BY DAVID GERMAIN
CULVER CITY, Calif. — It’s not just a single life that gets toted up when Shirley MacLaine receives a career award. It’s all her lives — past, present and future.
MacLaine earned the American Film Institute’s life-achievement award Thursday night with friends and colleagues praising her accomplishments in this life — and cracking jokes about the reincarnation believer’s other lives.
Co-stars Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Sally Field, Meryl Streep and others contributed to the loving roast of MacLaine, along with such friends, co-workers and admirers as Katherine Heigl, Don Rickles, Morgan Freeman and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.
“Tonight we’re here to honor a person I have known, a person I have loved my whole life,” said MacLaine’s younger brother, Warren Beatty, the 2008 recipient of the AFI honor.
Some stars lovingly ribbed MacLaine for her belief that she has lived many past lives. Black, MacLaine’s co-star in her current comic drama “Bernie,” presented a hilarious reel of himself congratulating the actress at career honors from prehistoric times to the Elizabethan era to U.S. colonial days.
“This is not the first lifetime-achievement award she’s won over the ages,” Black said.
Carrie Fisher, who wrote the 1990 comic drama “Postcards from the Edge” that starred MacLaine and Streep, joked that MacLaine “is actually some future person’s past life. Can you imagine that lucky bastard?”
Nicholson, MacLaine’s fellow Academy Award winner from 1983′s “Terms of Endearment,” said MacLaine loves her audiences and “is the only person outside of the clergy promising them eternal life.”
The 40th recipient of the annual AFI honor, MacLaine received the best-actress Oscar for “Terms of Endearment” and was nominated four other times for such films as 1958′s “Some Came Running,” 1960′s “The Apartment” and 1977′s “The Turning Point.”
The awards show, held in a historic Sony Pictures soundstage where MGM shot “The Wizard of Oz,” will air June 24 on TV Land.
The ceremony featured taped segments with MacLaine recalling colorful episodes from her career, clips from her films such as “Sweet Charity,” “Being There,” “Guarding Tess” and her debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry,” and a segment on her collaborations with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and their Rat Pack pals.
“Downton Abbey” co-star Elizabeth McGovern introduced a clip of MacLaine’s upcoming guest appearance on the British drama series, with MacLaine playing McGovern’s mother.
MacLaine made a grand entrance to the dinner that preceded the show, taking the stage then working her way through the crowd with hugs and kisses for Beatty and wife Annette Bening, Streep, Rickles, Jennifer Aniston and others.
Streep presented the award to MacLaine, saying the actress cut a path for other women in Hollywood by doing much of her best work in middle age, when good female roles typically dry up.
“Some performers are just indelible. We fall early and we fall hard for them, and we follow them for the rest of our lives,” Streep said. “That’s our Shirl. That’s you, babe.”
Accepting the award from Streep, also a past winner of the AFI prize, MacLaine paid respect to the Jacks in her life, including Nicholson, Black and “The Apartment” co-star Jack Lemmon.
She also had some fond words for all of the leading men she has known, “those I made love to on the screen and those I made love to off the screen. I swear, I remember only half.”
MacLaine thanked the women who shared her dinner table for the evening, among them Streep and “Steel Magnolias” co-star Field, saying they had been her “other half of the sky, my sustaining belief that women who speak the truth will make the world a better place.”
And she put in her own wisecrack about the prospects of future lives.
“For all of the over-achievers in this room, we should relax and enjoy it,” MacLaine said, “because if we don’t do it now, we’ll do it next time.”
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