Beatty, (Henry) Warren
BEATTY, (Henry) Warren
(b. 30 March 1937 in Richmond, Virginia), motion-picture actor, director, producer, and screenwriter who, as a megastar of the 1960s, was notorious for his arrogance and innumerable love affairs, but who matured later in his career to become a respected member of Hollywood's artistic community.
Beaty, who later added a t to his last name, and his older sister, Shirley MacLaine, were born into a solid, middle-class family with some show business experience. Their father, Ira O. Beaty, was a public school administrator who had been a violinist and a drummer in his own band, and their mother, Kathlyn MacLean Beaty, was a former actress and drama coach.
As a child "Little Henry" loved reading and playing the piano. A loner, he spent hours pantomiming celebrities such as Milton Berle and Al Jolson. Beatty attended Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, where his father was the principal. He was the star of the football team and president of the senior class. After graduating in 1955 and turning down many offers of football scholarships, Beatty chose to attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, enrolling in the School of Speech and Drama in 1955.
Disappointed with the curriculum, Beatty left college after his freshman year and moved to New York City to study with acting teacher Stella Adler. Subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches in a cheap apartment on Manhattan's West Side, he paid for his acting lessons with odd jobs, such as dishwasher, sandhog, and piano player at a local bar.
In February 1957 Beatty landed his first job on a television show, which was followed by acting jobs on soap operas, supplemented by stage appearances in summer stock. In one of these performances he was spotted by director Joshua Logan and invited to take a screen test. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) executives were impressed with the handsome young actor and offered him a contract. In 1959 he moved to Hollywood, where he dated the actress Joan Collins and accepted the role of handsome, arrogant Milton Armitage on the Colombia Broadcasting System (CBS) sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
In September 1959 Beatty was offered a lead role on Broadway in William Inge's A Loss of Roses. During rehearsals he exhibited the bad-boy behavior that became his trademark in the 1960s. He habitually arrived late without an excuse, argued constantly with the director, Daniel Manne, and often with Inge himself over changes in the script, and disrupted rehearsals by inviting his girlfriend, Collins, to attend. The play closed on 19 December 1959 after only twenty-five performances. Beatty was the only cast member whose reviews were excellent.
In 1960 Beatty was in the headlines and gossip columns even before he made his first film. He and Collins were an item, fighting for space in the gossip columns with Elizabeth Taylor and her new husband, Eddie Fisher.
Even though he knew from firsthand experience how difficult Beatty could be, William Inge was impressed by Beatty's ability and recommended him for the lead male role, opposite Natalie Wood, in the film Splendor in the Grass, for which he wrote the screenplay. At the time Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, were considered the perfect Hollywood couple. The passionate love scenes in the film seemed a little too well rehearsed to Wagner, and he and Wood separated. Beatty immediately moved in with the beautiful actress. Released in October 1961, Splendor in the Grass was enormously popular, especially among teenagers. It was the film that made Beatty a star.
Beatty's career soared with the release of three important films over twelve months. As well as the success of Splendor in the Grass, Beatty received good reviews for another Inge film, All Fall Down (1962), and for his portrayal of an Italian gigolo in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961). At the same time that Wood was nominated for an Oscar for Splendor, she received critical praise for her work in West Side Story, and she was preparing for the lead role in Gypsy. The media frenzy over the two attractive stars was exceeded only by that over Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Beatty, an unknown, had become famous. His fame increased when Woody Allen took Beatty's real-life opening line with girls, "What's new, pussycat?" as the title for his 1965 movie, which in turn provided a hit for Tom Jones. Carly Simon, a 1970s companion, wrote the hit song "You're So Vain" about Beatty.
After the release of All Fall Down, Beatty stopped working. He turned down over seventy scripts and lost millions of dollars of potential salary, along with the leading roles in successful films such as Barefoot in the Park, The Leopard,Act One, and PT109. He and Wood were too busy traveling and having fun.
