Shirley MacLaine

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Shirley MacLaine
Shirley MacLaine - 1960.jpg
MacLaine in 1960
Shirley MacLean Beaty

(1934-04-24) April 24, 1934 (age 88)
  • Actress
  • dancer
  • author
  • activist
Years active1952–present
Steve Parker
(m. 1954;div. 1982)
Children Sachi Parker
Relatives Warren Beatty (brother)

Shirley MacLaine (born Shirley MacLean Beaty, April 24, 1934) [1] is an American actress, author and former dancer. Known for her portrayals of quirky, strong-willed and eccentric women, she has received numerous accolades over her seven-decade career, including an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, two British Academy Film Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, two Volpi Cups and two Silver Bears. She has been honored with a Gala Tribute from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 1995, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1998, the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2012, and the Kennedy Center Honor in 2013. MacLaine is one of the last remaining stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.


Born in Richmond, Virginia, MacLaine made her acting debut as a teenager with minor roles in the Broadway musicals Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game . Following minor appearances as an understudy in various other productions, MacLaine made her film debut with Alfred Hitchcock's black comedy The Trouble with Harry (1955), winning the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress. She rose to prominence with starring roles in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Some Came Running (1958), Ask Any Girl (1959), The Apartment (1960), The Children's Hour (1961), Irma la Douce (1963), Sweet Charity (1969), and Being There (1979).

A six-time Academy Award nominee, MacLaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the James L. Brooks comedy drama Terms of Endearment (1983). Her other prominent films include The Turning Point (1977), Madame Sousatzka (1988), Steel Magnolias (1989), Postcards from the Edge (1990), In Her Shoes (2005), Bernie (2011), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), and Elsa & Fred (2014).

She played the eponymous fashion designer in the biopic television film, Coco Chanel (2008), receiving nominations for a Primetime Emmy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Golden Globe Award. She also made appearances in various television series including Glee , Downton Abbey and Only Murders in the Building . Apart from acting, MacLaine has written numerous books regarding the subjects of metaphysics, spirituality, and reincarnation, as well as a best-selling memoir, Out on a Limb (1983).

Early life

Named after actress Shirley Temple (who was six years old at the time), Shirley MacLean Beaty was born on April 24, 1934, in Richmond, Virginia. Her father, Ira Owens Beaty, [2] was a professor of psychology, public school administrator, and a real estate agent. Her mother, Kathlyn Corinne (née MacLean), was a drama teacher, originally from Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. MacLaine's younger brother is the actor, writer, and director Warren Beatty; he changed the spelling of his surname when he became an actor. [3] Their parents raised them as Baptists. [4] Her uncle (her mother's brother-in-law) was A. A. MacLeod, a Communist member of the Ontario legislature in the 1940s. [5] [6] While MacLaine was still a child, Ira Beaty moved his family from Richmond to Norfolk, and then to Arlington and Waverly, then back to Arlington eventually taking a position at Arlington's Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in 1945. MacLaine played baseball on an all-boys team, holding the record for most home runs, which earned her the nickname "Powerhouse". During the 1950s, the family resided in the Dominion Hills section of Arlington. [7]

As a toddler, she had weak ankles and fell over with the slightest misstep, so her mother decided to enroll her in ballet class at the Washington School of Ballet at the age of three. [8] This was the beginning of her interest in performing. Strongly motivated by ballet, she never missed a class. In classical romantic pieces like Romeo and Juliet and The Sleeping Beauty , she always played the boys' roles due to being the tallest in the group and the absence of males in the class. Eventually, she had a substantial female role as the fairy godmother in Cinderella ; while warming up backstage, she broke her ankle, but then tightened the ribbons on her toe shoes and proceeded to dance the role all the way through before calling for an ambulance. Ultimately she decided against making a career of professional ballet because she had grown too tall and was unable to perfect her technique. She explained that she didn't have the ideal body type, lacking the requisite "beautifully constructed feet" of high arches, high insteps and a flexible ankle. [9] Also slowly realizing ballet's propensity to be all-consuming, and ultimately limiting, she moved on to other forms of dancing, acting and musical theater.

