Warren Beatty features Front Royal in new film, ‘Rules Don’t Apply’

The Warren Sentinel

WINCHESTER — In writing the sweetly nostalgic film, "Rules Don't Apply," Warren Beatty said he relied on his own personal nostalgia of childhood visits to family in Front Royal.

The film, released nationwide last week, features the central character, Marla Mabrey, a Front Royal girl brought to Hollywood by Howard Hughes to become a starlet after she wins the pageant title of Winchester's Miss Apple Blossom Festival. She runs into romantic trouble when she falls for a boy she is forbidden to love.

Mabrey is played by the actress Lily Collins, the daughter of rock star Phil Collins. Beatty plays Hughes in the film, which he also directed and produced. It is his first film since 2001's "Town and Country" and his first directorial work since "Bulworth" in 1998.

The film premiered Nov. 10 at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood as the opener for the annual American Film Institute festival.

In a telephone interview from Hollywood on Nov. 12, Beatty said he has fond memories of family Thanksgivings in Front Royal, and although he attended an Apple Blossom Festival as a child, he has no specific memories of it.

"As a kid, I was there," he said. "I'm from Virginia. My father's family was from Front Royal. The family goes way back in Warren County."

Born in 1937 in Richmond, Beatty moved with his family to Arlington at the age of 8, he said. He remembers car rides to the Blue Ridge to visit his aunts Bertie and Maggie, who lived in Front Royal. He remembers going to the movies in town at one of its two theaters.

"One was called the Park and the other one was called the Murphy," he said.

The Park Theatre, at 117 E. Main St., is now known as Royal Cinemas. A local group is looking to renovate the Murphy Theatre, which operated at 131 E. Main St.

Beatty also said he remembers "little trips on the Skyline Drive," he said.

Beatty's uncle Q.D. Gasque was superintendent of schools in Warren and Rappahannock counties in the late 1950s and navigated the closing and reopening of public schools during the period of Massive Resistance to school integration. Beatty's father was a school principal in Arlington.

Beatty also remembers another significant influence of Front Royal and references it in the film in a scene between Hughes and Mabrey. As Hughes advances on Mabrey in what could become a lecherous grab, he stops and appreciates the synthetic fabric of her dress. It's rayon, he says, and probably was spun at the American Viscose plant in Front Royal.

Beatty said he remembers the plant, which was later known as Avtex. Originally a maker of fiber for use in military vehicles in World War II, the plant was a significant employer in Front Royal and Warren County. But it deposited heavy metals and toxic chemicals at its 500-acre location along the Shenandoah River, which later became a federal Superfund site after the plant was shuttered in 1989.

Beatty said he remembers the smell of the plant.

"It really did affect the air," he said. "The smell would hit you two minutes before you got to [Front Royal]."

A presumptive image of Front Royal even appears momentarily in the film, in an exterior shot of a church. However, Beatty revealed that the shot was actually filmed in California. But it corresponds to the church of his memory.

"I always think of that Baptist church on [Royal Avenue] and the Methodist church right next door to it," he said.

The film will appear in about 2,600 theaters nationwide, Beatty said. It is showing at the Alamo Drafthouse and Carmike Apple Blossom 12 in Winchester.

Officials at Apple Blossom Festival headquarters in Winchester said Hollywood did not come calling in preparation for the film. Evidently, the festival simply remained present in Beatty's mind since childhood.

"When you've been around for 90 years, you get woven into the fabric of the community," festival president Mike Stanfield said. "We are proud that people know who we are."

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