The Campaign Tapes

Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine, Warren Beatty and George McGovernOf all the stars in Hollywood, few if any have been as intimately involved in politics for as long as Shirley MacLaine.

Shirley MacLaine is a lifelong Democrat; She performed with Frank Sinatra and other legendary starts like Nat "King" Cole, Jimmy Durante, Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson at John F. Kennedy's Presidential Gala in January 1961, on the eve of JFK's swearing-in. She campaigned for Senator Robert Kennedy during his 1968 Presidential bid, and quit show business altogether for a year to work as a California campaign organizer for anti-war candidate Senator George McGovern's 1972 White House run.

There were even reports at the time MacLaine may have served in a McGovern administration.

I wanted to ask MacLaine about the politicians she's known, including former Australian Liberal leader Andrew Peacock, and explore the similarities between showbusiness and politics.

For reasons explained in excruciating detail in my book "Vote For Me" this interview was filmed in late 2007 with an un-manned camera, and, as it turned out, a disconnected microphone. I still don't want to talk about it.


John Barron: Miss MacLaine, you've known a lot of politicians, you've known a lot of actors – what do you think they have in common?

Shirley MacLaine: Oh I think politicians are desperate to communicate their truth with the audience, and that's also what an actor does, expressing truth through their character.

Barron: Did the great politicians you've known have the same star quality and charisma as the great actors?

MacLaine: "When you look at the experience of being with Bill Clinton, as opposed to being with a really fine actor, it's entirely different because Bill Clinton works a room like no one you ever saw – an actor is usually shy around real people... a politician wants to shake every hand in the room, an actor wants to go home."


Shirley MacLaine

As well as "Law and Order" star Fred Thompson briefly appearing in the 2008 Presidential race and California's erstwhile "Governator" Arnold Schwarzenegger, there was of course President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Clint Eastwood, who was elected Mayor of Carmel, California in the 1980s, 1930s movie song-and-dance-man George Murphy became a US Senator in the 1960s, Charlton Heston was head of the National Rifle Association – heck even Shirley Temple became US ambassador. And it's not an exclusively-US phenomenon either; former Philippines President Joseph Estrada had been a movie action-hero, and actress Eva Peron became virtual co-ruler of Argentina as first lady.

But it occurs to me, at the risk of offending any or all of them that may be friends of Miss MacLaine, that none of that above list was necessarily renowned for being, well, a particularly good actor before they went into politics...

"You're right," Shirley nods, "look at Ronald Reagan."

"But, "she says, "Let's see what happens to Fred Thompson because he's an excellent actor who commands a sense of respect with what he's saying. "

I ask her about her memories of the 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign, hoping to get some stories about Jack and Jackie or maybe singing with Sinatra at the Gala, but she looks blank.

"That was the election you and the Rat Pack raised money for Kennedy," I suggest. "You sang at the Gala with Sinatra."

Shirley MacLaine - NewsweekAgain nothing, it's as if she has no memory of it.

MacLaine: Bobby Kennedy was the one I was really involved with, I was a state organiser... was that it? Or was it McGovern?

Barron: Well, you were involved with both.

MacLaine: Right.

Barron: So, why did you take a year off in 1972 to campaign for George McGovern?

MacLaine: I was so furious with Richard Nixon, he was not trustworthy - he was a liar. But it was a year out of my life and people in Hollywood thought I was crazy. They thought I didn't want to work anymore that I wanted to be part of the administration, which I might have done if McGovern had won.

Barron: How did you feel when Nixon was re-elected?

MacLaine: Devastated at the stupidity of the American people! My father was for Nixon – he used to go on at me for supporting McGovern because he was inexperienced and because he said he had a Novocain upper lip – somehow George's upper lip doesn't move.

I went to (Nixon's) inauguration - I slipped in... just to see this moment in American history. Because Watergate had already started for goodness sakes, and I remember McGovern telling me, 'if Richard Nixon is reelected I'm not sure I want to stay in this country'... he was just a disaster.

Sammy Davis Jr and Richard NixonThere is a famous photo of MacLaine's friend, the singer Sammy Davis Jr. hugging Republican President Nixon, in what some Democrats saw as an act of betrayal by an entertainer who had also campaigned for Kennedy. How did Shirley MacLaine feel about that?

MacLaine: Sammy was a brilliantly talented man who wanted to be loved... that's all... Nixon was the President.

I want to know why she was supporting Dennis Kucinich in his 2008 gadfly Presidential campaign.

MacLaine: I've seen polls where over 50% say they agree with everything Kucinich says but that he can't win. Well I say if you agree with what he's saying why don't you help him win and vote for him? ...If you want to have an elf as President! He's a wonderful man and a good, good friend, I'm the godmother to his daughter.

Dennis Kucinich is a Vegan, and it was reported during his 2008 campaign he'd once claimed to see a UFO hover over Shirley MacLaine's house – while Kucinich was ridiculed, MacLaine says past Presidents have shared his alternative views.

MacLaine: Reagan was a big new-ager - one of the reasons he was so powerful in his communication skills is that he used to go to many psychics that I know – and we know about Nancy and her astrology.

Barron: Did you even consider making the switch from Hollywood to politics like Reagan?

Shirley MacLaine and Andrew PeacockMacLaine: A bunch of the 'money-people' in California asked me to run for the Senate – and you know what I said? (No, I don't) I said 'I'll run - it's time for a woman - but I want to make two pictures a year and six weeks in Vegas'- they said no, I said no. Once I got into UFO's and high consciousness and past-life understanding they stopped asking me!

Finally, as an Australian, I want to know about media speculation in the early 1980s that Shirley MacLaine might have been about to marry Andrew Peacock and therefore, if things had played out differently, she could have conceivably become Australia's First Lady?

MacLaine: Andrew and I were and still are great friends, and um... " she pauses for quite a while and says, "I didn't want to do that ... he's a lovely man and very nice values, a very good person, but I didn't want to get married."

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