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Shirley MacLaine AFI Tribute, from Raucous Rickles, Black and Nicholson to Roberts and Streep: 'She's Got Balls'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 8, 2012 at 4:00PM

The annual American Film Institute Life Achievement Awards give folks in Hollywood a way to remember why they got into the business. And Shirley MacLaine was overdue for the award that had already gone to younger brother Warren Beatty, whom she said she has known and loved the longest.
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"Terms of Endearment"
"Terms of Endearment"

Indeed, the 40th AFI tribute crowd was treated to a clip from the next season of Masterpiece Theatre's "Downton Abbey," when MacLaine as Elizabeth McGovern's mother first meets Maggie Smith. I am not the only one looking forward to that duel of the dowagers. She plays Ben Stiller's mom in a remake of James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," set to start filming this summer.

And looking at MacLaine's accomplishments Thursday night at Sony's Stage 15 where the Marx Brothers and Judy Garland frolicked back in the day, the strong Hollywood turnout made sense. (Also, as Nicholson pointed out, they owed her--she had done her bit for many others already.)

A replica of some of the photos on her wall at home in Santa Fe showed her 50th birthday Time cover, all legs, as well as MacLaine posing with Warren, Fidel Castro, Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood ("Two Mules for Sister Sara"), Sophia Loren, Sidney Poitier (who came to the event), Sharon Stone, Whoopi Goldberg and Henry Fonda.

On hand were last year's AFI recipient Morgan Freeman, Carrie Fisher and Bruce Wagner, Marcia Gay Harden, Steven Spielberg, Peter Fonda, John Travolta, Dakota Fanning, Katherine Heigl, Richard Benjamin, CBS's Leslie Moonves and CBS Films' Terry Press, Liberal politicians George McGovern and Dennis Kucinich, and studio chiefs, from Disney's smiling new chairman Alan Horn and Fox's Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos (anticipating cool "Prometheus" grosses), to Warners ex-partners Bob Daly and Terry Semel and Sony's Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal and their boss Sir Howard Stringer, who as always gave a witty intro. Beatty accompanied his wife Annette Bening, who was on crutches after finally getting a broken foot diagnosis after several weeks of hobbling.

MacLaine took her tributes--and some serious ribbing from fellow survivor Don Rickles --from a long table, surrounded by Streep, Roberts, Jennifer Aniston ("Rumor Has It") and Melanie Griffith. Video tributes were filed by her hilarious "Bernie" co-star Jack Black, Stephen Hawking, Mikhael Baryshnikov ("The Turning Point"), and admiring actresses Nicole Kidman, Goldie Hawn and Charlize Theron as well as "Postcards from the Edge" director Mike Nichols, who said, "I don't think you can embarrass Shirley. I've tried. She was able to be an observer despite being one of the most deservedly observed. She's hungry for everything in life."

James L. Brooks declared,"She's the greatest female talent in the history of motion pictures." You can see the show on TV Land on June 24.

This article is related to: AFI


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.