Thorough but twisted portrait of Warren Beatty as a sex maniac who somehow became a popular, powerful Hollywood actor and producer.
Amburn, biographer of Roy Orbison (Dark Star, 1990) and many other performers, here offers a tabloid account of Beatty’s hedonistic private life and his rise to fame. In this largely disapproving narrative, based on gossipy tidbits from other tell-all books and the anecdotes of movie extras, waitresses, and other passing acquaintances, the star’s libido gets blamed for everything from the Manson Family murders to tooth decay. The author seems to relax and warm toward his protagonist only in the final pages when Beatty settles down to marriage and parenthood with the actress Annette Bening. It’s unfortunate that Amburn is so intent on his subject’s every indiscretion, because there actually is much interesting information here about how a handsome high-school football star rose from ’50s art films and The Dobie Gillis Show to help create the New Hollywood, expanding the vocabulary and reach of American film with such innovative movies as Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, and Reds. There is also valuable background here about Beatty’s formative friendships with playwrights William Inge and Tennessee Williams and movie directors Arthur Penn and Elia Kazan. No biography could ignore the actor’s reputation as a man with a roving eye, but Amburn’s credibility is undermined by his apparent loathing for his subject. He depicts Beatty by turns as a vain and untalented loser who likes to gaze at himself in mirrors; a cold-hearted lover (and premature ejaculator); a ruthless businessman who takes advantage of his friends; a sniping, disloyal sibling to older sister Shirley MacLaine; and a brown-noser with ambitions of becoming a politician. Once the author’s bile gets stirred up, it can’t help but splash onto several other people, including Barbra Streisand, Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, Goldie Hawn, and Hugh Hefner.
They deserve better, as does Beatty himself.