“Well, I’m not your run-of-the-mill lady from the Valley, am I?” – Shirley MacLaine

I am always behind the curve with TV trends. The Downton Abbey mania has been so bad that even virtual strangers are stopping me on the street telling me how much I will love it. When people find out I haven’t been watching, they are shocked. “YOU, of ALL PEOPLE, will love it.” I take my own sweet time jumping on board a Trend Train. Every night in Memphis, I watched a couple episodes of Downton Abbey, season 1, on my laptop, sprawled across my glorious bed which felt king-size. It’s, of course, as addictive as they say. It’s fantastic. My friend Kate says, “For actors, it’s like porn”, and that is the truth. Every character, every tiny glance, every potent pause … is so filled, so fully realized. Actors at their very best. It’s so much fun. So I am now fully on board, although I am still catching up with Season 2.

This weekend in The New York Times is a very entertaining interview with Shirley MacLaine, who is going to appear in Season 3 as Elizabeth McGovern’s American mother. The picture alone accompanying the article is enough to send me into a tizzy of anticipation. I have always loved Shirley MacLaine, as much for her zany honesty (which was in evidence when she came and spoke at my school) as her acting. She’s a hoofer, a gypsy, those Broadway dancers who know how to survive, who make things happen, who never miss a night, whose work ethic is carved in stone.

Additionally, if you haven’t seen this year’s Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, all I can say is: do so. It’s in my Top 5 of the year.

I think my favorite snippet from MacLaine’s interview in the Times is the following exchange:

Q. You must come with some ideas.

A. Yeah, it’s called the script.

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45 Responses to “Well, I’m not your run-of-the-mill lady from the Valley, am I?” – Shirley MacLaine

  1. Lisa in Fort Worth says:

    I just got on the Downton kick too. They were repeating the first two seasons on PBS here and I recorded them to catch up. It’s fabulous! I have the old Dutchess of Duke Street on VHS. Wish I could watch it again too.

    Still trying to finish Villette, after all this time. Kind of a hard read for down time at work. But, still trying.

  2. sheila says:

    Lisa – it took me a long time to make it through Villette – I found it hard in similar ways. But boy, what a book!!

    I just love the gossipy soap-opera vibe of Downton Abbey. It’s SO entertaining!

  3. Shelley says:

    I too came late to Downton, and I see all its virtues. However, as a writer, in last night’s episode I found the moral vacuity beginning to wear on me. Are we really supposed to care if they have to move from a mansion to a Mcmansion?

    I mean…who cares?

  4. Jennchez says:

    Love DA!! Watched the start of Season 3 with my mom, it rocked. It is TV crack!!

    • sheila says:

      hahaha totally crack. My friend Kate and I were talking about how the setting may be high-brow but the plot is pure SOAP. Dynasty. So much fun.

      I love Anna and Bates so much – almost too much!

      Don’t tell me what happens!! I’m halfway through season 2 right now.

  5. Kate F says:

    Also loved her saying “I don’t know anything about acting. Not a thing.” Such wisdom!

    • sheila says:

      The image of her and Maggie Smith, in full costume, sitting down and talking about their lovers …. it makes me so happy I don’t even know what to do with myself.

  6. Lisa in Fort Worth says:

    Anna and Bates!! I’m not very far into the series yet and the tension! Love it! Can’t you just feel Anna’s frustration in the first episodes about his secret. And when she spits out that she loves him on the road, I was cheering in the wings!!

  7. Lisa in Fort Worth says:

    My only disappointment in the first season so far is the story line of the Grandmother and the flower show. It’s right out of Mrs. Miniver.

    • sheila says:

      You mean when she gives the award away?

      • Lisa in Fort Worth says:

        Yes, when she reads her own name and gives it to the gentleman instead. In Mrs. Miniver the grandmother did the same for the train station agent. Even though it was “understood” she was to win every year. Mrs. Miniver guilted her into it.

  8. sheila says:

    Question: when the burned Canadian showed up at the house in season 2, and says he is Patrick Crawley, the one who supposedly died on the Titanic – I was a bit confused. Is he a pretender? Was he lying?

    • Lisa in Fort Worth says:

      Haven’t gotten to season two yet.

    • Dan says:

      They kind of left that hanging I thought. I’m not sure if it’s a plot thread they mean to take in a later season (I’ve only watched the first two) or something they introduced and then couldn’t figure out what to do with it, beyond giving the youngest daughter something to do.

      • sheila says:

        Yes because they left it ambiguously: Who was that burned man? Was he … or was he not??

        Edith is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and I really disliked her in Season 1. But she just comes into her own in Season 2 – working at the farm, helping the soldiers – she’s a wonderful actress, that girl.

        But then, they all are!!

        • Dan says:

          Yeah, they’re all great, they really elevate the soapy material. Take the talent away and you have a really silly costume melodrama. I mean much of it, especially season 2, is preposterous but its a joy to watch those folks work. Bates’ quest for sainthood can annoy me – in the hands of a lesser actor the character would be grating (nobobdy, by which I mean me, likes a prig) – but Coyle manages to make Bates sympathetic.

