Keyword: Warren & Shirley
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Keyword: Beatty and MacLaine  

Local brother-and-sister act make it big in Hollywood

By Theodore Fischer, Washington Sidewalk

Warren Beatty wrote, directed and stars in Bulworth, a new movie about a U.S. senator on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In Guarding Tess (1994), his sister, Shirley MacLaine, plays a cantankerous former first lady. In fact, Beatty and MacLaine have firsthand knowledge about living in Washington. They grew up in suburban Virginia and got started in show business right here in D.C.

Richmond. Shirley MacLaine (originally Shirley MacLean Beaty) began her present life in Richmond, Va., on April 24, 1934. Her younger brother, Warren Beatty (né Henry Warren Beaty), was born in Richmond on March 30, 1937. Their father was Ira O. Beaty, a Johns Hopkins grad, promising violinist and former band leader turned educational psychologist, school administrator and real-estate salesman. Their mother, Kathlyn MacLean, a Canadian from Nova Scotia, acted in amateur plays and taught drama. The Beatys named Shirley after child star Shirley Temple and Warren after a then-popular cartoon character named "Little Henry."

Arlington. Later in 1937, the family relocated to a red-brick colonial in the Dominion Hills section of Arlington (930 N. Liberty St.), where Warren and Shirley lived throughout high school. The Beatys were Baptists, and Beatty has described the middle-class neighborhood in which he grew up as "an atmosphere where not only were there no black people but a Catholic was exotic." Warren and Shirley (and later Sandra Bullock) attended Washington-Lee High School (1300 N. Quincy St.), where Warren was president of his class and star center and linebacker on the football team. He received 10 football scholarship offers but turned them down to spend a year at Northwestern University majoring in speech before seeking fame and fortune as an actor in New York.

After school every weekday Shirley rode the bus into D.C. for classes at the Washington School of Ballet (3515 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.), the official school of the Washington Ballet. As a member of the amateur company, she performed in The Nutcracker, The Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel (dancing Hansel because of her height) and Cinderella (as the fairy godmother because she was too tall for the lead) with the National Symphony Orchestra at DAR Constitution Hall. At age 18 she moved to New York, where, at the behest of a director who thought she said her name was "batty," she dropped her last name and altered the spelling of her middle one.

National Theatre. Stage-struck at age 16, Beatty's first job in show biz was to stand in the alley and keep rats from entering the theater, a role mandated by Actors Equity after a rodent bit an actor in the National's revival of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth with Helen Hayes. The rat chaser returned to the National in 1959 with a lead role in a pre-New York run of his only Broadway play (25 performances), A Loss of Roses by William Inge. During the Washington run Beatty stayed at the nearby Willard Hotel (14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.) with Joan Collins, who was then the love of his life. Before heading to New York, MacLaine was an usher at the National.

Washington visitations. Beatty's past political activities – he was particularly active in the ill-fated presidential campaigns of Robert Kennedy, George McGovern and Gary Hart – and more recent visits to the White House have brought him back to Washington, where one of his favorite places to eat was Germaine's Asian Cuisine in upper Georgetown. MacLaine returned to this area most memorably to shoot Being There, a 1979 film starring Peter Sellers as a dimwitted gardener who is mistaken for a political sage.

Theodore Fischer, 1801 August Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20902, Tel: 301-593-9797, Fax: 301-593-9798, email: