Archive for November, 2005

Celebrities, Women

The essence of Elle La Belle

THE TIMES – November 23 2005
Ginny Dougary

The Body has a mind all right, but it’s hard to fathom.

Wth rings on her thumbs and rings on her toes, Elle still turns heads wherever she goes. She is clearly a hippy chick at heart, particularly where accessories are concerned. The half-moons of her big toes are adorned with tiny crystals that twinkle as she wiggles them. Her bronzed forearm is covered in bits of string, ribbons and shells and each one has a story: “This one’s for breast cancer and Kylie. We’ve known each other for years. I haven’t spoken to her since she’s been ill and it’s on my mind.

“This is from a friend’s wedding that I organised by the sea and I gave everyone a bracelet in a box with sand; this is an elastic band for my hair; this one says ‘peace’; I have another one that says ‘patience’ but it’s probably in my son’s hair,” and so on.

When I enter the room where the interview is to take place, Elle Macpherson is sitting down trying to tuck into a bowl of leaves — assembled with a supermodel’s appetite in mind, but The Body says it’s too insubstantial for her — and a double espresso. She has been modelling ballgowns for a photoshoot and apologises for her charcoal-rimmed eyes. She stands up, and one almost gasps: it is like being confronted by a beautiful freak. The impression is of someone superhumanly tall, with the broadest and squarest of shoulders, tiny hips, huge hands, a narrow face and those panda eyes. Her look is fabulous but ultra-studied, in marked contrast to the effortless carelessness that is projected in the broad-grinned, outdoorsy image of her photographs. All in black, from head to toe: leather peaked cap, leather jacket, skinny poloneck and clinging trousers, a wide, wide belt resting far below her navel. Think Marianne Faithfull in Girl on a Motorcycle; Jane Birkin Je t’aime-ing with Serge Gainsbourg; Diana Rigg in The Avengers.

My impression of Elle La Belle from all I had seen or read about her was positive. She seemed straightforward; no bullshit; in command of herself and her assets; a bit controlling, but only because men usually call the shots in the world in which she operates. Perhaps it’s because she looks so strong and athletic that I had assumed a certain robustness of character, too. There was a little question mark when she checked into a clinic in Arizona after the birth of her son Cy, now 2; apparently she was suffering from postnatal depression. But you needn’t be intrinsically unstable to be knocked sideways by the hormonal tumult that can occur after giving birth. And in June she separated from Arpad Busson, a French financier and the father of her sons, Cy and Flynn.

Still, I had been expecting a certain directness, but found myself in less predictable territory. The first surprise was the way she spoke: with a pronounced French inflection that makes her sound more affected than I think she is. When I comment on this, she says: “I don’t know why I do today. Sometimes when I’m tired. It’s an interesting thing. I’d like to question why is that so?” Perhaps because of her early marriage and subsequent longish relationships with two Frenchmen? “From the time I was 18 I spoke French probably more than English. I speak it with my children.” So I ask her to speak French. “Pourquoi?” she asks, laughing nervously. Because I want to see if you have an Australian accent when you do. And she rattles off her response in fluent, accentless Français.

Her first and only husband — she and Busson never married, but were together for ten years — was a French photographer, Gilles Bensimon. They met on a shoot in Tahiti; she was 19, he 40. They were married for eight years and lived in Paris, where he was the head snapper for French Elle, and his Elle became the magazine’s favourite cover girl. She credits him with introducing her to the finer things of life, helping her to developing a discerning palate for wine — which seems a bit of a waste, as she gave up drinking two years ago. Had she become over-partial to her vino, I ask? She shrugs it off good humouredly. “I just decided I wasn’t going to drink any more,” she says.

I had said that of all her ex-beaux, the one I envied her most was the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne. “But I haven’t been out with him!” she says, shocked, adding: “People’s looks are really not the first thing I look at.” Was Gilles a dreamboat, or more in that Gainsbourg toad-with-attitude mould? “Well, he’s 21 years older than me, not very tall, grey curly hair, glasses.” Hmm. Sexy? “Charismatic.”

Her mother, Frances, married Peter Gow when she was 17 and had Elle soon after, followed by two more children. Elle’s parents separated when she was 10, and she has talked about the awkwardness of coming from a broken home at a time when divorce was rare. When Frances remarried a lawyer, Neill Macpherson, Elle took his surname. Frances, I had read, was not all that happy about her daughter marrying so young, let alone repeating the pattern of becoming a teenage mother. I had also read that Elle wanted children early on and took no contraception. “Who said I wasn’t practising contraception?” she asks. It was in an article. “Do you think that I would have spoken to a journalist about that sort of thing?” she asks, more amazed than angry. You were young, you might have. “I may have. I just can’t imagine it. It’s not the sort of thing I would do.” Anyway, she says: “I loved having a young mother. We grew up together; in a way she was like my sister.”

When I ask whether her parents might not have been able to see some advantages in their daughter receiving a different sort of education in sophistication, Macpherson says: “I was fortunate. I was saved from a lot of the craziness of the industry because I had security and was with an older man. So when the girls went partying I’d go home to him and cook dinner.”

On the subject of partying models, I ask her view of the coverage of Kate Moss. “There’s a big difference between a fashion model and a role model, and Kate has never pretended to be the latter. She’s the same as she’s always been. But you know what? It’s absolutely none of my business.”

Given that she is increasingly drawn to exploring the connections between a healthy mind, body and spirit, I expect her not to be guarded about her postnatal depression. It is so common — I had it after the birth of my first child — that it might be helpful for someone in her position to lift the veil on the realities. But it is not a subject she wishes to be drawn on. “It’s different for every individual; painting broad brushstrokes is not recommended, especially when we’re talking about other people’s health,” she says firmly. Are you embarrassed about it? “No, no. I think the healthiest thing to do if someone has difficulties is to get help, whatever that is. That’s really healthy recovered behaviour,” she says. “I have zero shame around it all.” But nothing to contribute? “No.”

Are there areas in your life for self-improvement? You seem to be on some sort of path. “I believe it is the journey inside that is rich and interesting. In my life I’ve understood that it is stuff on the outside — clothes and people and places and acquiring things — that doesn’t necessarily make me happy. Twenty years ago I probably felt that if I had lots of money, I was important to some extent. My belief system supported that; now I’m a lot more centred.”