          Not that I really know anything abuot acting I should add after such a long-winded comment.

          • sheila says:

            Totally agree. All of season 1 I wanted to shout, “Just come OUT with it Bates!” But it does portray a type of stiff-upper-lip thing that is interesting. I agree that in his hands Bates becomes this tragic and beautiful character – I just love him. And his WIFE. She’s a wonderful Irish actress, I’ve seen her in a bunch of stuff – she normally plays warm sympathetic characters so how much fun she must have had playing this Angel of Doom!

  9. sheila says:

    I get the sense that Mrs. Crawley is going to become a bigger and bigger problem. I LOVE that actress.

  10. Lisa says:

    I fLOVED Downton Abbey (I think I was one badgering you to watch it!) but then I spoilered myself on Season 3, and now I can’t even watch it. That NEVER happens to me; I normally *like* to know what’s going on on TV shows and movies, but this time it ruined it.

    I’m so mad at myself. Grrrrrrr.

    • sheila says:

      Lisa – I remember you raving about it to me when we met in Memphis!!

      So wait – what happened? You found out what happened beforehand? I have seriously been avoiding any season 3 commentary – I have a couple episodes left of Season 2.

      Here is where we stand:

      Spanish flu wiped out Lavinia. Mary is still engaged to Newspaper Man, but I have a feeling that can’t go on. Sybil and Irish Chauffeur have gotten permission to get married. Bates has been arrested.

      Despite the soap opera nature of the whole thing – I just did not buy Lord Grantham’s dalliance with the maid. I didn’t buy it. They tried to set it up beforehand that the marriage was getting a bit rote – but it just did not ring true that he would cross that boundary. Does anyone else feel that way or is it just me??

      And I felt from the start that that housemaid had boundary issues with him. Frankly, I felt like she was up to no good and “didn’t know her place”. Look at how I have internalized the British snobbery!!

      • Lisa says:

        Since Season 3 has already aired in the UK, the Wikipedia page is updated. I read it. I hate myself.

        I hated the Lord/maid storyline. So out of character for Lord Grantham. Plus, MESS NOT WITH HUGH BONNEVILLE. I love him. (He was Bernie in Notting Hill.)

        I’ll probably watch Season 3 eventually, after every one else has seen it so I can commiserate. Dan Stevens is too pretty for me to stay away for long.

        • sheila says:

          Oh no, you read the Wikipedia? Lisa, Lisa!!

          and bless you for recognizing him as Bernie from Notting Hill – it took me a second to get it, which is strange, since I watch Notting Hill, oh, once a month.

          I’m glad you felt the same way about Lord Grantham/maid. I could see him being kind to the maid, and feeling good about being able to help her, and then having HER develop feelings – that would have been much more realistic than him being drawn to her. Nope. Not him.

          Isn’t Maggie Smith just hilarious?

          • sheila says:

            and yes, Dan Stevens is just gorrrrrgeous.

          • Lisa says:

            I love her. I hope she lives forever.

            (Dude, really? I can spot a Richard Curtis actor from 50 paces! For instance, Duckface is playing Lix in The Hour on BBCAmerica. [Another good show you need to watch.])

  11. sheila says:

    The knowledge of everyone’s intersecting careers that you hold in your head never ceases to amaze me.

    I always felt that Bernie in Notting Hill should have ended up with the wacky googly-eyed sister. It’s great to see how he’s aged, right? He’s become so distinguished-looking, and so different from the kind of sad sack frumpy guy he played in Notting Hill.

    • Lisa says:

      It’s a sickness. Meanwhile, I torn apart my kitchen looking for the pen I was holding IN MY MOUTH. My brain, it needs studying.

      • sheila says:

        You are a walking IMDB. Or a walking “six degrees of” computer program.

        I remember you telling me as we walked around in Memphis that you just loved the casting of the show – how these people really LOOK like real people – so different from how everyone looks in Hollywood. I mean, Anna – she’s not a supermodel, but she’s just so beautiful once you get to know her, isn’t she? I love that aspect of British programming.

        • Lisa says:

          It’s my favorite part of British TV. For example, in The Hour, one of the ITV guys is played by Tom Burke, an actor with an obviously repaired cleft lip. He is playing a character who is a romantic rival for the affections of the main character, so he needs to be uber-handsome, right? He would on American TV. He would never be allowed to have “flaws.”

          But this guy just. . .looks like a guy. I really loved that.

  12. Lisa says:

    I have this printed out and stuck to the back of a cabinet in my office, like I’m in junior high. http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Dan+Stevens/59th+Berlin+Film+Festival+Hilde+Press+Conference/4bbUg-31F0w

    • sheila says:

      hahahahaha Awesome!

      • sheila says:

        and tell me: I don’t want to look it up: what is Dan Stevens’ background? He’s clearly a very good actor!!

        • Lisa says:

          From IMDB, it looks like he’s done a lot of theater, some TV, not much big stuff. Played Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility on Masterpiece Theater.

