“Even though I tell people the truth, I’m not a diva.”

By Meghan Overdeep
November 03, 2020
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Shirley MacLaine
Credit: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

In many ways, Shirley MacLaine is still a hardworking young ballerina growing up in Arlington, Virginia.

MacLaine, a lifelong dancer, started ballet when she was three years old in an effort to strengthen her weak ankles. She was just 16 when she landed a summer gig as a chorus girl in “Oklahoma!” on Broadway. She’s been a Hollywood heavy hitter ever since.   

More than 60 years after leaving her childhood home for the bright lights of New York City, MacLaine credits her career longevity to the lessons she learned as a dancer.

“Even though I tell people the truth, I’m not a diva,” the 86-year-old Oscar-winner recently told Variety. “That comes from my three-year-old ballet training. I’ve got to go all the way back to that and just hard, honest work, with quite a bit of art, if you can muster it, thrown in.”

And it was the paychecks, which gave her the ability to travel the world, that kept her in the spotlight. In fact, she currently has three films lined up when it’s safe for her to go back to work.

“I’ve also stayed in the business and never thought about quitting because I wanted to pay for plane tickets to travel. I didn’t socialize Hollywood style. I’d rather travel to a country I hadn’t been to,” MacLaine explained to Variety. “So, when I think about my life, I’m not sure I wouldn’t put the travels a bit above show business.”

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Throughout her six decades in Hollywood, MacLaine has worked with everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to Dolly Parton.

“She was the only one tied up in a corset with a wig and high heels that she would lose her breath,” MacLaine recalled of her experience starring alongside Parton in 1989’s Steel Magnolias. “And she was the only one who didn’t sweat and didn’t complain in the heat.”

Talk about two masters of longevity!