By 1963 Beatty found himself in serious debt. He returned to work and made Lilith (1964), the filming of which was disturbed by frequent clashes between the egocentric star and director Robert Rossen. The movie received poor reviews, as did Beatty's next effort, Mickey One (1965). By this time Beatty and Wood were fighting constantly. In 1964 the couple broke up, and Beatty flew into the arms of the beautiful French actress Leslie Caron, whose husband named Beatty as corespondent in his divorce case. Caron had little notion at the time that she was just one in a long list of beautiful women with whom Beatty formed romantic liaisons, including Diane Ladd, Jane Fonda, Vivian Leigh, Judy Carne, Julie Christie, Britt Ekland, Madonna, and Diane Keaton. Worried about his career after these box office flops, Beatty took matters into his own hands and decided to produce his next film himself. At lunch one day with Caron and Francois Truffaut, the French director told him about a new script that related the story of Depressionera gangsters Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in a violent but sympathetic way. Choosing an unknown fashion model–turned-actress, Faye Dunaway, for his costar, Beatty produced and starred in Bonnie and Clyde. Released in 1967, the film received bad reviews, but audiences loved it, particularly the slow-motion splatter of blood and bullets in the final scene. Beatty's portrayal of the antiheroic, sociopathic Barrow endeared the film to youthful, rebellious, antiauthoritarian audiences of the late 1960s.
Beatty promoted the film almost completely by himself. By Academy Award time, Bonnie and Clyde had earned ten Oscar nominations, including best actor for Beatty and best actress for Dunaway. Beatty collected over $6 million and, having proved that he was a superior actor/producer/businessman, became the toast of the town. Soon he began a four-year liaison with actress Julie Christie, whom he had met in London in 1966.
Because he was so wrapped up with Christie and with working only on his own terms, Beatty turned down offers most other stars would have grabbed. He passed on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; he turned down an opportunity to produce The Godfather and to star in the part eventually given to Al Pacino. After making a poorly received film, The Only Game in Town (1969), Beatty traveled the world with Christie for two years. Both stars refused interviews during this period.
In 1975 Beatty hoped to repeat his Bonnie and Clyde success. He produced Shampoo, which he coauthored. The film won several awards, including an Oscar for best supporting actress, and it became Columbia Pictures' top-grossing film of the year. He followed this success with another, producing and cowriting Heaven Can Wait (1978), which earned nine Oscar nominations and grossed over $120 million.
Beatty then began to produce and direct his masterpiece, Reds (1981), the story of journalist John Reed and the radical movement in the United States. On the set Beatty was a taskmaster, insisting on retakes of almost every scene. The film earned twelve Academy Award nominations and earned Beatty an Oscar for best director. The playboy had finally been vindicated. Six years later, however, he produced and starred in one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history, Ishtar (1987).
In 1990 Beatty produced, directed, and played the title role in Dick Tracy. The following year, while coproducing and starring in Bugsy, the story of notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel, he fell in love with his costar, Annette Bening, whom he married in 1992. The couple starred together again in the romance Love Affair (1994). A long-time political activist, Beatty played an apolitically correct senator in Bulworth (1998), a film he wrote, directed, and produced.
In 2001 Beatty rekindled memories of Ishtar as he starred in another phenomenal bust, Town and Country. Budgeted at $90 million and earning a miserable $6.7 million during its brief theatrical run, Town and Country was released three years after completion and pulled from theaters after a mere four weeks, moving critics to rank it among the biggest flops in movie history.
Beatty, who is called by his nickname, Pro, lives with Bening and their four children in Beverly Hills, California. The actor still disdains the press, articulating his distaste for giving personal interviews by saying, "In a way, I'd rather ride down the street on a camel than give what is sometimes called an in-depth interview. I'd rather ride down the street on a camel nude. In a snowstorm. Backwards."
Beatty has been nominated for an Academy Award fourteen times, but only four of those nominations have been for best actor. He is the only person in cinema history to get Academy nods as producer, director, writer, and actor in the same film. Beatty has achieved this level of excellence twice, first with Heaven Can Wait in 1978, and then with Reds in 1981. In 2000 the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences honored Beatty with the Irving G. Thalberg Award, a prize given to directors and producers to recognize a lifetime body of work. Beatty was honored for the range and scope of his cinema projects and his dedication to approaching the business of movies with intelligence and integrity.
James Spada, Shirley and Warren (1985), explores the relationship between Beatty and his sister and spends considerable time describing the actor's childhood. John Parker, Warren Beatty: The Last Great Lover of Hollywood (1993), concentrates on Beatty's life and career in the 1960s and describes the actor's contributions to the film industry. Ellis Amburn, The Sexiest Man Alive: A Biography of Warren Beatty (2002), goes into great detail about the actor's amorous activities. Stephanie Zacharek's lengthy article, "Warren Beatty," Salon.com (20 Mar. 2000), forsakes exploring Beatty's personal life and concentrates instead on examining his creative abilities.
John J. Byrne