Shirley MacLaine


Shirley MacLaine is coming home, and the Academy Award-winning actress couldn’t be more joyous.

As one of the guest stars at the 29th Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, she will discuss her film career before an audience at the Paramount Theater on Friday, Nov. 4. The organizers promise that the star will take questions.

“I am going to this event because I want to pay tribute to my birthplace, that’s why this will be very special,” MacLaine, 82, said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Still a Virginian at heart, she takes pride in her love for the commonwealth.

“I once slept in Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom at Monticello,” she said, laughing. “And I would love to do some filming in Virginia.”

A native of Waverly, MacLaine moved to Richmond at age 3. Her younger brother, actor Warren Beatty, was born here. The pair’s parents were in academics; father Ira Owens Beaty was a professor of psychology and a principal at Westhampton School. Mother Kathlyn, a drama teacher, was a genuine influence on little Shirley, who was named after child star Shirley Temple.

The family lived in a foursquare home on Fauquier Avenue in the heart of Richmond’s historic Bellevue neighborhood, which MacLaine has not forgotten.

“I still remember the falling leaves in autumn,” she said, reminiscing about her early childhood.

On some days, MacLaine said, she would go to ballerina Julia Mildred Harper’s house on Walton Avenue, where she and her brother, Warren, took dance lessons, or catch a movie in one of the theaters on Broad Street.

“I remember going to the movie house, and at an early age, I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” she said.

When she was 12, the family moved again, this time to Arlington, where she took up acting in high school, and where she caught the attention of a talent scout. Soon after graduation, she signed a deal with Paramount Pictures — a new star was born.

More than six decades later, MacLaine has starred in 72 films, won 44 awards, including an Oscar for “Terms of Endearment,” and received 69 nominations. She has authored several autobiographical books and continues to act, most recently in the television series “Downton Abbey,” where she has played Lady Cora Crawley’s outspoken mother, Martha Levinson.

MacLaine agrees that the latest boost of new high-budget television dramas has catapulted the genre into its golden age.

“Most definitely,” she said. “Television has so many outlets, one doesn’t even know where to go and what to put on.”

When asked which living actor she admires most, she hesitated briefly.

“That’s difficult to say, because today we identify more with the characters than with the stars, and we have a very different relationship with them,” Mac-Laine said. “But I do like the guy who played in (the HBO movie) ‘LBJ,’ ” she added, referring to actor Bryan Cranston, who also starred in the AMC drama series “Breaking Bad.”

Over the past 25 years, MacLaine has sometimes attracted attention — ridicule even — for her outspoken views on metaphysics, new age spirituality and all things supernatural. And she continues to stand behind her stories of encounters with alien life forms and witnessing UFOs.

“A lot of people are asking these questions and some are providing answers,” she said. “Everyone always questions what is God, and what am I here for?”

After her appearance at the Virginia Film Festival, MacLaine said she will travel to Richmond to visit some of the landmarks of her early childhood. She will come quietly, without much fanfare.

But it’s a safe bet that she’ll return to her childhood home on Fauquier Avenue, the place where it all began.

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Twitter: @MSchmidtRTD

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