Even before its publication date -- which is today -- Peter Biskind's Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America has scored more headlines than its subject has women. And that's a lotta headlines, as Biskind estimates that the producer/star (and sometimes director) of Bonnie and Clyde, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy and Bulworth has 12,775 notches on his belt, putting Beatty in the Wilt Chamberlain scoring league. Beatty's attorney Bert Fields claims that Biskind's math is "baloney." Certainly Fields -- and his client -- know that this is the best publicity the Casanova of the cinema has had in years.
Despite too much information about Beatty's erotomania (which one might call an obsexion), Biskind's book is a serious analysis of the star, now 72, in professional eclipse since the release of Bulworth in 1998 (unless you count the 2001 misfire Town & Country). So what if Beatty can number among his conquests Joan Collins, Natalie Wood, Leslie Caron, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Isabelle Adjani, Madonna and Annette Bening, his wife and mother of their four children? Shirley MacLaine's kid brother is more interesting as the prototype of the New Hollywood actor, the figure who develops his own properties and career rather than leaving it to his handlers.As the producer of Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Beatty took the moviemaker reins well before Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand did.
And though he may not be a recognizable name to anyone under 40, Beatty made some terrific films. I think more highly of him as a filmmaker than as an actor, but he gave a nuanced performances as the teenage Bud Stamper, popping with sexual energy in Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass (1961), and again as the violent dandy Bugsy Siegel in Barry Levinson's Bugsy (1991). One could argue that Beatty, a politically-active, left-leaning guy, was the George Clooney of his day, influencing Clooney and Brad Pitt both to social activism as well as, ahem, socializing.
Having interviewed Mr. B a handful of times, I agree with director Terry Gilliam's observation: "His main problem was that he had to charm every woman that he saw....If he got into the lift with a woman, he had to seduce her by the time he reached her floor. He can't stop himself."
Our most beloved actors are blessed with features that are not standard-issue. Denzel Washington flashes that high-beam smile and dazzles everyone within a 100-mile radius. Robert Redford seems to travel with his own back-lighting. And then there is Beatty, who comes equipped with his own soft focus. Every time I've interviewed him, Beatty would be in constant motion, a blur of charm, so I couldn't really get a read on his face. These actorly "extras" can blind us to their other, less obvious, qualities. Here's hoping that the focus on Beatty's epic sex life doesn't blind readers to his artistic contributions.
Favorite Beatty films? Performance?