HOLLYWOOD: The Ring -a- Ding Girl

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The green ranch house is midcentury, middle-class suburban. Its picture windows, once the pride of a wrong-armed infielder named Preston Ward (since departed for Kansas City), glare across the scrubby, rattlesnake-infested foothills toward the San Fernando Valley. As the Thunderbird flies, the place is 12 smoggy miles from the manicured canyons of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, where a movie star ought to live. By classical Hollywood standards, this pad is so far out that it might as well be in Oshkosh or Altoona or on a space platform, and the girl who lives there is even farther out—she is a real ring-a-ding.

She dresses like a color-blind D.P. from Dogpatch. She claims to comb her scraggle-cropped, copper-colored hair with an eggbeater, but in fact usually attacks it only with her fingers. Her income has grown to six figures, but she haunts bargain counters, a born haggler. She handles her car like a hopped-up hot-rodder, laces into the Los Angeles freeway competition with the voice and free-wheeling vocabulary of a longshoreman.

She collects rubber bands, bubble gum, matchboxes, unmatched gloves, old typewriter ribbons and dull pencils. She is prone to the sulks, unwinds by tossing dishes at her husband, and coddles a breakfast taste for hot fudge sundaes. All this, burbling forth from a lithe, long-legged, freckled, near-perfect frame (34-24-34), Puts Shirley MacLaine in a new category; expert Hollywood status seekers consider her so far out that she is in, way in. Shirley, at 25, is the brightest face, the freshest character and the most versatile new talent in Hollywood.

Happy Pixy. At first glance the situation seems appalling. Has the town that nourished the pneumatic legends of Theda Bara and Clara Bow and Jean Harlow sold out to a giggly beer drinker? Answers: "Yes," and "Why not?"

Her feet may be bigger (size 8½) than most of the siren prints left behind in the Hollywood cement; she may have more freckles than the makeup department can cover; she may have a voice she herself describes as resembling "Merman trying to reach the candy stand in the lobby, except when I shift into high, and then it sounds like Lily Pons when she's kidding.'' But she also has a pair of long and memorable legs—"They start from the shoulders," says one admiring choreographer—and she can make them do anything she wants. She has the grace of a ballet dancer, the exuberance of a cheerleader and the muscle power of a baseball player; at various times she has been all three.

Her face, which she can work like a rubber mask, turns from sunny to sad, from Harlequin to Columbine, with imperceptible art. Her lips can tremble like a child's on the verge of tears or curl with three-martini irony; her blue eyes can blink in puppy-dog innocence or wink in complicity with all the world. Perhaps her most typical expression is that of a pixy hooked on happy pills, but she can also look like a small kitten that has just swallowed a very large canary, a waif who has lost her bus ticket home, a country girl trying to act like a vamp despite her wholesome apple cheeks.

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