          • Lizzie E says:

            I know that he played Orlando in Peter Hall’s production of Twelfth Night opposite Rebecca Hall at the National Theater. He also was (by all reports) an absolutely fantastic Septimus Hodge in the 2009 revival of Arcadia…which tragically opened on the very day that I had to leave London and fly back to America. (Not that I still harbor regret–and, yes, even bitter anger at Fate!–over missing a great production of one of my favorite plays, oh no.) Ahem. All this to say…he’s done theater!

  13. sheila says:

    Lisa – have you seen another series called Call the Midwife? My friend Kate absolutely loves it and sent me season 1 – haven’t seen it yet though.

  14. sheila says:

    and poor Lavinia. She didn’t stand a chance.

  15. Dan says:

    //I mean, Anna – she’s not a supermodel, but she’s just so beautiful once you get to know her, isn’t she? I love that aspect of British programming.//

    //He would never be allowed to have “flaws.”//

    Totally agree. I was watching Sudden Impact the other night, and my wife watched some of it with me. Afterwards she commented on how none of those actors (Clint excepted) would be in movies today because they were too ugly i.e normal looking. Sudden Impact came out in the 80s, so I feel like this change in American film and TV happened while I was growing up?

    I watch a fair amount of French and Chinese films, and like British programming they have lots of ‘ugly’ people in them.

    • sheila says:

      I was a big fan of Thirtysomething back in the day – and have recently watched the whole thing again. I still love it. And while most of those actors are of course attractive – they are not inhumanly attractive. They look like people who take care of themselves, but their faces are human, and flawed. Nobody’s “babealicious”. It just saddened me so much to see how much that doesn’t occur anymore – there’s just no room for real-looking people on TV. Can we not tolerate it? What the hell happened?

  16. Dan says:

    //What the hell happened?//

    Hahaha – I was hoping YOU would know!

    Seriously though, I’m trying to establish WHEN exactly this happened, hoping it will lead to the WHY. Thirtysomething was late 80s?

  17. sheila says:

    Late 80s, early 90s.

    My theory is that it is partly to do with the availability of internet Porn (and the internet in general), not to mention a normalizing of plastic surgery and Botox, which gives you the frozen-face that makes everyone look identical. And the generation of boys growing up with Internet porn … well I just shudder to think what they must expect when it comes to actual real human women.

    My feminist self also thinks it has something to do with the Girls Gone Wild-ing of our culture, and the standards of female beauty becoming almost fascistic – this has definitely happened during my lifetime. I did not grow up with that fascistic feeling, I did not grow up in an overly sexualized atmosphere. That just wasn’t going on in the 70s. Women have less and less room to maneuver (Tina Fey is funny about this in her book – and we are about the same age). Now we are ALL supposed to be “hot” all the time. That just was not going on when we were growing up.

    Someone like Melanie Mayron, who is quirky, weird-looking, but undeniably pretty in an offbeat way, would never ever be a romantic lead in a TV series nowadays. And what a shame.

    • sheila says:

      Basically I think misogyny has gotten exponentially more toxic in between the time I was growing up and now. It’s unbelievable. People have always been unforgiving towards women and their natural looks (corsets, etc.) – but with the 24/7 news cycle, the availability of everything on the Internet at all times, and the overt sexualization of women moving into younger and younger years … all of this leads to a generation of insane women who think freezing their face is attractive.

      Poor actresses now who do nude scenes in legitimate films know that their scenes will be taken out of context, and put up on porn sites, and so the line between “whore” and “woman” is now nonexistent. No wonder these actresses seem so weird and cagey in interviews: there is an unforgiving sniggling mass of misogynist porn-freaks out there waiting to pick them apart in real-time. This level of misogyny has also entered into our public life, and our politicians – as this past year’s election has shown.

      Clearly I do have an idea of what has gone down. I hope it’s a phase. I really do.

      The fact that people like Meryl Streep are freakin’ HEADLINING in movies – and romantic comedies no less – is a very good and revolutionary sign. But still, honest to God.

  18. Lizzie E says:

    In an interview with Romola Garai (lead actress of The Hour), she has some really iteresting insights. For example, she talks about how–as a size 8 or 10 (which is smaller in the UK, I believe)–she faced, and faces, a lot of “no”s in her acting career because actresses are increasingly expected to be models as well. So if you don’t have the “suitable” face/body type to sell makeup, clothes, magazines, etc.–and the standards of “suitability” are of course absurdly, unfairly strict–then it can be hard to get work as a TV/film actress. She also talks about the red carpet aspect (there are no designer clothes in her size), and how women LOOK at those events has become a disproportionately important factor as a mark of “status” compared to how well they act.

    • sheila says:

      Very interesting, Lizzie!! I mean, I remember when Diane Keaton won the Oscar for Annie Hall – and her OUTFIT. Everything was much more loosey-goosey back then. The news outlets barely paid attention and while we have always had a celebrity culture – well, no way in hell would Diane Keaton get the kinds of parts she did in the beginning of her career NOW.

      I certainly hope the tide turns – and there are always the weirdos who end up making it through the bull shit.

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