She attended Washington-Lee High School, where she was on the cheerleading squad and acted in school theatrical productions.


The summer before her senior year of high school, MacLaine went to New York City to try acting on Broadway, having minor success in the chorus of Oklahoma! [10] After she graduated, she returned and was in the dancing ensemble of the Broadway production of Me and Juliet (1953–1954). [11] Afterwards she became an understudy to actress Carol Haney in The Pajama Game ; in May 1954 Haney injured her ankle during a Wednesday matinee, and MacLaine replaced her. [12] A few months later, with Haney still injured, film producer Hal B. Wallis saw MacLaine's performance, and signed her to work for Paramount Pictures.


MacLaine in her debut film The Trouble with Harry (1955) Shirley MacLaine in The Trouble With Harry trailer.jpg
MacLaine in her debut film The Trouble with Harry (1955)

MacLaine made her film debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry (1955), for which she won the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress. This led to MacLaine quickly rising to stardom during the later years of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Trouble with Harry was quickly followed by her role in the Martin and Lewis film Artists and Models (also 1955). Soon afterwards, she had a role in Around the World in 80 Days (1956) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. This was followed by Hot Spell and a leading role in Some Came Running (both 1958); for the latter film, she gained her first Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination.

MacLaine in the trailer for The Apartment (1960) The apartment trailer maclaine1.JPG
MacLaine in the trailer for The Apartment (1960)

In 1960, MacLaine starred in Billy Wilder's romance film The Apartment (1960). It is set in the Upper West Side, and follows an insurance clerk (Jack Lemmon), who allows his co-workers to use his apartment for their extramarital affairs. He is attracted to the insurance company's elevator operator (MacLaine), who is already having an affair with Baxter's boss (Fred MacMurray). A blend of romantic drama and comedy, the film received ten Academy Award nominations, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction (Black and White) and Best Film Editing. Despite being the odds-on favorite, MacLaine failed to win the Best Actress award. She later said, "I thought I would win for The Apartment, but then, Elizabeth Taylor [who won] had a tracheotomy." The film, which Roger Ebert included in his 2001 Great Movies list, has become MacLaine's signature role. Charlize Theron, speaking at the 89th Academy Awards, praised MacLaine's performance as "raw and real and funny", and as making "this black and white movie feel like it's in color". [13]

She starred in The Children's Hour (1961), also starring Audrey Hepburn and James Garner, based on the play by Lillian Hellman, and directed by William Wyler. She was again nominated, this time for Irma la Douce (1963), which reunited her with Wilder and Lemmon.

MacLaine devoted several pages in her first memoir, Don't Fall Off the Mountain (1970), to a 1963 incident in which she had marched into the Los Angeles office of The Hollywood Reporter and punched columnist Mike Connolly in the mouth. [14] She was angered by what he had said in his column about her ongoing contractual dispute with producer Hal Wallis, who had introduced her to the movie industry in 1954 and whom she eventually sued successfully for violating the terms of their contract. [15] The incident with Connolly garnered a headline on the cover of the New York Post on June 11, 1963. [16] The full story appeared on page 5 under the headline “Shirley Delivers A Punchy Line” with the byline Bernard Lefkowitz. [16]

At the peak of her success, she replaced Marilyn Monroe in two projects in which Monroe had planned, at the end of her life, to star: Irma la Douce (1963) and What a Way to Go! (1964). MacLaine worked with Michael Caine in Gambit (1966).

