Shirley MacLaine (born April 24, 1934) 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 MacLain 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 MacLain), 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 due to the total absence of males in the class. She eventually got to play a respectable female role—the fairy godmother in "Cinderella." While warming up backstage, she broke her ankle. But decided to dance the role all the way through. 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). Also, she found ballet too limiting. After leaving ballet, MacLaine pursued Broadway dancing. Eventually, she turned to acting.