Shirley MacLaine says pals Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin never hit on her: 'They protected me'

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Shirley MacLaine was especially close to Rat Pack stars Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, her co-stars in the original 1960 version of Ocean’s 11 and Cannonball Run 2 in 1984. Although both men were notorious womanisers, neither made a play for her over decades of friendship.

“I wasn’t part of any sexual innuendo. I was one of the guys,” MacLaine told the New York Times Magazine in an interview touching on many of her former colleagues. “By the way, if I wanted to go and do some of the things I was seeing everybody else do, Frank and Dean would say, ‘Don’t do that.’ They protected me. I think they were on some level attracted to me, but they knew better. It would have sacrificed the friendship.”

Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin spend a night out in 1965 Hollywood. (Photo: M. Garrett/Murray Garrett/Getty Images)

The FX miniseries Fosse/Verdon, which aired in April, depicted another man from MacLaine’s past, her Sweet Charity director Bob Fosse. Sam Rockwell, the actor who played him in the show, acknowledged in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the famed choreographer “did abuse his power” and “misbehaved quite a bit.”

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NPR writer Linda Holmes characterised his behaviour as “sexually harassing” and “emotionally abusive.” He treated women, Holmes said, like “hot garbage.”

MacLaine said in the new interview that she didn’t have trouble with him, either.

Shirley MacLaine accepts the Career Achievement Award at AARP The Magazine's 18th Annual Movies for Grownups Awards, 2019. (Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AARP)

“Now with Fosse, until I saw Fosse/Verdon, I didn’t know it was that obtuse with him,” MacLaine said. “All this stuff was way over my head.”

After the reporter asked the actress whether she intentionally avoided seeing that part of Fosse’s personality, she said she didn’t know.

Photo of Shirley MacLAINE and Bob FOSSE; with Shirley Maclaine on the set of "Sweet Charity" (bGAB Archive/Redferns)

“It’s a little late for me to be asking myself that question,” she said. “I’m so used to being in a business where a pat on the butt is a friendly compliment. Nobody ever dared go any further with me. They were all scared of me.”

The exception was producer Hal Wallis. MacLaine wrote in her 1995 memoir My Lucky Stars that Wallis forcibly kissed her on a movie set.

“He stuck his darn tongue down my throat,” MacLaine told the magazine. “That was about power. ‘You’re my new woman.’ I slapped the [expletive] out of him, and he gave me an MG [sports car] the next day. That’s the only time that I’ve really experienced anything like that, and I’m wondering now: Why didn’t anybody besides Hal Wallis do that? Why didn’t they dare?

Dean Martin (1917 - 1995, second L), celebrates his birthday with Hal Wallis (L), Shirley MacLaine, and singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977). (Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

“Because I was going to beat the [expletive] out of them? I wouldn’t have wasted my fist on their faces. I was in Hollywood at 18 years old, for God’s sake. I came and worked for [Alfred] Hitchcock. He didn’t do things with me that I’ve heard he did with other women. But I wasn’t blond and thin and ethereal.”

Although MacLaine managed to have a smooth relationship with those men, she had a famously rocky one with Debra Winger, who played her daughter in the 1983 tearjerker Terms of Endearment.

Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine pictured on the set of the 1983 movie Terms of Endearment. (Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Oh, my god. Absolutely the toughest shoot I ever had. I ran into Debra Winger in the last five years,” MacLaine said.

“She basically apologised. It was in a restaurant, and of course, I didn’t know she was there. I was early, and my people were late, and the maître d’ figured I belonged at Debra’s table and sat me with her. But it was very nice, very sweet. There weren’t any clichés said, but there was — what should I say? — an acknowledgment of the past in a realistic way. I’m going to put it that way.”

MacLaine’s next movie is Disney’s Christmas comedy Noelle, co-starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader, and premieres in North America on Disney+ on 12 November.