MacLaine and John McMartin in the trailer for Sweet Charity (1969) John McMartin-Shirley MacLaine in Sweet Charity trailer.jpg
MacLaine and John McMartin in the trailer for Sweet Charity (1969)

In 1969, MacLaine starred in the film version of the musical Sweet Charity , directed by Bob Fosse, and based on the script for Fellini's Nights of Cabiria released a decade earlier. Gwen Verdon, who originated the role onstage, had hoped to play Charity in the film version, however MacLaine won the role due to her name being more well known to audiences at the time. Verdon signed on as assistant choreographer, helping teach MacLaine the dances and leading the camera through some of the more intricate routines. [17] MacLaine received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical nomination. The film, while not a financial success, launched Fosse's film directing career with his next film being Cabaret (1972).

Don Siegel, MacLaine's director on Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), said of her: "It's hard to feel any great warmth to her. She's too unfeminine, and has too much balls. She's very, very hard." [18]

MacLaine was cast as a photojournalist in a short-lived television sitcom, Shirley's World (1971–1972), co-produced by Sheldon Leonard and ITC and shot in the United Kingdom. Her documentary film The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir (1975), co-directed with Claudia Weill, concentrates on the experiences of women in China. It was nominated for the year's Documentary Feature Oscar. In 1976 MacLaine appeared in a series of concerts at the London Palladium and New York's Palace Theatre. The latter of these was released as the acclaimed live album Shirley MacLaine Live at the Palace . [19] [20] Co-starring with Anne Bancroft in The Turning Point (1977), MacLaine portrayed a retired ballerina much like herself; she was nominated for an Oscar as the Best Actress in a Leading Role. In 1978, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. [21]

In 1979 she starred alongside Peter Sellers in Hal Ashby's satirical film Being There . The film revolves around Chance (Sellers), a simpleminded, sheltered gardener, who becomes an unlikely trusted advisor to a powerful businessman and an insider in Washington politics, after his wealthy old boss dies. The film received widespread acclaim with Roger Ebert writing that he admired the film "for having the guts to take this totally weird concept and push it to its ultimate comic conclusion". Despite not receiving an Academy Award nomination, MacLaine received a British Academy Film Award, and Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance.


MacLaine at the set of Guarding Tess Shirley Mclaine on a movie set.jpg
MacLaine at the set of Guarding Tess

In 1980, MacLaine starred in A Change of Seasons (1980) alongside Anthony Hopkins. The two famously did not get along with each other and the film was not a success due to what critics faulted as the screenplay. MacLaine however did receive positive notices from critics. Vincent Canby wrote in his The New York Times review that the film "exhibits no sense of humor and no appreciation for the ridiculous the screenplay [is] often dreadful the only appealing performance is Miss MacLaine's, and she's too good to be true. A Change of Seasons does prove one thing, though. A farce about characters who've been freed of their conventional obligations quickly becomes aimless." [22]

In 1983, MacLaine starred in James L. Brooks's comedy-drama film Terms of Endearment (1983) playing Debra Winger's mother. The film focuses on the strained relationship between mother and daughter over 30 years. The film also starred Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, and John Lithgow. The film was a major critical and commercial success, grossing $108.4 million at the domestic box office and becoming the second-highest-grossing film of 1983. The film received a leading eleven nominations at the 56th Academy Awards, and won five including Best Picture. MacLaine earned her first Academy Award for her performance.

MacLaine has continued to star in major films, such as the family southern drama Steel Magnolias (1989) directed by Herbert Ross and also starring with Sally Field, Julia Roberts, and Dolly Parton. The film focuses around a bond that a group of women share in a small-town Southern community, and how they cope with the death of a loved one. The film was a box office success earning $96.8 million off a budget of $15 million. MacLaine received a British Academy Film Award for her performance. She starred in Mike Nichols' film Postcards from the Edge (1990), with Meryl Streep, playing a fictionalized version of Debbie Reynolds from a screenplay by Reynolds's daughter, Carrie Fisher. Fisher wrote the screenplay based on her book. MacLaine received another Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance.

