So what do Shirley MacLaine's friends really think about her talk about past lives and all that other New Age mumbo jumbo?

"Shirley's the greatest audience for jokes about her metaphysical stuff," says book publicist Stuart Applebaum, one of several pals featured on the actress's upcoming A&E Biography (May 14, 8 pm/ET). "Some of that is self-effacing and some of that is shrewd communication skills and some of that is Shirley likes to have a good, good time."

It sounds like MacLaine takes a fair amount of ribbing from producer/director pal James L. Brooks, who worked with the actress on 1983's Terms of Endearment. "I clown around with it and I shouldn't, but for some reason I can't stop myself from doing it ? and she tolerates it and it's great," he says.

Another friend, tough guy 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, says he's been "a little bit skeptical" about her past-life claims but still has tremendous respect for the veteran star. "She's too intelligent to be kooky," he explains.

Adds actress pal Marsha Mason: "The thing I enjoy the most about Shirley is how active her ghost life is. I've never met anybody who is visited as often as she is, everywhere. Her life, consequently, leads her in some very interesting ways."