Shirley MacLaine and the sex pests from outer space
18 Jan 2008
Mary Wakefield reviews Sage-ing While Age-ing by Shirley MacLaine
I've been trying to imagine the conversation between Shirley MacLaine and her editor about the title of her new book. I think it might have gone something like this:
"Hi Bob it's me, Shirley!"
"Hey, Shirley!" In my mind's eye, Bob is standing at a window in Simon & Schuster's New York office, looking out over midtown. "What's up?"
"I've got the title, Bob!" Shirley is excited. "It came to me in a dream."
Bob feels a knot of anxiety form in his gut. "So...?" "Sage-ing While Age-ing," says Shirley proudly. "With hyphens!" Bob pauses. Bob weighs up his respect for the English language against the awful, gnawing need of publishing houses for celebrity authors. Bob says: "That's just perfect, Shirley."
In a way, it is. No other title could better prepare the reader for this book; no other title could give an innocent shopper such perfect advance warning of the metaphysical mayhem inside.
Sage-ing While Age-ing is billed as a memoir, but it contains few biographical details. If you're a fan of the young, high-kicking Shirley and you're hoping for the scoop on working with Hitchcock, or drinking with Sinatra, you're in for a disappointment.
If, however, you've recently changed your name to Nefertiti because of a revelation during a past-life meditation session, then you're in luck - or in tune with divine synchronicity, as MacLaine would have it - because her book is a litany of New Age beliefs: in aliens, in angels, in astrology; in the Bible code, in Buddhism, in dragons; in freemasonry, kabbala, Nostradamus, numerology, pyramidology, reincarnation, tantric yoga and UFOs.
MacLaine is a classic American Gnostic - just as long as it isn't orthodoxy, she's all for it. In some ways, for all its craziness, the whole book is very American: "I had the blood of the Founding Fathers pounding through my heart," writes MacLaine of her childhood self. "The pounding was accompanied by the understanding that our Founding Fathers had been transcendentalists."
Then there's that peculiarly American conviction that celebrity is divinely ordained. "When I took my bows with the other Steam Heat dancers, the audience stood up. Never had I been so lonely, but I knew deep inside that the destiny of my life was now in alignment."
In other ways, though, it would be unfair to suggest that MacLaine represents the American psyche. She's just her own fruitbat self.
"Please bear with me, dear Reader," she writes at the opening of chapter five, "and keep an open mind as I tell you I believe that I lived on the lost continent of Atlantis... and that part of my Atlantean experience was what I call sexual division. I remember feeling perfectly peaceful with the fact that I was both male and female, an equal balance of yin and yang.
"I had both male and female genitalia, but they were not as pronounced as the sexual organs of today. I remember producing a child through the intention of meditating on the desire to give birth."
In chapter eight she introduces us to a friend of hers called Credo Mutwa. Credo, she explains, was recently abducted by a group of small, thin-lipped aliens called "Greys", who subjected him to a medical examination, then straddled him, "drained" his semen and left him bleeding on the ground with genital boils.
And what lesson does Shirley MacLaine wish us to draw from Credo's painful story? "Extra Terrestrials are here to help us," she says - and, by the way, they don't care for the term "aliens": "they prefer to be called 'Star Visitors' instead".
Well, quite. God forbid that we be culturally insensitive with psychopathic sex pests from outer space. Reading this book is like being locked in a New Age shop on an acid trip with someone else's granny.
But if you're still determined to scour Sage-ing While Age-ing for information about the real MacLaine, then most interesting are the facts she leaves out. So her hermaphrodite past self spontaneously sprouted a child - but what about her real-life daughter, Sachi? Why no mention of her? Yes, we know she loves "mankind", but what about particular men, such as her former husband, Mr Parker?
Through the ectoplasm and UFO vapour trails, a more poignant picture of the real Shirley MacLaine does emerge - but for all the sage-ing, it's not a very happy one. It's a picture of a lonely 73-year-old who finds it difficult to relate to people; of an ageing celebrity sitting with her beloved dog, looking out over the New Mexican desert, waiting for the Star Visitors to come.