MacLaine with Christopher Plummer at the premiere of the film Elsa & Fred in 2014 Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer.jpg
MacLaine with Christopher Plummer at the premiere of the film Elsa & Fred in 2014

MacLaine continued to act in films such as Used People (1992), with Jessica Tandy and Kathy Bates; Guarding Tess (1994), with Nicolas Cage; Mrs. Winterbourne (1996), with Ricki Lake and Brendan Fraser; The Evening Star (1996); Rumor Has It… (2005) with Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston; In Her Shoes (also 2005), with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette; and Closing the Ring (2007), directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Christopher Plummer. She would later reunite with Plummer in the 2014 comedy film Elsa & Fred directed by Michael Radford. In 2000, she made her feature-film directorial debut, and starred in Bruno , which was released to video as The Dress Code. In 2011 MacLaine starred in Richard Linklater's dark comedy film Bernie alongside Jack Black, and Matthew McConaughey.

MacLaine has also appeared in numerous television projects, including an autobiographical miniseries based upon the book Out on a Limb ; The Salem Witch Trials; These Old Broads written by Carrie Fisher and co-starring Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, and Joan Collins. In 2009, she starred in Coco Before Chanel , a Lifetime production based on the life of Coco Chanel which earned her Primetime Emmy Award, and Golden Globe Award nominations. She appeared in the third and fourth seasons of the acclaimed British drama Downton Abbey as Martha Levinson, mother to Cora, Countess of Grantham (played by Elizabeth McGovern), and Harold Levinson (played by Paul Giamatti) in 2012–2013. [23] [24]

In 2016, MacLaine starred in Wild Oats with Jessica Lange. She starred in the live-action family film The Little Mermaid , based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, in 2018. [25] In 2022, she returned to the small screen in the series Only Murders in the Building . [26]

Personal life

MacLaine was married to businessman Steve Parker from 1954 until their divorce in 1982; they have a daughter, Sachi. Their daughter has said that, when she was in her late twenties, her mother revealed her belief that an astronaut named Paul was Sachi's real father, not Steve Parker. [27] [28]

MacLaine, 2011 Shirley MacLaine Deauville 2011.jpg
MacLaine, 2011

In April 2011, while promoting her new book, I'm Over All That, she revealed to Oprah Winfrey that she had had an open relationship with her husband. [29] MacLaine also told Winfrey that she often fell for the leading men she worked with, the exceptions being Jack Lemmon ( The Apartment , Irma la Douce ) and Jack Nicholson ( Terms of Endearment ). [30] MacLaine also had long-running affairs with Lord Mountbatten, whom she met in the 1960s, and Australian politician and two-time Liberal leader Andrew Peacock. [31] [32]

MacLaine has also gotten into feuds with such notable co-stars as Anthony Hopkins ( A Change of Seasons ), who said that "she was the most obnoxious actress I have ever worked with," and Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment). [33] [34] [35] [36]

MacLaine has claimed that, in a previous life, in Atlantis, she was the brother of a 35,000-year-old spirit named Ramtha, channeled by American mystic teacher and author J. Z. Knight. [37] [38]

She has a strong interest in spirituality and metaphysics, which are the central themes of some of her best-selling books, including Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light. Her spiritual explorations include walking the Way of St. James, working with Chris Griscom, [39] and practicing Transcendental Meditation. [40]

MacLaine conceived and produced the variety show Star-Spangled Women for McGovern-Shriver Star-Spangled Women (cropped).jpg
MacLaine conceived and produced the variety show Star-Spangled Women for McGovern–Shriver

The topic of New Age spirituality has also found its way into several of her films. In Albert Brooks's romantic comedy Defending Your Life (1991), the recently deceased lead characters, played by Brooks and Meryl Streep, are astonished to find MacLaine introducing their past lives in the "Past Lives Pavilion"; in Postcards from the Edge (1990), MacLaine sings a version of "I'm Still Here", with lyrics customized for her by composer Stephen Sondheim (for example, one line in the lyrics was changed to "I'm feeling transcendental – am I here?"); and in the 2001 television movie These Old Broads , MacLaine's character is a devotee of New Age spirituality.