I wonder if you have anything to say about how you are — er — bearing up — er — under the whole — um . . . As she sees me struggling to put a question that I don’t feel comfortable asking, she laughs, but not unkindly. I must say that her composure and the grace with which she handles press intrusion into private matters is impressive. “I have nothing to say on that,” she says, knowing that I’m trying to broach the subject of her separation. “My children are well, I’m well and I’ve made a statement to the press that says it all.”

When I ask Macpherson what she thinks of Arki’s city academies to help deprived children (her ex describes himself, rather cutely, as a “venture philanthropist”), her response is so stilted it makes her sound like an automaton: “I think Ark is a very interesting charity and I think the philosophy behind it is commendable and what they’re doing is remarkable.”

She is an odd mixture of different parts. At times she comes across as a Valley Girl, every phrase swooping upwards in a dangling question mark — like, you know? The aforementioned French cadence; the occasional posh English word and — the voice I like best — down-to-earth Aussie, which is the only time she sounds really natural. This comes out when she tries to define the Australian character: “There is a sort of honesty of spirit, which is about trying to find out the truth behind a thing. ‘What are you trying to say, OK? You wanna do it or you don’t wanna do it. It’s cool by me, whatever it is’.” And explaining why she likes to accentuate the positive: “I don’t feel good when I s**t on other people.”

In the same vein, I like it when she calls me on what she perceives to be my interviewing technique: “I feel you’re much more savvy than you’re letting on. I think you are trying to play dumb to me.” A huge, gusty laugh. When I protest that I would never try to play dumb, she says: “You don’t even sound dumb so don’t try to play it.” But at odds with this bracing directness is her manner — which made me wonder whether her sun-kissed photographs captured an idealised version of herself, not in the way she looks, but conveying a freedom of spirit that she strives for but doesn’t find that easy to attain. For much of the interview she reminded me of a far more anxious, vaguely troubled individual than I had imagined. With those big blackened eyes and that serious expression, she reminded me of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the Martin Bashir interview. There was very little in her body language to suggest the sense she wishes to project of her newfound “centredness”.

When we part — she is punctilious about picking up her boys from school — she is concerned that she has taken herself too seriously. “I’ve tried to be as honest and open with you as I can,” she says engagingly.

In a Sydney Morning Herald interview in 1992, the journalist noted the lack of books in her Manhattan flat. “I don’t think you should read what you haven’t written,” was the 28-year-old’s response. This could have been an ironic riposte, but she doesn’t really do irony. It could have been invented, but that also seems unlikely. What is certainly the case is that Macpherson is now a reader par excellence. She asks if I am familiar with Noam Chomsky: “He is quite a modern thinker. His Hegemony or Survival is interesting: he talks about the rise of American culture and its effect on the world.” She is very taken with William Blake, and quotes philosophers: “As Socrates said, ‘ The unexamined life is not worth living’ . . . when I was in my twenties I was interested in finding out who I was, and to some extent I didn’t like what I found.” Why? “Because I was young, I didn’t get it.” Get what? “I didn’t have self-acceptance.”

I think the area she finds most difficult to balance is her success as a businesswoman — through licensing agreements on her lingerie, Elle Macpherson Intimates, and The Body, a new range of potions and lotions — with her desire to be womanly. I’d read, with astonishment, that she used to pack Busson’s suitcases. Was this a legacy of her early wife-training in Paris? “I have always been conscious — because I was financially independent — not to emasculate men, and it was important to me to maintain contact with my femininity. That is a thread throughout my career: not to become a hard-arse ball-breaker. Alhough I’m sure that, along the way, I’ve slipped into that mode. But I didn’t want to. But there’s stuff I like to do with a guy I like to be with. You know, to please him. I also like the domesticity of life.”

Where she loses me is when she goes into Gaia-speak about the differences between men and women. “I believe in the empowerment of women in their femininity, sensuality and sexuality. I cherish women as being Earth Mother Nature, protector of the Earth and Universe and femininity and goddess energy. We have disrespected and disregarded that as a culture, especially with women going in the workforce, you know, glorifying women in the workforce.”

Are you saying women should go back into the home? “No, I’m using it in my lingerie and beauty products, saying the beauty in women should be nurtured and respected and loved, for themselves.”

Ah well. In the meantime, Elle Macpherson will be nurturing and respecting and loving herself through her daily meditation, pursuit of her creative self, muscling through the demands of single motherhood in Notting Hill, striving to quieten her “inner chatterbox” and live in the here and now. As she says: “One of my interests is to find peace and serenity. I want to feel good about myself.” And at last I see that great, broad, captivating Macpherson grin.

Actors, Celebrities

A suitable case for treatment

IRISH INDEPENDENT – November 12, 2005
Ginny Dougary

Few lives are as dramatic or traumatic or just plain strange as Kelsey Grammer’s. From the violent murder of his father and his sister, to his own drug addiction and vicious physical and mental abuse at the hands of a string of ex-lovers, the star of Frasier could well do with some therapy from his alter ego. And yet there remains a childlike innocence and genuine kindness about Grammer. Ginny Dougary went snorkelling with him

DR FRASIER Crane hands me a towel, pats the sand between us on a glorious beach in yes! Hawaii, and says in that familiar sonorous boom: “Shall we begin?”

“Oh, hello. I’m Daphne. Daphne Moon,” I say, adopting my best cod-Mancunian accent. “Frasier Crane. Won’t you come in?”

I am introduced to Frasier’s father, Martin, and Eddie the dog. Soon it is time for the psychic routine. Frasier is describing my duties around the house, when … “Wait a minute, I’m getting something on you. You’re a florist.”

“No, I’m a psychiatrist.”

“Well,” I sigh, “it comes and goes. Usually it’s … strongest … during my time of the month … ”

Oh God, I’ve committed the cardinal sin of unscripted laughter. Frasier, ever the professional, presses on.

“Well, I think we’ve learned everything we need to know about you. And a dash extra.” Owlish look. That does it, I’m off again. What a bummer. Now I’ll never be able to leave the day job for Hollywood. Or, more particularly, for that cameo appearance in my favourite programme, which might lead to an occasional walk-on role that’s not asking for much is it? so I could spend my days hanging out with Niles and Fraze and Roz and Bulldog, making witty apercus over the double-skinny lattes. I mean, Simon, Daphne’s gruesome kid brother, is soohhh not right. Now what if her long-forgotten older sister were to show up, instead, and maybe she could be a psychiatrist, too? That, of course, might be a shrink too far. Or perhaps she could be a nanny and look after Roz’s child? Well, there’s a promising new plot line … Sorry, where was I?

