PUBLISHED: 19:06 EST, 28 August 2012 | UPDATED: 19:45 EST, 28 August 2012

Quirky: Actress Shirley MacLaine in a belly-dancing outfit in 1965Quirky: Actress Shirley MacLaine in a belly-dancing outfit in 1965

Hollywood is famous for the wacky beliefs of its biggest stars. But in the alternative universe that is Tinseltown, Shirley MacLaine espouses the loopiest ideas of all.

Her revelation this week that she and Dame Maggie Smith, her co-star in the new ITV series of Downton Abbey, could have been ‘lovers in another life’ is hardly worth a raised eyebrow.

This is a woman, after all, who believes she has lived previously as a Turkish harem girl, a Hebrew slave, a prostitute put to death by beheading and an ancient Egyptian princess.

When she and the then Swedish prime minister became lovers in the Seventies, she recognised him immediately.

Of course she did, because she claimed they’d had sex together 1,200 years earlier when he was Emperor Charlemagne the Great and she was a Moorish peasant girl in Spain with a knack for curing impotence in men.

‘He was emotional catnip for me,’ she said, speaking of Olof Palme, ‘because he was such a liberal, brilliant, yet emotionally repressed Swede.’

It’s not just the men in her life. MacLaine’s pet dog, a miniature rat terrier called Terry, is apparently the reincarnation of the jackal-headed ancient Egyptian god Anubis.

She’s mad as a fish in a raincoat, then. But the extraordinary thing is that MacLaine, 78, is also a genuine A-list actress, an Oscar-winning star who has played opposite major Hollywood names, from Clint Eastwood to Julia Roberts and captivated directors from Alfred Hitchcock to Billy Wilder.

For nearly 60 years she has been a bill-topping, box-office heavyweight, an achievement matched in movie history only by Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.

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