This Week in Elder News: 19 January 2008
Old Women, Young Men

Shirley MacLaine and Me

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.]


Wonderful story!!! I want to see that movie!!!!

Ronni - Another common thread
I too relate to Shirly in so many ways In the past have been told I looked like her. I have always thought at this time of life I could be her friend. Wish she were a neighbor.
Smiled when I read your story
Not many films I like but I have got to see this one.
Have a great day Ernestine

That's a hoot, Ronni.
When I was visiting friends in the Big Apple we attended the WILL ROGERS REVUE. One friend was in 'show biz' and had many famous friends, including Imogene Coca. Imogene joined us for the play and then we all ate at Sardi's. Of course people stared at us and asked Imogene for her autograph. They kept looking at me trying to figure out who the heck I was. I now know why some stars want to stay secluded.
Imogene was a very lovely lady and I was priviledged to spend that wonderful afternoon with her.

"Poor Things" - Sounds like an updated version of Arsenic and Old Lace!

How cool is that, Ronni! What a wonderful message on this very cold day in the midwest! Great story; no doubt 2 great movies. Thanks for the "lightness" this morning. Dee

This is great, Ronni. Now I know exactly what you look like.

The pictures of yourself along your banner are good and I've always admired the one that is second from the right, but from now on I will picture spiffy,spunky,spectacular Shirley MacLaine when I think of you.

Do you sometimes wonder if Shirley ever signed Ronni Bennett to a piece of paper to get away from a crowd?

That's a great story and when you said you looked like her, I had to look up at the photos and sure enough, in a certain period of time, I do see the resemblance. She is a kick now and I have enjoyed her books. Although I don't know what I think about that movie, I do remember the story when it was in the newspapers. Once in awhile there are these black widow women. Some marry one man after another for insurance policies or what the man had before they made a bad judgment in their mating choice. I hope she doesn't make this look like a good thing as almost always she is the character you root for in her films. *s*

How VERY *synchronistic*................
I finally launched my new blog yesterday Click here: And The Beat Goes On
.....(after you know 'how long'. and all the technical problems Ronni!).
And part of the process was trying to figure out just what it was I wanted my blog to "be about". And, low and behold, this morning, you write about Shirley McClaine, I suddenly I realized that ~~*THAT*~ was I wanted to talk about in my new blog: "growing old" with that kind of ~~Joie de la vie~~that Shirley McClaine/Cher/Betty Davis and other women like them of our generation seem to have. Synchronically, growing up in California, I too, "grew up" with Shirley McClain e(I think we are the same age), she was my "idol"/role model thru the years along with other strong, and "spirited" women of that era. It was not so much what she did.....(her life was rather "wild" compared to mine) but I loved her attitude, her open mindedness, ......her *Spirit*.......that electrified everything she did. And the beat goes on even today: I love her books, I do yoga, I am on her spiritual wave length......and, strangely enough, (or NOT), when I received my new Amazon Kindle, I ordered her new book, Sage-ing While Age-ing Click here: Sage-ing While Age-ing: Books: Shirley MacLaine and, as usual, she did not disappoint: she is indeed a "fearless, iconoclastic thinker and seeker of truth". Thank you Ronni for all your help......even if you don't look like Shirley anymore, you carry her *Spirit* for all the blogosphere to ~~see~~!

Hehehehehe, love your solution, "Shirley." I once was the "Mrs" of a man who shared a name with the son of a famous singer. One day a Pennys saleswoman asked if the name on my credit card was the singer's son. I'd heard it all before, but that day, I smiled, replied "why, yes I am," and then gave her an autograph! Fame by proxy ... fun ain't it?

I'll admit that the Poor Things story makes me uncomfortable, being, as I am, an older gentleman off the booze.

As far as I know, the only person with a life insurance policy on me is my wife. Nonetheless, from now on I'll be a bit more wary in crossing the street whenever I spot a old woman at the wheel headed toward me...

A great post, Ronni! Still laughing! :)

How funny Ronni....but, honestly...I can see how you were mistaken for Shirley...there definitely are some strong similarities....even in your manner of speaking. I can imagine that these similarities were even stronger back in the 80's and 90's. I love Ms. MacLaine...always have...but I love you more.

Love Pete's answer. What a fine time that must have been for you Ronni; once you figured out your solution.

I've never been very fond of Ms. MacLaine myself. A dear friend of mine held an unhealthy adoration for Ms. MacLaine during her more bizarre esoteric phases. She spent an exorbitant amount of time and money following Ms. MacLaine's psychic journeys, seminars, and workshops. It wasn't Ms. MacLaine fault that this friend did so, but it made me wary of people who are self-acclaimed spiritual teachers.

My husband used to be a dead ringer for Peter Noone the lead singer of Herman's Hermits. He had to sign autographs to get out of a pub one night.

I wonder if Ms MacLain has ever been told she looks like Ronni Bennett or if Mr Hermit ever was asked if he was my husband?

I'm afraid I'm not impressed with making a comedy about the "silly old women" stereotype who murder the homeless. The news stories were horrendous enough.

Now there was a TV show about the ___ (Snoop?) Sisters who were detectives. That, in memory, seemed like an interesting and myth-busting show. story! i will see the film as soon as it arrives. she's a great actress and very funny. i enjoyed her books on spirituality, too.

Ironic, Peggy. I went with a guy who was a dead ringer for Peter Noone for about a year. Your husband wasn't disc jockey was he?

You are much more attractive than Ms. MacLaine Ronni !! :-)

Ronni, that's hilarious..I can see from your pics how you could be mistaken for Shirley macLaine.
For many years...I was told I look exactly like Sally Field...and I know I do......only I have more character lines because I refuse to wear make-up. are much more down to earth than Shirley is.....isn't she the one who writes the weird books.

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