You see, that’s the secret of Frasier’s success. Not only is it brilliantly written (and it has got better and riskier, for the most part, since that first episode) but once hooked, you are drawn into its world because of that rare alchemy between the players and their roles.

So although you knew that it wasn’t your actual Dr Frasier Crane sprawled out in the beach chair beside me, but the actor who plays him, Kelsey Grammer, I wonder whether most Frasier fans wouldn’t be more tickled by the idea of it being the character rather than the man behind him. (The very thought of Frasier snorkelling, for instance, is intrinsically funny.)

If we are guilty of the tendency to conflate life and art, so too is the actor. During the days we spend together in Maui, one of Hawaii’s most beautiful islands, where Kelsey and his wife, Camille, have just built a new holiday home, I am struck by how much more easily we engage when we talk about this or that character from the show, and how likely or not it would be for them to take a certain line on something. As if it were real.

The only times Grammer tears up to use his American parlance are not when he’s talking about Karen, his beloved, murdered younger sister, or his murdered father, or his half-brothers eaten by a shark, or his terrible childhood, or the wives who battered him and broke glasses over his head, or his cocaine and alcohol addictions, or his spell in prison, or his court case involving a teenage babysitter … but when he recalls a particularly emotional scene from Frasier. Which happens on no fewer than three occasions. But if you’d had a life like his, I found myself thinking, you, too, might find it more comforting to believe in the reality of a television show.

We first meet in Manhattan, backstage in The Music Box theatre, where he had just completed a gruelling couple of hours playing Macbeth. Gruelling, principally, because the production had been universally trashed by the New York critics. A couple of nights after our encounter, the play closes, a mere week or so after it had opened on Broadway.

Grammer started out in the theatre, after training at Juillard, on a repertoire devoted almost exclusively to classics, so it was particularly tough on him that Frasier’s unprecedented crop of awards coupled with its popularity meant that he couldn’t be taken seriously in a Shakespearean role.

The production, in truth, was hopelessly mismatched to a Broadway audience. It was uncompromising in its austerity; with no interval, the stage plunged into darkness throughout, the actors all in black contributing to the claustrophobic gloom. It is possible that it would have gone down better in an Off-Off-Broadway theatre; certainly Grammer would have been less vulnerable to hostile comments about his overweening ambition.

There is nothing in the least bit overweening about the actor I meet backstage. He seems sanguine about the appalling reviews, although obviously pleased when I tell him that I enjoyed his performance. I say that I was particularly struck by the visceral punch of witnessing Macbeth, the great warrior, unmanned by the force of his wife, and he walks over to give me a bear hug. We arrange to discuss the play further over coffee at his hotel the next morning.

The first thing you notice about Grammer, as he appears in the foyer, is that he doesn’t have the heft of Frasier. Even allowing for television’s tendency to exaggerate people’s weight, I did not expect the actor to be quite so slim and well-toned. Neither did I expect him to be dressed like an American golfer, in fawn slacks, a short-sleeved check shirt and sporty shoes. Frasier, of course, wouldn’t be seen dead in casual leisure (“leeeesure”) wear. And there were other little things which jarred: the way he walked into the restaurant before me, then ordered a black coffee for himself (sans caramel or cinnamon) without asking what I might like. It seems mean to flag these slight oversights, particularly since Grammer was so incredibly generous both as a host and interviewee in Hawaii, but they were the first outward signs that the actor was a very different creature from his fastidious creation.

We next meet, a month later, in the summer house in Maui. Grammer comes to the door wearing shorts, a Lacoste-type shirt and a baseball cap. He looks honey-brown and relaxed. Camille is upstairs taking a nap. I am taken on a brisk tour, and clock the large open spaces including a movie room, a gym, a courtyard with a giant tub, a sheltered area where the couple work on their all-over tans, and the landscaped garden with its infinity pool and infinite views of the horizon.

Then it’s into the golf buggy and down to the golf clubhouse where we are to conduct the interview, away from the distractions of home.

DESPITE the setbacks he has had the lovers who have betrayed him, the one-night-stands who have sold their stories to the papers, the family members who have attempted blackmail, and the rest the actor has the quality of an innocent. It is not that he is naive, exactly, more that he has this childlike enthusiasm for life. Yet, and this is awkward to express, one cannot escape the feeling that what makes Grammer such a refreshing change from so many stars his accessibility, his lack of pomp and circumstance, the pleasure he derives from pleasing others also enables one to catch a glimpse of what it was about him that laid him open to being so roundly abused.

The details of this abuse are listed in his unghosted autobiography, So Far … , which was published five years ago, when he was apparently through the darkness and into the light, with his then fiancée Tammi Alexander. In it, he recalls marrying Leigh-Anne Csuhany, a stripper he had met in a bar, right after the first beating, “just as soon as my black eye was gone”. He was attracted to her because she was strong, sexy, independent, outspoken, unafraid of anything and, most importantly, because she had no respect for or need of him. She repaid him by telling him that he was “so f**king” ugly”, that he was “so f**king stupid”, that his “acting sucks”, that he was “a piece of s**t”, that he made her sick.

Then: “She’d spit in my face. Slap me. Punch me. Kick me. Break glasses over my head. Break windows. Tear up pictures of my loved ones. Threaten to kill me, kill herself. Cut my balls off. Chop me up. Put a bullet in my head.”

Grammer filed for divorce, nine months later, just as Frasier was being launched. Csuhany tried to kill herself in a Malibu motel, swallowing five bottles of Tylenol pills. She survived, but their baby she was carrying did not. How on earth do you cope with such an extreme personal disaster when your professional life is taking off?

“It was very difficult,” Grammer says. “I thought I was going slowly insane. That my mind might explode. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling, but it felt like I had a spike in my brain.”

I wonder whether that lack of self-esteem, which he has spent so many hours in therapy to overcome, may account for Grammer’s partiality for women who have made their living, in one way or another, by stripping off for men. I ask him, directly, if he is aware of that pattern? (Which, it hardly needs saying, is a somewhat tricky question.)

“Hmmmm,” he murmurs non-committally. Well, I wonder why that is? Have you never been attracted to women who are bright and classy and intellectually your equal, as well as being beautiful and sexy? “Certainly, they would appeal to me,” he says. “I’ve just never met them. It’s pretty rare that I would meet such people.”

Then he completely changes tack. “Maybe where you’re a little bit off-base is the assumption that a person who may have taken their clothes off for a magazine is not an intelligent, informed, compassionate human being,” he says.