She has an interest in UFOs, and gave numerous interviews on CNN, NBC and Fox news channels on the subject during 2007–08. In her book Sage-ing While Age-ing (2007), she described having alien encounters and witnessing a Washington, D.C. UFO incident in the 1950s. [41] On an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 2011, MacLaine stated that she and her neighbor had observed numerous UFOs at her New Mexico ranch for extended periods of time. [42]

Along with her brother, Warren Beatty, MacLaine used her celebrity status in instrumental roles as a fundraiser and organizer for George McGovern's campaign for president in 1972. [43] [44] [45] That year, she wrote the book McGovern: The Man and His Beliefs. [43] She appeared at her brother's concerts Four for McGovern and Together for McGovern, and she joined with Sid Bernstein to produce the woman-focused Star-Spangled Women for McGovern–Shriver variety show at Madison Square Garden. [46] So much of her time was spent away from acting in 1972 that her talent agent threatened to quit; she turned down film projects and spent $250,000 of her own money on political activism, equivalent to $1,620,000in 2021. [47]

MacLaine is godmother to journalist Jackie Kucinich, daughter of former Democratic U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich. [48]

On February 7, 2013, Penguin Group USA published Sachi Parker's autobiography Lucky Me: My Life With – and Without – My Mom, Shirley MacLaine. [49] MacLaine has called the book "virtually all fiction". [28]

In 2015, she sparked criticism for her comments on Jews, Christians, and Stephen Hawking. In particular, she claimed that victims of the Holocaust were experiencing the results of their own karma, and suggested that Hawking had subconsciously caused himself to develop ALS in order to focus better on physics. [50]


In 1959, MacLaine sued Hal Wallis over a contractual dispute; that lawsuit has been credited with ending the old-style studio star system of actor management. [15]

In 1966, MacLaine sued Twentieth Century-Fox for breach of contract when the studio reneged on its agreement to star MacLaine in a film version of the Broadway musical Bloomer Girl based on the life of Amelia Bloomer, a mid-nineteenth century feminist, suffragist, and abolitionist, that was to be filmed in Hollywood. Instead, Fox gave MacLaine one week to accept their offer of the female dramatic lead in the Western Big Country, Big Man to be filmed in Australia. The case was decided in MacLaine's favor, and affirmed on appeal by the California Supreme Court in 1970; the case is discussed in many law-school textbooks as an example of employment-contract law. [51] [52] [53]



1955 The Trouble with Harry Jennifer Rogers
Artists and Models Bessie Sparrowbrush
1956 Around the World in 80 Days Princess Aouda
1958 Some Came Running Ginnie Moorehead
The Sheepman Dell Payton
Hot Spell Virginia Duval
The Matchmaker Irene Molloy
1959 Ask Any Girl Meg Wheeler
Career Sharon Kensington
1960 Ocean's 11 Tipsy womanUncredited cameo
Can-Can Simone Pistache
The Apartment Fran Kubelik
1961 The Children's Hour Martha Dobie
All in a Night's Work Katie Robbins
Two Loves Anna Vorontosov
1962 Two for the Seesaw Gittel Mosca
My Geisha Lucy Dell/Yoko Mori
1963 Irma la Douce Irma la Douce
1964 The Yellow Rolls-Royce Mae Jenkins
What a Way to Go! Louisa May Foster
1965 John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! Jenny Erichson
1966 Gambit Nicole Chang
1967 Woman Times Seven Paulette/Maria Teresa/Linda/
Edith/Eve Minou/Marie/Jeanne
1968 The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Harriet Blossom
1969 Sweet Charity Charity Hope Valentine
1970 Two Mules for Sister Sara Sara
1971 Desperate Characters Sophie Bentwood
1972 The Possession of Joel Delaney Norah Benson
1975 The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir HerselfDocumentary; also writer, co-director, producer
1977 The Turning Point Deedee Rodgers
1979 Being There Eve Rand
1980 A Change of Seasons Karyn Evans
Loving Couples Evelyn
1981 Sois belle et tais-toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up) HerselfDocumentary by Delphine Seyrig
1983 Terms of Endearment Aurora Greenway
1984 Cannonball Run II Veronica
1988 Madame Sousatzka Madame Yuvline Sousatzka
1989 Steel Magnolias Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux
1990 Postcards from the Edge Doris Mann
Waiting for the Light Aunt Zena
1991 Defending Your Life Shirley MacLaine
1992 Used People Pearl Berman
1993 Wrestling Ernest Hemingway Helen Cooney
1994 Guarding Tess Tess Carlisle
1996 The Evening Star Aurora Greenway
Mrs. Winterbourne Grace Winterbourne
1997 A Smile Like Yours MarthaUncredited
2000 The Dress Code HelenAlso director
2003 Carolina Grandma Millicent Mirabeau
2005 Rumor Has It… Katharine Richelieu
Bewitched Iris Smythson/Endora
In Her Shoes Ella Hirsch
2007 Closing the Ring Ethel Ann Harris
2010 Valentine's Day Estelle Paddington
2011 Bernie Marjorie Nugent
2013 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Edna Mitty
2014 Elsa & Fred Elsa Hayes
2016 Wild Oats Eva
2017 The Last Word Harriett Lauler
2018 The Little Mermaid Grandmother Eloise
2019 Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver Mrs. GrindtoothVoice (English version)
Noelle Elf Polly
2022 American Dreamer Astrid Fanelli


