by Patricia Grandjean
Mar 22, 2012
10:39 AM
Box Office

Q&A Web Exclusive: Shirley MacLaine


(page 4 of 5)

I know that wasn't well-received at the time . . .

But it was well-received—as a hoot. Nobody took it seriously except Edith Head. I never had a lunch hour on that movie. It was all about not eating and being thin. I did make friends with the monkey who was in the sequence with Paul Newman. That was really fun. The two of us would have breakfast, then we'd ride around on a bicycle and stuff like that.

You did have quite a string of dishy co-stars in that movie.

Well, I was having a love affair with [Robert] Mitchum at the time. Gene Kelly was a real taskmaster—at times I'd say, a "dancing fascist"—but brilliant. Dean Martin was the funniest person I'd ever met. My crush on him preceded the film; that was over. Dick van Dyke was also funny, I admired his physical humor.

Paul Newman used to saty in his trailer and was devoted to the Lee Strasberg "method." He wanted to know whether the character he was playing wore shoes when he painted. I couldn't answer that and didn't know who to direct him to, so I basically hung out with the monkey.

You worked with Jack Lemmon on a couple of occasions. I know you've said you never "crushed" on him . . . 

Oh, no—he was just a great buddy and a real friend. We started The Apartment with 29 pages of script, and Billy [Wilder] used to watch our relationship and how we interrelated with each other, then he and his collaborator [I.A.L. Diamond] would write the pages for the next day. They knew that I was then learning gin rummy rather seriously from Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack, and that's why Billy wrote in the gin game we play after my character's suicide attempt.

Would it be fair to call Wilder a "directing fascist?"

Well, he used to say things like "Do that scene again and take out 10-and-a-half seconds." I don't call that fascistic. He wasn't good with women, I will tell you that—he was much more comfortable with men. He was basically from Austria. Do what you want with that. [laughs]

And of course he fled the Nazis, so mine wasn't the best analogy . . .

Exactly. That's why he left Austria, and worked his way here from South America. He was so funny, so cryptic and so cynical. The real brilliance of Wilder's films was Doane Harrison, his associate producer. Doane would walk onto the set and say very quietly, but strongly, "Billy, you did not break my heart today. You have to go back and do it again. You're too cynical, you think you're too funny." And Billy would listen to him.

Wow. Talk about a remark that cuts to the heart of why we love movies.

Absolutely. And Lemmon, in Billy's movies, was the fulcrum around which the real emotion spun. After Doane Harrison died, some of Billy's films did not do so well. He was the heart behind the throne.

Q&A Web Exclusive: Shirley MacLaine

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Box Office is your guide to entertainment across Connecticut, courtesy of senior editor Pat Grandjean. If it's a chat with an actor or actress, previewing a new play at a regional theater, the latest on a state celebrity's new movie, or recommendations for seeing and doing, let Box Office be one of your hubs.

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