“That might be an unfortunate presumption. Ahh. I’ve been with women for several months, even a year or so, that were educated who seemed to think that was more important than … being human.”

And, by the way, he says, his wife never posed nude for a girly magazine. “This is very important, because if anything was written like that, my wife would be very hurt. Deeply, deeply hurt.”

He goes on to explain rapidly, with a measure of sadness and distaste how Camille came to be filmed topless. He says she was a dancer on an MTV show, who had moved to New York in the hope of becoming an actress. Finally, she gets offered a part, only when she turns up for the shoot she’s told that it’s her breasts which are to play the major role in the movie … Oh, and, by the way, baby, if you don’t do it, you won’t get paid.

“Other than that,” Grammer says, “she hasn’t done anything I think she should be ashamed of. She has a beautiful body. She is a lovely woman. She’s also probably the most intelligent girl I’ve ever known. And she’s certainly an intellectual challenge to me.”

At some level, he seems to have forgiven Leigh-Anne, partly because she obviously had her own emotional problems, but principally because she has not sought to capitalise on their brief marriage.

Tammi, in contrast, according to Grammer, has been making a tidy sum selling titbits of their time together some real, some fabricated or exaggerated ever since their break-up. The more he talks about her, the more incensed he becomes. It is quite unnerving to witness the transformation; his easy-going mild manners replaced by a cold fury.

What about all those lovey-dovey articles you appeared in, you and Tammi at home in LA with your family of animals, proposing to her on the set of Frasier, and all the stuff you wrote in your book about how she was quite the nicest, most wholesome girl you’d ever met … ?

“Well, it was just my way ah I supported that because that’s what she needed to be in the relationship,” he says. “But she was a horrible, horrible human being.” As for her blabbing to the press including her most recent revelation that Kelsey was wearing Tammi’s knickers (a la Beckham) when he met the President “I’m disgusted with her,” he says. “I’m absolutely devastated. I find her to be one of the most reprehensible human beings that ever lived.”

Grammer finally called the engagement off when Tammi announced that she was intending to pose naked for a centrefold. “I mean, Camille wants to be a rocket scientist. She wants to be a person of substance who contributes to the world. This person just wants to be … a piece of ass! And I thought, ‘What are you … nuts?”‘

Before we move on to different terrain, we talk a little about politics (he’s conservative) and I ask Grammer what his view is on the death penalty. The question is out before I recollect that he has more than one reason to take a personal position on the issue.

“I have mixed … but that’s, of course, because my family has been murdered. I am still, however, reluctant to advocate the death penalty even though … ” he falters.

Karen Grammer was raped and stabbed to death in 1975 by three teenage boys outside the Colorado Springs restaurant where she worked in the kitchen. She was 18, two years younger than her brother and very much the kid sister. When she got into scrapes it was Kelsey who would bail her out. One doesn’t have to be a shrink to see why he would blame himself for not being there to protect her.

SO WOULD you like to see those men put to death? “Absolutely,” he says, “and I would like to pull the switch. And I’d be fine with it.” Have you ever thought about it? “I think about it almost constantly.” Would you prefer something more visceral? “I’d prefer to do it with my own hands. A gun wouldn’t be good enough. Eviscerate them. Cut them up. Yeah. That’s what they did to my sister, so … ”

All the while he is saying this, he is grinning. Which is odd until I realise that what I’m seeing isn’t a grin at all, but a terrible rictus of grief.

Is it true that they did it for kicks? “I guess. I can never get inside their minds, really. But she was the sixth or seventh person they’d murdered that night.”

It is extraordinary that all these tragedies have happened to one person, I say. I mean, no wonder there was a descent into “my cocaine and booze hell”!

“Hey,” a great release of laughter. “No, let’s not begrudge the man a drink! Please.” He says that the other deaths in his family were nothing like so deeply felt as the loss of his sister. “My father? Well, I did feel the growing impact of his death as I approached his age.”

Grammer’s parents met at a music school in New York, where his father, Allen, fell for Sally Cranmer who was training to be a singer. After leaving college and the army, Allen Grammer started a dance band with his girlfriend as the chanteuse. The couple moved to St Thomas on a kind of Dice Man whim. Allen opened a bar, played in a band, taught music to the islanders’ children and later went on, one reads with a certain measure of interest, to present his own radio show.

His wife, meanwhile, spent her days on her own with a three-month-old baby in a rat-infested home, and her nights listening to knife fights in the bar. When the marriage failed, she fled back to her family home in New Jersey where she gave birth to her baby daughter. Grammer’s father was murdered, when he was not yet in his 40s, in 1968; the killer surrounded Allen’s home with a circle of flames and then shot him.

The details of the rest of Grammer’s childhood help to provide the answer to that earlier question which had troubled him: “How did I get to the place where I felt that bad about myself?” His grandmother conjures an image of Bette Davis in one of her more terrifying roles: abandoned by her parents as a child, brought up by her aunts as an outcast, punishing her newly extended family for her own bitter legacy.

“She needed help. She needed attention,” Grammer recalls flatly. “My mum was going out to work selling men’s clothes, and I would go to school and then, from the age of about 12, I’d take care of things in the house. I’d make tea for Karen and me, and mix a drink for my grandmother, and then I’d make dinner.”

It is not a huge leap to see how a boy who was brought up in a matriarchal home to believe his role was to serve might grow into a man who was attracted to women who dominated him in whatever way they chose. He tells me that he was beaten not only by Leigh-Anne but also by his first wife, Doreen. When I ask him whether he is capable of violence himself, he says, yes, but that he has never inflicted it on women. “No, no. I’ve sat on them,” he laughs as though this is hysterically funny. “I’ve held them down. You know, asked them to stop hitting me.”

It is significant, he thinks, that his therapist for the past seven years is female, since so many of his problems stem from the difficulties he has had with women. “She’s really extraordinary but she’s also ahhhh,” a big pause, “probably the first relationship I’ve had where the person didn’t lie to me. The first person who stuck by what she said. Did what she said she would do. And that’s been an experience which is new to me.”

The Frasier shows that make his eyes well up are all to do with family loyalty, where one of the characters demonstrates the depth of his love for a sibling or parent. And it’s usually, I notice, Frasier who heals the rifts or cements the ties. He recalls a couple of episodes, his voice wavering.

I tell him that my personal favourite was the one where it emerges that it was the Crane boys’ late, saintly mother, rather than their father, as they had believed, who had had an affair with an old friend of the family. The man had just died, and Martin and his sons are looking at their old photo albums, and somehow inadvertently the truth comes out, and we see that the burnished innocence of the snaps told a lie. Oh no, you’re off again, I say. “I know. I know, that was a big one for me.” Gulp. “Because Frasier was dealing with the fact that Lillith had cheated on him, and then oooooohhhh he and Martin saw that they’d both had this experience in common.”

With all this talk of Frasier’s family, one wonders what Grammer’s relations are like, these days, with his own family: that is, what is left of it, namely his mother. He tells me that she comes to see the show every week: “She’s a fixture of appreciation. And she loved Macbeth.”

He says that she was not affectionate to him when he was growing up, but they are close now.

“She’s kind of quiet and she endures. Losing a child is probably one of the worst things that can happen to a human being, and I’ve always respected her for just surviving that.”

There’s a lot to respect in her son, too. Grammer’s been sober as they say for four years now, ever since he’s been with Camille, but he’s not about to trot out pious warnings about the perils of his former lifestyle. He used to do the odd “bump” (line of coke) when he was on Cheers, but mostly the cast would restrict their partying to after the show, and he says he had a ball. Eventually, however, he didn’t know how to have fun unless he was loaded and wired. “What started out as a small dull ache became more of a raging persistent agony, and the addiction was the only thing that tempered it.”

In the final months before he went into rehab for the second time, in 1996, he was snorting and drinking on his own, and that was no fun at all. “I hate talking about being sober,” he says ruefully, “because it’s so stoopid. But sobriety is a better trip for me. Now. I wouldn’t have liked it before. I was happily f**ked-up before.”

He has described his short spell in prison, for a drink-driving conviction, as a relief. Because you got beaten up less than at home? “Yeah, right!” he wheezes good-humouredly. “At least I wasn’t a punching-bag. Hohoho. That’s very funny.”

ON OUR last day together, Grammer took me snorkelling at his favourite beach. Flinging off his tennis shoes, he drew my attention to his buckled feet which are responsible for Frasier’s famous duck walk and said, “So there they are. Horrible, aren’t they?” And I thought, gosh, is there nothing you wouldn’t wish to conceal? And, indeed, during our long interview, the only subject he would not be drawn on was that messy business with the 15-year-old babysitter. (He was accused of having sex with the girl some years ago and although it didn’t lead to criminal charges, one can appreciate that it is not something he wishes to pick over.)

I was left with the impression that Grammer has, perhaps for the first time in his life, reached some sort of equilibrium. He plainly adores his wife and one hopes that this time he has found a woman who won’t let him down. Who does what she says, and says what she means.

Despite his fortitude, there was one comment he made which I found disturbing. Perhaps because it taps into the viewers’ strange relationship with television, where the line between what is real and what is not is increasingly losing its edge.

When he was talking about the negative reception of Macbeth, Grammer admitted that what alarmed him was the thought that, “‘Gosh! Is Frasier all I’m ever going to be allowed to do again?’ You know, that fear exists.” Which goes beyond mere typecasting. For what could be more existentially panicky than being trapped in a character whom you have played so successfully for so many years that your own personality has been somehow subsumed by your fictional self?

WE repair to the house to watch the sunset spread, like a beautiful bruise, across the skies. Camille comes out to join us by the pool. She’s a tiny-boned, pretty young woman, with an arresting brown-eyed gaze. When she’s not being animated, clapping her hands and beckoning Kelsey to watch the dog show on the TV (they are both animal nuts), she has a still, watchful quality about her.

He tells me that his wife is known by his friends as Camille The Real Deal: “She’s so brave. She’s taken so much flak, you know, for having the bad judgment to marry Kelsey Grammer, and she became the subject of a lot of tabloid nonsense. And she’s just a dear, sweet girl.”

She has certainly been brave enough to come out publicly about her Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which was diagnosed three years ago. Even her husband was momentarily shocked when she announced it on the Howard Stern show. But now he goes into rather more detail than I feel I need about its explosiveness, and the public embarrassment, and the way it makes people afraid to go out, including Camille since the couple are united in their campaign on the issue.

GRAMMER already has two daughters one from his first wife, the other by an estranged friend but he’s hoping to have more children with Camille. She has retired to the movie room with her parents, warm, friendly Italian-Americans, who are staying with the couple. Wrapped up in a blanket, her blonde hair tucked in at the nape, Camille looks almost childlike herself. Grammer glances her way, and his face softens.

“You see, my whole life I’ve been chasing the dream of having a family,” he says. “A mum and a dad, and a daughter and a son, living at home and coming home from work. And, granted, life as an actor is never going to be what you might call normal or stable I mean, dad disappears for three months to do a film but it is better to be a nuclear family. I never had that. And I want it. And so I’m gonna do my best to get it.”

Actors, Celebrities, Women

One tough kookie

The Times Saturday Magazine – November 5 2005
Ginny Dougary

From honorary Rat Packer to early-adopting New Ager, Shirley MacLaine has always been an unconventional broad. In a wonderfully frank interview, she talks to Ginny Dougary about politics, sex, and brother Warren Beatty.

Shirley MacLaine is holding court on a Malibu cliff-top terrace with plunging views of the ocean far below. It is she who has picked this restaurant location – principally because of its proximity to one of her homes, and something about the setting, as well as her untrammelled personality, lends a certain cheerful anarchy to the proceedings.

She has the most penetrating stare, which could intimidate the faint-hearted – for whom she would have no time anyway. MacLaine, herself, is lion-hearted… always steering her own path, way ahead of the rest of us, or in a league of her own: a civil-rights agitator before the great swell of the civil-rights movement (she risked being lynched when she attempted to check into a motel in Mississippi with her black friends); the only female who hung out as a buddy rather than a broad with Sinatra’s Rat Pack and Mafia boss Sam Giancana; an unconventional, long-distance marriage (her late husband, Steve Parker, lived in Tokyo with their daughter, Sachi); she was open about her affairs with spoken-for men – Robert Mitchum, Yves Montand, whom she shared with Marilyn Monroe, Danny Kaye – which, if she were anyone else, would surely have played awkwardly in hypocritical Hollywood; a Democrat campaigner, along with her brother, Warren Beatty, for George McGovern – if he had won, she would have considered going into politics herself; an intrepid solo traveller; an early and abiding New Ager, before the term was invented, who has been mocked for her beliefs in reincarnation, UFOs and other such other-worldy stuff.

