.
“Please, Ma’am,” I said. “You’re mistaken. I’m not Shirley MacLaine. I just happen to look a little like her. But I’m not her…”
The woman, quite firm about it, continued to insist that I was Shirley MacLaine and nothing I said could dissuade her.
As I tried to resist taking her notepad and pen for the autograph she wanted, Carol elbowed me and in her loudest, Queens whine said, “Oh, come on, Shirley, just sign the autograph. We’re going to be late.”
Of course, Carol was right - a perfect solution I'd been too thick to think up for myself. I signed Shirley MacLaine's name, leaving the woman victorious in her belief that she had met a movie star while visiting New York City and freeing Carol and me to get on with our lunch.
From that day forward, taking my cue from Carol of Queens’ sharp elbow and sharper wit, I signed autographs as graciously as I could when asked (until I apparently stopped looking like Ms. MacLaine a few years later) and hoped, should she ever find out, that she wouldn’t mind.
As a result, I feel a small connection to Ms. MacLaine and take notice when her name turns up as it recently did in an interview with The Australian promoting a new film, Closing the Ring, co-starring Christopher Plummer.
During the interview she mentioned another, Poor Things, shooting now with co-star Olympia Dukakis. It is based, says Ms. MacLaine, on a true story about two old women:
"They didn't like the idea that they were invisible, so they thought, 'All right, we will use this invisibility.'
"What they end up doing is scamming homeless shelters in California. They pick a homeless person, take an insurance policy out on him, get him off the booze and off the drugs…and when the policy reaches maturity, they run him over with their car.
"’They whacked 10 men that way, made 2.5 mill on each one,’ MacLaine says, sounding amused by the concept.”
Maybe Shirley MacLaine and I also share a sense of humor because I too find the concept funny and am looking forward to the movie and to adding it to the TGB Geezer Flicks list.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Darlene Costner explains why she put her foot down about where the family was going to live in The Nor’easter or Why We Moved Back to Arizona.]