About Shirley MacLaine Beaty
She is an American film and theater actress, dancer, activist, and author, well-known for her beliefs in new age spirituality and reincarnation. She has written a large number of autobiographical works, many dealing with her spiritual beliefs as well as her Hollywood career. In 1983, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Terms of Endearment. She is the elder sister of actor Warren Beatty.
Named after Shirley Temple, MacLaine was born Shirley MacLean Beaty in Richmond, Virginia. Her father, Ira Owens Beaty, was a professor of psychology, public school administrator, and real estate agent, and her mother, Kathlyn Corinne (née MacLean), was a drama teacher born in Nova Scotia, Canada; MacLaine's grandparents were also teachers. The family was devoutly Baptist. While she was still a child, MacLaine's father moved the family from Richmond to Norfolk, and then to Arlington, Virginia and Waverly, eventually taking a position at Arlington's Thomas Jefferson Junior High School.
Shirley had very weak ankles as a child, so her mother decided to enroll her in ballet class. Strongly motivated by ballet throughout her youth, she never missed a class. In classical romantic pieces like "Romeo & Juliet" and "Sleeping Beauty," being the tallest in the class, she always played the boys' role. Eventually, MacLaine decided that professional ballet wasn't for her. In her own words, she grew too tall (she would be over 6-feet tall en Pointe) and did not have the "beautifully constructed feet" (high arches, high insteps). After leaving ballet, MacLaine pursued Broadway dancing. Eventually, she turned to acting.
She attended Washington-Lee High School, where she was on the cheerleading squad and acted in the school's productions. The summer before her senior year, she was in New York to try acting on Broadway with some success. After she graduated, she returned and within a year she became an understudy to actress Carol Haney in The Pajama Game; Haney broke her ankle, and MacLaine replaced her. A few months after, with Haney still out of commission, film producer Hal B. Wallis was in the audience, took note of MacLaine, and signed her to work for Paramount Pictures. She later sued Wallis over a contractual dispute, a suit that is credited with ending the old-style studio star system of actor management.
MacLaine was married to businessman Steve Parker until they divorced in 1982. They had a daughter, Sachi Parker (born 1956). Shirley shares a birthday (April 24) with her good friend, Barbra Streisand, and they traditionally spend it together each year.
MacLaine has a strong and enduring interest in spirituality. Many of her best-selling books, such as Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light, have it as their central theme. Her interests have led her to such forms of spiritual exploration as walking El Camino de Santiago, working with Chris Griscom, and practicing Transcendental Meditation.
Her well-known interest in New Age spirituality has made its way into several of her films. In Albert Brooks's 1991 romantic comedy Defending Your Life, the recently deceased lead characters, played by Brooks and Meryl Streep, are astonished to find MacLaine introducing their past lives in the "Past Lives Pavilion." In the 2001 made-for-television movie These Old Broads, starring MacLaine, Debbie Reynolds, Joan Collins, and Elizabeth Taylor, and written by Reynolds's daughter, Carrie Fisher, MacLaine's character is a devotee of New Age spirituality.
MacLaine found her way into many law casebooks when she sued Twentieth Century-Fox for breach of contract. She was to play a role in a film titled Bloomer Girl, but the production was canceled. Twentieth Century-Fox offered her a role in another film, Big Country, Big Man, in hopes of getting out of its contractual obligation to pay her for the canceled film. MacLaine's refusal led to an appeal by Twentieth Century-Fox to the Supreme Court of California in 1970, where the Court ruled against Fox, calling the studio's alternate role offer "different or inferior" employment. Parker v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 474 P.2d 689 (Cal. 1970).
She also is godmother to the daughter of U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat and former mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.