To explain her directness at one point in our interview – in something which comes suspiciously close to an apology – MacLaine excuses herself on the grounds that she is old enough now to speak her mind with impunity. A wearer of purple from way back, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of her ever feeling constrained by convention or the need to bite her tongue. She has always appeared younger than her age, and that hasn’t changed. It’s something to do with the curiosity in those startling blue eyes with their spiky lashes, her freckles, “Oh, I’ve always hated them; still do. They used to call me Freckle Face”; the quick turn-of-phrase; the slightly teenage counter-culture bolshiness.

Today, as she moves between tables of expectant journalists, she still has the gait of a dancer. At the end of our rumbustious one-on-one, I ask her to give me a flash of her famous legs. “They’re very white,” she says, and then grabs the hem of her loose trousers to roll them up… and up and up. They are ridiculous, I exclaim. Very slim, seemingly never-ending, taut almost to the very top, not a trace of cellulite or blemishes of any kind. My God, you’re 71! “That’s why I don’t mind telling anyone my age,” she says. “Mind! I love it.” In this spirit of mutual Shirley-worship, she also confesses that she doesn’t have to wear a bra: “I hate wearing a bra.” Didn’t you breastfeed? “Yeah, but she didn’t eat much! Ha ha ha.”

In her new film, In Her Shoes, MacLaine is the grandmother to two motherless and very different sisters (Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz) and plays a pivotal role in patching up and explaining the various estranged relationships. It is an unusually quiet performance for MacLaine – rather English in its reserve – of guilt, subdued regretfulness and long-buried emotion that gradually comes to the fore. It has no trace of the “bombastic serenity” – the apt phrase MacLaine has coined to describe her relationship with the world. As a senior care worker in a Florida residential home, her character – who dresses with tasteful restraint – in no way resembles the colourful woman in front of me, with her pinky-auburn gamine haircut, cerise Indian kurta and layers of turquoise ethnic jewellery.

We decide early on that I shall call her Empress – and it really does rather suit her. She is a powerful presence with an occasionally imperious manner: “Hey! Can I have some ice-tea?” she bellows to her elderly personal publicist, Dale, at one point, and then to the film’s publicist, Hilary. “I asked for some ice-tea. I don’t know where it is! Maybe they went to Starbucks to get it!” But she is also an absolute trouper; submitting to hour after hour of interviews, eating lobster and mussels as she speaks, with no break or discernible outbreak of ill humour.

The director of the new film, Curtis Hanson, wanted no wigs (MacLaine’s hair is thinning at the back) and no make-up, even for the close-ups – and MacLaine admits that was daunting at her age. I liked her performance, particularly for its quality of watchful distance, so subtle you find yourself sharing the character’s apprehension about opening herself up to the pain of feeling again. I’m not all that surprised to hear the actress say that she found motherhood tough; Sachi was only five when she went to Tokyo to live with her father. “It’s very hard, but I gave up the guilt,” MacLaine says.

And then a second later: “I beat myself up still.” I wonder to myself if she drew on these feelings for her role as Ella, who holds herself responsible for her daughter’s death. But she says that playing the part made her understand her own mother better: “Because she was so contained. She was Canadian, you see, so she never told you what she was frigging thinking.” Oh, I didn’t know that’s what Canadians were known for.

“I’m serious,” she says. “They live in snow. They don’t talk.” Sounds more like the English. “No, the English are more perverted. Ha ha ha. You know exactly what you’re dealing with. With Canadians you never know what you’re dealing with.”

Did MacLaine feel that she missed out on her daughter growing up? “Yes… and so did she.” Was she cross and resentful? “Little bit. Little bit. But now she’s learning, because she’s got two kids – a boy and a girl, nine and seven, and she’s seeing you can’t do anything right. She’s a little over-attentive.” MacLaine leans over to pick up an enormous wide-brimmed hat decorated with antique roses, to protect her pale face from the Californian sun.

“I look like a bag lady now,” she snorts when I compliment her on it. So does she enjoy being a grandmother? “Of course, because I can spoil them and I can say ‘You really shouldn’t do that’ or whatever and send them back to their parents in Connecticut… Oh, it’s totally liberating. And I also like being an aunty. Although everyone thinks I’m their grandmother anyway,” she grimaces.

There have been periods of estrangement between MacLaine and her younger brother. My guess is that there may have been an element of professional competition. MacLaine’s longterm ex-beau, the writer and journalist Pete Hamill, who left her for Jackie Kennedy, was uncomfortable with MacLaine’s attachment to the mystical – and I would imagine that Beatty, who is still very much concerned with the inequities in this world, would be in the same camp. And MacLaine, despite her own sexual adventurousness, was probably uncomfortable with her kid bro’s conquesting reputation.

When I ask her how they’re getting on these days, she says: “Look, I understand the workings of a family better now – brothers and sisters, sisters and sisters – I mean, come on. We’re in a very good and cordial period now… I don’t know how long it will last but we’re there now.” Is it stretching it to find anything about the difficulties between the two sisters in the new film which might correspond to the history between her and her brother? “Oh, I think there can be sibling rivalry between brothers and sisters. I was always watching the way he treated women.”

Aha, and…? “I think he was interested in women because of mother, you know; he could never hear her. Therefore, I think he’s very good with women and understands women. Maybe he didn’t have to understand as many as he did…” her voice goes up. Do you think he has a strong feminine side? “Oh, very. He does, but I think he was searching for what a woman means and needs and loves and hates and wants and is afraid of.”

I say that I had spoken to him at some length on the telephone a few years ago, in an attempt to persuade him to be interviewed. We talked about politics, mainly, but what was alluring about him, compared to most actors I’ve encountered, was his informed interest in the world about him. “He’d have loved to get you into bed,” is her bizarre response. Oh! “Are you kiddin’ me or what?” she squawks. Well, gosh, you know, I feel sort of insulted and embarrassed, and also rather flattered. “You see, he knows that he has that appeal which overcomes the sensibility that you know that he has, and it makes you forget that you know he’s doing that to you.” Hmm. How complicated. Moving on swiftly… What do you think of our new English national treasure, Madonna? “I’d like to bronze that horse.”

