Classic Hollywood: Shirley MacLaine sows ‘Wild Oats’ and harvests a new book, ‘Above the Line’

Shirley MacLaine
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Shirley MacLaine has been a force in feature films since her debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble With Harry” in 1955. She’s received six Academy Award nominations including for Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” (1960) and “Irma La Douce” (1963) and won the Oscar for James L. Brooks’ beloved 1983 dramedy, “Terms of Endearment.”

She’s done big-budget films, quirky comedies like Richard Linklater’s 2011 hit “Bernie” and even guest-starred on “Downton Abbey.”

But nothing prepared MacLaine for “Wild Oats.”

During the production of the indie comedy two years ago on Spain’s Canary Islands, finances got so dicey MacLaine and her fellow stars including Jessica Lange and Demi Moore deferred their salary.


“Wild Oats” not only doesn’t have a scheduled release date, MacLaine hasn’t seen any money. “No one has been paid,” she said. “I got a book though. I look at it that way.”

“Above the Line: My Wild Oats Adventure” is MacLaine’s funny new book about the near screwball comedy of errors making the film about a woman (MacLaine) who accidentally receives a life insurance check for $5 million instead of $50,000 and is persuaded by her friend (Lange) to keep the money and go to the Canary Islands.

The film was original written for the friends to go to Las Vegas, but the location depended upon where the producers could find the biggest rebates, including Pittsburgh, New York, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and then finally the Canary Islands.

The cast changed as the film was delayed. “The one who hung on the longest was Jacki Weaver,” said MacLaine in Santa Monica. Weaver eventually dropped out too.


At 81, MacLaine is fabulously fit, funny and fearless about speaking her mind, a trait she’s always had.

“I’ve never been afraid of what people thought,” she noted.

Alan Arkin also stayed with the project for a while, but MacLaine noted: “I think he finally got tired of waiting.”

Andy Tennant (“Hitch”) was hired as the director. And Lange stepped into Weaver’s role. But no leading men had been cast by the time MacLaine and Lange arrived in the Canary Islands. Billy Connolly and Howard Hesseman eventually came on board.


MacLaine was told the cast signed despite misgivings about the financing because “I was going to do it. What an honor!” And the crew, she reported, also wanted to work with her. “They didn’t get paid most of the time,” she said.

Filming was often halted because the money ran out. MacLaine recalled receiving phone calls in the morning saying, ‘“Hello, don’t come in today. We can’t pay the cab drivers.’ That happened several times. Who is not going to laugh at that?”

MacLaine found herself laughing through all the craziness. “What we would say to each other as we were waiting, I nearly got a hernia from laughing. I learned so much about the need for laughing.”

But “Above the Line” is about a lot more than filmmaking. In typical MacLaine fashion she also writes about reincarnation and metaphysics — subjects she’s tackled before including in a previous book, 2011’s “I’m Over All That.”


Though her longtime agent warned her not to do the film, MacLaine believes she was drawn to the project because of the location. There are those who believe that the Canary Islands are the location of the fabled Lost City of Atlantis.

And while making the film, MacLaine said she discovered she had a past life in Atlantis.

“What did you think of that?,” she asked about the revelation. “I know it was true. I trust my memory. I remember the environment. I remember the things that happened. I remember the feelings. I am allowing myself to understand the reality that are other dimensions and third dimension is just one. You have got to lay down and dream. You got to let your mind, let your soul, do some traveling.”

She would love to go back to the Canary Islands. “I have good memories of Atlantis,” MacLaine explained.


But any trip back to the islands will have to wait because she’s working on numerous films this year, including “The Last Word,” directed by Mark Pellington, in which she plays a successful business woman.

“It’s the big lead,” she said, adding her character is pretty satisfied with what’s she accomplished, but nobody likes her anymore. “So she becomes obsessed with writing her own obituary.”