Marilyn Monroe comes immediately to mind as the most popular object of affection among children back then, even if they had no appreciation of exactly why. My theory is that Marilyn came with an innate child-like quality that made her seem like a peer, despite her physically adult, womanly attributes. She was an innocent. She had no plots or designs.
But my personal crush was Shirley MacLaine. I was so enamored of her that, when I was about 11 or 12, I devoted my budding artistic skills to a little pencil caricature (see above) that, I thought, captured her appeal.
Fast forward several decades and I am a working movie critic. I spent 35 years reviewing and, occasionally, interviewing film people. Hundreds. But, somehow, never Shirley MacLaine. Never. But I finally met her in 1991 when Jack Lemmon was honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press with the Cecil B. DeMille Life Achievement Award at the Golden Globes that year. Jack and I were friends and I was invited to join in the celebration.
Connie McCauley, who served as Jack's career-long secretary and assistant and was vice president of his Jalem Productions, arranged the seating at Jack's table. Jack was with his wife Felicia Farr and, among the other guests, were Walter Matthau and his wife Carol Matthau (aka, Carol Grace and Carol Marcus and who had just written the fabulous autobiography, "Among the Porcupines"), their son Charlie Matthau and his wife Ashley and ... Shirley MacLaine! Whom Connie sat next to me.
She appeared to be attending with either her agent or manager.
Shirley smiled and said hello - and then studied me with a steely gaze. A pause. "Didn't we work together on "Madame Sousatzka"? In retrospect, I probably should have said yes and engage her in a one-sided conversation about the 1988 John Schlesinger film. She would do all the talking and reminiscing. Opting for honesty, I said no. "I'm a friend of Jack's."
Oh, well. What can I say? Needless to say, it was a disappointment. Huge. Perhaps she thought that we'd have nothing to say to each other, And she probably would have been correct. Or - dare I admit it? - I simply wasn't important enough for her company. Either way, it seemed like bad form.
When Susan and I got home that night, I immediately logged on to "Madame Sousatzka" on IMDb to see what part I could have played. Had I been better versed on the film, I could have said yes to Shirley - that we did work on a couple scenes in the movie. I just needed a name. "I could have played 'Ronnie Blum'," I thought, oblivious to the fact that my decades-old crush, decidedly one-sided, was over. Goodbye, Shirley.
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~Caricature of Shirley MacLaine
~photography: Universal Pictures 1988©