I take it you were not all that thrilled when your brother and she became an item? I think you said something quite rude at the time? (Asked how she would feel about having the singer as a sister-in-law, MacLaine’s response was that it would be as easy for her “as it would be for me to nail a custard pie to the wall”.) “I said it would be like hanging bubbles on a clothes line, or pissing up a rope,” she says, in case one were in any doubt about her feelings.
MacLaine is still sufficiently concerned with this life – I feared that she had completely retreated from the here and now – to care about who is holding the reins of power. I wondered whether she was still friends with Julie Christie, a famous Beatty ex, who shows no signs of political apathy. “I liked her a lot. I thought he should have married her.” Do you approve of this one? (Annette Bening.) “Love her. She’s smart; she wants to be a mother; she certainly is a brilliant actress, but if the roles don’t come along – that’s all right, too. I was just over there last night. We had a wonderful time.” I ask her whether she will intercede on my behalf to secure that interview with her brother. “I’ll do it on one condition,” she says sternly. What? (I’m thinking: copy control; I have to become a Buddhist…) A very big pause and then: “You have to go to bed with him.” Hysterical laughter on both our parts. What is she like?

It is as well to mention, perhaps, that neither MacLaine nor I have been drinking. So this drift towards bawdiness – at poor Warren’s expense – is merely his sister’s idea of natural ebullience and fun. The only occasion I have come across such ribald behaviour, in this context, was with another great celluloid diva: Elizabeth Taylor, who was equally outspoken and shameless. They make the present crop of female megastars seem colourless in comparison.

I tell MacLaine that I had been warned that she would be on her toes and quick with the verbal come-back: a legacy of her upbringing. “Nooooh,” she says. Her parents, Ira and Kathleen – the name of Warren’s oldest daughter – Beaty, had a long but difficult marriage. MacLaine once described it as a partnership of “blended neuroses”. Her childhood home was full of “disappointment and longings”. She has also compared her parents to the drunk academics in Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf. Now she says: “They weren’t that bad and therefore not that funny.” Her father was a bad enough “cyclical” drunk – to make her wary of getting involved with any man with similar tendencies. Which is interesting, since the only man who seems to have dented her heart – Robert Mitchum – always conveyed the impression of being over-attached to the bottle.

She was born in Virginia, a southern gal but not a belle – which meant that she was never burdened with the anguish of losing her looks. One of the many astute comments MacLaine has made about herself was this: “See, I wasn’t afraid of getting old, because I was never a great beauty. I was never a sex symbol. I did, however, have great legs because I was a dancer. But I didn’t have that baggage. I wasn’t interested in my stature as a star. Ever. I was just interested in great parts.”

MacLaine adopted her mother’s maiden name when she became frustrated by a director who seemed unable to pronounce her surname correctly (Bait-y not Beat-y). Warren merely chose to embellish the family name with an extra “t”. The two siblings could not look more disimilar; it must have been vexing, I think, to have a brother who was considered prettier than yourself. MacLaine says that she’s not even sure that she is the offspring of her parents. You think you were adopted? “I always felt I was so different from anyone in this family.” Different from anyone, full stop, I say… and she laughs.

There seems to have been a rapprochement between parents and daughter in later life which was partly to do with their shared interest in the unknown. “My mother’s metaphysics had to do with nature: her rose garden, for example. ‘I understand reincarnation,’ she would say, ‘because the rose’s stem is the soul which has a different rose every spring’. Dad was a serious metaphysician – which he never told anybody. His best buddy died in the Second World War, and at the moment of being shot, appeared at the bottom of my dad’s bed. And he told me about one night when he was drunk and crashed the car and had an out-of-body experience. ‘So,’ he said, ‘I know what you’re talking about.’”

For those of us who remain sceptical about the beyond, it would seem more constructive for MacLaine to apply her considerable energy to addressing the problems coming out of America. Does she actually feel American? “Oh, yeah, but an American that is the result of the founding fathers’ wish. I’m very ashamed of being in this country and of what we’re doing.” Of the war specifically? “Our imperialistic attitudes, our desecration of the environment, the whole Christian crusading that the Bush administration is doing, the marketing economy… it’s a freakin’ disaster!”

So why not re-enter the political fray? (Her brother has been reported to be considering taking on Arnie.) “No, I’ll sit back and…” But why sit back? “Politics are not what it is about now. What it’s about now is really what I’ve been writing about and thinking about for most of my life. Who are we? Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe? What is God? We might have an apocalypse with everyone involved and armies killing each other over God.”

Has MacLaine ever fooled herself about herself? “Yeah, now this is interesting… I fooled myself that the country would wake up to Richard Nixon. I fooled myself that we would see that in the name of, quote, ‘Democracy in the Arab world’, we’re losing it at home. I thought we would be more aware than that, and we’re not. I fooled myself for a while that people would understand the nature of my metaphysics. It is now mainstream but I thought they would be ready for it sooner.”

Mainstream? Well, only up to a point. My partiality to MacLaine – an admirer of her talent, sassiness, and courage in forging her own way – meant I found myself editing out the parts of her that alienated me. From kooky to cuckoo, after all, is but a short UFO-mystic hop. I had not read her copious volumes of spiritual travels and tried to brush over the outlandish musings on her past lives: as Charlemagne’s mistress; an orphan brought up by elephants; Nefertiti’s handmaiden; a model for Toulouse-Lautrec. I was doing pretty well, but then I came to the most recent cutting in her many files and my heart sank: four pages in Hello! publicising a new book, Out on a Leash, Exploring Reality and Love, which she has “co-written” with her dog, Terry. Shirley, I read, has Terry the terrier “sign” documents for herself, and says that she talks with the dog in a “purer, more direct form of language”, which she calls “Humanimal”.

She lives alone in her main home in Santa Fe and I had been asking her, as she has become older, whether she finds herself becoming increasingly reclusive or more reliant on friendship. “I’m a phoney recluse,” MacLaine says. “Because I like being alone. My idea of being really alone – no, of being lone-ly – is never to be alone. I love my own company. How I would feel now about my own company without Terry, my dog, is another question.

“But she and I have an arrangement that when she goes, in about ten years, she’s going to come back right away again. So I will wait until I’m drawn to the right puppy. I know more about the meaning of love with her – this is important what I’m saying now – nature and animals have taught me more about love than people.”

One might be tempted to say this sounds barking – ho ho – but MacLaine is in full Empress flow and not in the mood for jests. I say, instead, that it’s quite common for older people living on their own – particularly women – to form extremely strong attachments to their pets. “I’ve noticed that, too, and I do feel very much in the ranks of older women who have their pets,” she concedes. “But maybe it’s because we are really searching for the definition of love. We know that what we’ve experienced before comes and goes – came and went. The child thing is another thing, of course, that’s love – in that you can’t help but love, but you’re always worried about whether you’re doing the right thing.” And so we keep circling back to this niggle of long-gone decisions returning to haunt MacLaine in some way.

