Shirley MacLaine is an American actress, singer, dancer, activist and author best known for her award-winning roles in the feature films The Apartment, Irma la Douce, Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias. She was honoured with the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1998.
MacLaine was born Shirley MacLean Beaty to Virginia native Ira Owens Beaty, an American, and Kathlyn Corinne MacLean, from Nova Scotia, Canada. Her brother, Warren Beatty, was born on March 30, 1937.
Shirley was the tallest in her ballet classes at the Washington School of Ballet. Just after she graduated from Washington-Lee High School, she packed her bags and headed for New York.
While auditioning for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's Me and Juliet, the producer kept mispronouncing her name. She then changed her name from Shirley MacLean Beaty to Shirley MacLaine.
She later had a role in The Pajama Game, as a member of the chorus and understudy to Carol Haney. A few months into the run, Shirley was going to leave the show for the lead role in Can-Can but ended up filling in for Haney, who had broken her ankle and could not perform.
She would fill in for Carol, again, three months later, following another injury, the very night that movie producer Hal B. Wallis was in the audience. Wallis signed MacLaine to a five-year contract to Paramount Pictures.
Three months later, she was off to shoot The Trouble with Harry (1955). She then took roles in Hot Spell (1958) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), completed not too long before her daughter, Sachi Parker (born Stephanie), was born.
With Shirley's career on track, she played one of her most challenging roles: Ginny Moorhead in Some Came Running (1958), for which she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
She went on to do The Sheepman (1958) and The Matchmaker (1958). In 1960, she got her second Academy Award nomination for The Apartment. Three years later, she received a third nomination for Irma la Douce.
In 1969, she brought her friend Bob Fosse from Broadway to direct her in Sweet Charity (1969), from which she got her signature song, If My Friends Could See Me Now.
After a five-year hiatus, Shirley made a documentary on China called The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir (1975), for which she received an Oscr nomination for best documentary.
In 1977, she got her fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination for The Turning Point. In 1979, she worked with Peter Sellers in Being There, made shortly before his death.
After 20 years in the film industry, she finally took home the Best Actress Oscar for Terms of Endearment (1983).
After a five-year hiatus, Shirley made Madame Sousatzka, a critical and financial hit that took top prize at the Venice Film Festival. In 1989, she starred with Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias.
She received rave reviews playing Meryl Streep's mother in Postcards from the Edge (1990) and for Guarding Tess (1994).
In 1996, she reprised her role from Terms of Endearment as Aurora Greenway in The Evening Star, which didn't repeat its predecessor's success at the box office. In mid-1998, she directed Bruno, which starred Alex D. Linz.
In February 2001, Shirley worked with close friends once again in These Old Broads and co-starred with Julia Stiles in Carolina and with Kirstie Alley in Salem Witch Trials.
Shirley starred in a CBS miniseries based on the life of cosmetics queen Mary Kay Ash - Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay and wrote two more books, The Camino in 2001 and Out On A Leash in 2003.
After taking a slight hiatus from motion pictures, Shirley returned with roles in the movies that were small, but scene-stealing: Bewitched (2005) with Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, In Her Shoes (2005) with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette, in which Shirley was nominated for a Golden Globe in the best supporting actress category, and Rumor Has It... (2005) with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner.
Shirley completed filming of Closing the Ring, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, in 2007. She later appeared in Valentine's Day (2010).
In 2012 she joined the cast of the ITV period drama series Downton Abbey as Martha Levinson, the American mother of Lady Grantham.