Film historian Biskind (Gods and Monsters: Movers, Shakers, and Other Casualties of the Hollywood Machine, 2004, etc.) examines the eventful life and career of Warren Beatty, one of Hollywood’s last exemplars of old-school glamour and, evidently, as maddening an individual as ever graced the silver screen.
The author eschews delving into Beatty’s early life, beginning his narrative with the tyro’s early acting roles in theater and live television, when the actor established the twin poles of his persona—the intractable artiste and compulsive seducer of women. Restless, intelligent and secretive, Beatty wielded his charm and beauty as a weapon, using his skills in seduction to manipulate his way into stardom despite a difficult reputation and multiple flops, leaving a bloody trail of broken hearts and damaged careers in his wake. His romances with the likes of Joan Collins, Leslie Caron, Natalie Wood, Diane Keaton and Madonna echo the pattern of relationships with screenwriters including Robert Towne, James Toback and Elaine May: Beatty would charm, overwhelm and drain the object of his attentions, ruthlessly move on when it suited his agenda and yet maintain good relations down the line. Beatty’s parallel career as a political agitator bore the hallmarks of his film work—compromised by indecisiveness and ego. Biskind brings his historian’s acumen to bear on the production of era-defining triumphs like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Shampoo (1975) and Reds (1981), as well as notorious flops like Ishtar (1987), Love Affair (1994) and Town & Country (2001), and his accounts are full of juicy gossip and intriguing insights into the actor’s psychology. As a producer and director, Beatty demonstrated a compulsive nature bordering on psychosis, demanding endless takes and micromanaging insignificant details that drove his projects wildly over schedule and budget and threatened the studios that backed them.
A gripping portrait of a difficult talent.