1955 Shower of Stars Herself2 episodes
1976Gypsy in my SoulHerselfTelevision special with Lucille Ball
1971–1972 Shirley's World Shirley Logan17 episodes
1977The Shirley MacLaine Special: Where Do We Go From Here?HerselfTelevision special
1979Shirley MacLaine at the LidoHerselfTelevision special
1987 Out on a Limb Herself Television film
1995 The West Side Waltz Margaret Mary ElderdiceTelevision film
1998 Stories from My Childhood NarratorEpisode: "The Nutcracker"
1999 Joan of Arc Madame de Beaurevoir2 episodes
2001 These Old Broads Kate WestbourneTelevision film
2002 Salem Witch Trials Rebecca Nurse
2002 Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay Mary Kay
2008 Coco Chanel Coco Chanel
2008 Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning Amelia Thomas
2012–2013 Downton Abbey Martha Levinson3 episodes
2014 Glee June Dolloway2 episodes
2016 A Heavenly Christmas PearlTelevision film
2022 Only Murders in the Building Leonora Folger2 episodes [54]


1953 Me and Juliet Dance Ensemble Majestic Theatre, Broadway [55]
1954 The Pajama Game Dancer/Gladys Shubert Theatre, Broadway
1976Shirley MacLaineHerself Palace Theatre, Broadway
1984Shirley MacLaine on BroadwayHerself Gershwin Theatre, Broadway
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Teresa Heinz with 2013 Kennedy Center honorees: Shirley MacLaine, Martina Arroyo, Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, and Herbie Hancock in 2013. Secretary Kerry and Mrs. Heinz Kerry Meet With the Kennedy Center Honor Award Recipients (11277365345).jpg
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Teresa Heinz with 2013 Kennedy Center honorees: Shirley MacLaine, Martina Arroyo, Billy Joel, Carlos Santana, and Herbie Hancock in 2013.

Honors and legacy


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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Star-Spangled Women for McGovern–Shriver</span> 1972 benefit concert for George McGovern

Star-Spangled Women for McGovern–Shriver was a political variety show held on October 27, 1972, produced by Shirley MacLaine and Sid Bernstein as a late-campaign push to help the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern, running as the peace candidate. Also known as Star-Spangled Women for McGovern and simply Star-Spangled Women, the concert drew a near-capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden in New York City. With a dozen singing, dancing and spoken-word performances, rock journalist Lillian Roxon described the show as "one thunderbolt after another."


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Further reading