The impish redhead and 'Rat Pack' mascot personifies showbiz. One of the top stars of the '60s who, on receiving her Oscar for 'Terms Of Endearment', joked: 'I deserve this!'
MacLaine was the daughter of a drama coach and former actress, and a professor of psychology and philosophy. Her brother, Warren Beatty, also grew up to be an important Hollywood figure.
MacLaine took dance lessons from age two, performed publicly at age four and, at sixteen, made her Broadway debut as a chorus girl. In 1954, MacLaine was understudying actress Carol Haney in 'The Pajama Game', when Haney fractured her ankle. MacLaine replaced her and was offered a movie contract by producer Hal Wallis.
She made her film debut in Hitchcock's black comedy, 'The Trouble With Harry', in 1955. Later that year, she co-starred opposite Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the comedy, 'Artists and Models'.
MacLaine earned her first Oscar nomination for 'Some Came Running' in 1959. She also appeared with the Rat Pack in 'Oceans Eleven' (1960). She won her second nomination for comedy 'The Apartment' in 1960, and a third for 'Irma La Douce' (1963).
She actively participated in Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and served as a Democratic Convention delegate. She was similarly involved in George McGovern's 1972 campaign.
She published her first book, 'Don't Fall Off the Mountain', in 1970. She next tried her hand at series television, starring in the comedy 'Shirley's World', which ran between 1971 and 1972. The role reflected her real-life reputation as a world traveller.
MacLaine returned to Broadway in 1976, with a spectacular one-woman show, 'A Gypsy in My Soul'. For her role in James L. Brooks' 'Terms of Endearment', she finally won an Academy Award in 1983.
That same year, she published 'Out on a Limb', risking public ridicule by describing her experiences and theories concerning out-of-body travel and reincarnation.
In 1988, she made a resounding acting comeback, with three great roles, in 'Madame Sousatzka', 'Steel Magnolias', and particularly 'Postcards from the Edge' (1990).
1996 saw her in the title role in 'Mrs Winterbourne', opposite Brendan Fraser. In 1999 she played Madame De Beaurevoir in the TV movie 'Joan of Arc' before appearing in the comedy drama 'Bruno' in 2000.
MacLaine then appeared in a number of TV movies such as 'The Battle of Mary Kay' (2002) and 'Salem Witch Trials' in 2003. She then moved back into Hollywood films with an appearance in the movie based on the TV show 'Bewitched' in 2005, with roles in 'In Her Shoes' and 'Rumour Has It' the same year.
In 2008, she starred in TV films 'Coco Chanel' and 'Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning' before roles in 2010's 'Valentine's Day' and 2011's 'Bernie'.
In 2012 she joined the cast of the English show 'Downton Abbey' as Lady Grantham's mother.
Gareth Neame from Carnival Films, the producer of Downton, told the BBC: "Julian [Fellowes] has written another brilliant character in Martha Levinson, who will be a wonderful combatant for Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess."
Her latest film role was in 'The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty' (2013).
MacLaine was married to businessman Steve Parker from 1954 until they divorced in 1982. They had a daughter, Sachi Parker in 1956.