Skip to content

This Co-Star Clashed With Shirley MacLaine: "I Can't Deny That We Fought"

The pair received dueling Oscar nominations for playing mother and daughter in 1983.

They had a strained relationship on screen and what sounds like an even worse one when cameras weren't rolling. Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger starred as a mother and daughter in 1983's Terms of Endearment, and while their characters were able to find peace in the end, that hasn't been the case for the two actors. The stars didn't hit it off when they first met, and in the years since, they've both opened up publicly about their issues with each other.

From issues with each other's acting style to an allegation involving purposeful flatulence, read on to see what these two stars have had to say about unhappily working together over the years.

READ THIS NEXT: Tommy Lee Jones Told This Co-Star He "Hated" Him to His Face.

Both of their performances were widely acclaimed.

In Terms of Endearment, MacLaine plays a controlling and disappointed mother, who doesn't approve of her daughter's marriage or life choices. The film follows the pair as their relationship evolves over 30 years. MacLaine won the Oscar for Best Actress against Winger, who was nominated in the same category.

"I wanted to work with the turbulent brilliance of Debra Winger," MacLaine said during her acceptance speech. At this, the camera caught Winger laughing in the audience. "She literally inhabited the character so thoroughly that I thought for four months I had two daughters," the star continued.

Rumors began flying as soon as the movie started filming.

Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger on the set of "Terms of Endearment"
Bettmann / Getty Images

In an interview with People in 1984, MacLaine said she noticed the differences between herself and Winger right away. "To see how my character would feel, I was wearing all my leftover movie-star fur coats," she said. "There was Debra dressed in combat boots and a miniskirt. I thought, 'Oh my goodness.'"

The article notes that there were rumors from set that Winger was demanding top billing and that one of the stars "slugged" the other. People goes on to explain that the co-stars clashed because of their acting styles but both agreed it worked for the film.

"We knew what we were doing a lot of the time, sparring back and forth, playing games," Winger said. MacLaine added, "It was a very gritty way of working. People at Paramount thought we were crazy."

Winger didn't deny the rumors that they weren't friendly.

Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in New York City circa 1983
Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images

In a 1986 interview with The New York Times, Winger admitted that she and MacLaine didn't always get along.

"'I can't deny that we fought," she said. "We're not having lunch together today. We challenged ourselves, and when we got tired of challenging ourselves, we challenged each other. But I think there was always a respect between the two of us."

For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

MacLaine shared a surprising claim in her memoir.

Shirley MacLaine at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Honors Shirley MacLaine in 1995
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In her 1995 book, My Lucky Stars, MacLaine wrote (via SFGATE) that Winger tried to tell her where to stand during a rehearsal.

MacLaine wrote, "'I heard you,' I said. 'I know marks when I see them.'" She said that Winger then said, "'How's this for a mark?' She turned around, walked away from me, lifted her skirt slightly, looked over her shoulder, bent over, and farted in my face."

Winger responded to the claim years later.

In a 2018 appearance Watch What Happens Live, host Andy Cohen said to Winger, "Back in the '80s, there were so many rumors about your relationship with Shirley MacLaine on Terms of Endearment. You wrote about this in your book." Winger interrupted and said, "No, I didn't write about her. She wrote about me. Let's try to get something straight. I mean, come on. It's rough. It's hard out here for a chimp."

Cohen then asked her to respond to the wilder stories MacLaine told in her memoir. "There were rumors that you tried to pass gas in her direction, you licked her leg while she was filming a love scene with [Jack] Nicholson. Was any of that true?" he asked.

Winger responded, "You mean, you want to just go in there and say, 'Is there something true in there?' There's something true in there."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
Filed Under