I wonder whether she had worries at the time about sending her daughter off to Japan, or did she close them down? “No, Steve and I had arguments,” she says. But there had been kidnap threats and a drunk nanny sleeping with her boyfriend, while Sachi was left sitting outside on the doorstep, and MacLaine was concerned about the general perils of Hollywood life and, in any case, her husband – a dancer turned director turned producer – did not want to stay in a town where he was known as Mr MacLaine.

The couple finally divorced in 1987 after 27 years of marriage. MacLaine’s father had died the previous year and I wondered whether this had been the catalyst. “Oh no, it was because I found out that Steve had been stealing all my money,” she says. The marriage had been amicable till then; more of a long-distance friendship than a partnership. “Yes, that’s right. He had his affairs and I had mine. But take my money and you’re outta here! I’m far too Scotch for that. Ha ha ha.” When Parker died in 2001, MacLaine did not attend the funeral: “He didn’t want me there.”
Passion doesn’t feature in her life any more: “I think it’s the ageing process and also wisdom.” She says that she feels completely peaceful, and happier than she’s ever been. “I have zero stress. All that over-achieving has been transformed into not planning,” she says. “It’s daunting but you should try it.” Instead of going to swanky dinner parties, with place settings and fabulous wine – and where it’s all over in three hours – she prefers to have her friends stay with her for three days in Santa Fe, where they go hiking and riding, feed the chickens and talk. She says that, although she doesn’t like to socialise or go to parties, when she does go, she’s always the last to leave.

So you like to drink martinis and kick up your legs? Oooh, what kind of look is that you’re giving me? “What does having a martini and kicking up your legs mean?” I suppose it’s shorthand for asking you whether you turn into the life and soul of the party. “No. I’m over in a corner talking deeply with someone who no one else is talking to.” Did you object to the suggestion you drink, or the idea that you kick up your legs? “I just thought it was a stupid question.” Oh. “I thought it was a clichéd question.” Oh. “I hate cliché. Hate it. But I have to get over this because now everyone is speaking in cliché.”

I wonder whether, perhaps, MacLaine has turned into one of the Californian New Puritans. But she only stopped smoking last December, and she still wants a cigarette every day. Pot wasn’t for her because, like the ex-Pres, she never inhaled. And now, since her hiatus hernia, drinking’s pretty much out, too. How very boring for you. Yes, particularly since she loves a good martini, she says, especially a Dirty Gibson. This is an evil-sounding concoction: gin (it has to be Tanqueray), a tablespoon of onion juice and a great big pickled onion. “I’ll go make one for you because I make really good ones,” she says. Lovely, I say, but possibly not quite yet. (It’s 11.30 in the morning.)

A few questions on and MacLaine is fretting that she spoke too harshly to me. “You know, I had a pang of guilt when I said that was a stupid question. In my head, I didn’t think that out, and I am guilty over things like that. But I explained myself and it was all right. Still feel guilty.” It was a bit mean? “Mmm. I do that. With age and the right to tell the truth, and then people have their feelings hurt…” Do you mind that? “I do. It bothers me because I’m kind, but I’m also extremely direct and I can’t stand being a phoney diplomat.”

She may never have been a sex symbol, as she says, but that didn’t stop some pretty hunky men finding MacLaine sexy. When we go on to talk about romantic love, there is something about her that reminds me of her character, Ella, in the new film. For all her apparent transparency, there is also a sense of something buried or unacknowledged – which makes me wonder whether the actress really is as tough, deep-down, as she likes to make out. In her youth, and later, she considered herself to be a sexual person. There were liaisons with a number of politicians: the assassinated Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme; Australia’s urbane Andrew Peacock, twice leader of the conservative opposition – are you still friends? “Oh, yes!”; a British Labour MP who remains anonymous. Were you attracted to their brains or their position? “I was probably slumming in power,” she says. There were also a couple of truck drivers whom she found sexy, she would like to point out, possibly in the interests of egalitarianism, “but only for one-night-stands”.

Now, she says: “It wasn’t really about sex. Never is. It never really is. What is sexual attraction anyway? When you think about it, it’s not about sex, it’s not about f******, it’s not about how big it is or anything like that. It’s about the person inside that body. It’s to do with a certain energy and values and sense of humour. And I was always attracted to a man who was basically a mystery to himself, because that kept my interest and gave me something to do.”

Were you ever romantic? “Basically not. I understand that romance will kill a relationship.” Did you ever have your heart broken? “No, but there were some periods with Robert Mitchum [they had a three-year affair] where I just wanted to kill him… does that mean I had my heart broken?” she seems to be asking herself. “No, I’d kill a man before he broke my heart.” How did you manage to insulate your heart and still be an open person? “I didn’t insulate it. But…” Then I believe you must have had your heart broken. “But I don’t see myself as a victim. I turned being hurt into action: ‘What did you do this for? Why? What is on your mind? Let’s talk.’ Yes, I am a good communicator.”

You’ve written about flying halfway around the world to meet your lover in hotels. “And he wouldn’t be there.” So what on earth did you do? “Ask myself, ‘What am I doing this for?’ See, I was fascinated by how weak he was… this big guy. I couldn’t stay away from investigating the passivity.” I liked that beatniky phrase about Mitchum having the soul of a poet; a poet with an axe. “That was his description of himself,” she says. “I think he was lying about the axe.”

Our time is up, but MacLaine is damned if she’s not going to show off her martini-making skills, which throws Hilary the film publicist into a state of some alarm. I follow the Empress, tape recorder in hand, and watch her create havoc in the restaurant. The young staff are so far from being obsequious that their attitude is almost rude. MacLaine rolls her eyes but carries on indomitably till she has mixed me her Dirty Gibson. Oh God, I gasp, reeling from the neat alcohol, perhaps it needs a bit more onion juice. “Ha ha ha… this girl is really Dirty!” she says.

I mention Elizabeth Taylor whom I interviewed in Beverly Hills where I also interviewed Madonna, and say how much more gracious one was than the other. “Why would you even mention them in the same breath?” she asks. “Did he screw them both?” Screw? Who? What? Him? Your brother? “Did he do Elizabeth? I don’t know. I think he tried to on that picture in Paris.” Well, honestly! What is Shirley MacLaine like? I think the answer has to be: like no other.