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Gene Hackman was chosen because Beatty had acted with him in Lilith in 1964 and felt he was a "great" actor.
His sister saw Beatty "close off" emotionally from his father.
Among her lasting memories of her brother during this period was seeing him withdrawn and spending time alone reading books by Eugene O'Neill or singing along to Al Jolson records. Beatty doesn't deny that need; in speaking about his earliest parts, he said "When I acted in films I used to come with suggestions about the script, the lighting, the wardrobe, and people used to say 'Waddya want, to produce the picture as well? Beatty was a star football player at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington.
He was a semi-regular on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis during its first season (1959–60).
His performance in William Inge's A Loss of Roses on Broadway garnered him a 1960 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play and a 1960 Theatre World Award. He made his film debut in Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass (1961), opposite Natalie Wood.
Beatty is the first and only person to have been twice nominated for acting in, directing, writing, and producing the same film – first with Heaven Can Wait (1978), which was co-written by Elaine May and co-directed by Buck Henry, and again with Reds, which he co-wrote with Trevor Griffiths.