George Clooney is boring. Brad Pitt has wasted all his opportunities, and Ben Affleck is an amateur. In fact the only Hollywood star that truly appears to be taking a bite sized chunk out of his privileged existence is Charlie Sheen. But whilst Charlie is more than happy to dip his wick into any female that moves, the crack addiction and spouse beating tend to tarnish the mythology somewhat.
It wasn’t always like this in Hollywood. The notches above Warren Beatty’s bed boast the likes of Joan Collins, Dianne Keaton, Jane Fonda, Cher, Madonna and approximately 12,770 others. He had a compulsive need to seduce and possess women. But he did it with class.
Beatty is also the only person since Orson Welles to be nominated for an Oscar in four categories (producer, writer, director, star), and that’s happened for both Heaven Can Wait and Reds. This is often what gets lost. Of course most people under the age of 30 have no idea who the hell he is. He hasn’t made a hit film since Dick Tracey in 1990, though he made Bullworth in the 1998. His last film was the forgettable Town and Country in 2001, then nothing.
Which begs the question why bother writing a biography about him now?
Salacious aggrandising author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind has been in Beatty’s orbit on and off for 20 years and always yearned to write his biography. Partially it seems to reflect and understand his own relationship with the man. Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (Simon & Schuster) has Biskind charting Beatty’s involvement in the process, from hot to cold to hot to very cold. And it’s a perfect example of how he did business. He would never make a decision. Ever. And if he did, he’d often reflect on it and change his mind, days, weeks, months later. As new collaborators often found, you could battle with him, think you’d won, then the next day you’d be back where you started. For Beatty nothing is ever over.
Beatty’s work in films is possibly the least interesting thing about him. He used his star power to get good films made, yet he frequently pushed everyone to go above and beyond and then took credit for their achievements. Biskind suggests that he was like a “black hole, a maw of antimatter that swallowed everything and gave nothing in return, neither light nor heat.”
He was also a campaign strategist for Gary Hart and maintained a strong link to politics, even considering running for President at one point in the 90’s. At the peak of his powers, he could do no wrong, and Biskind delights in the games and strategies he used to not just survive, but also become one of the power players in Hollywood. He was a perfectionist. He would chew up and take over from all directors. Then he would think nothing of shooting 80 takes of someone walking through the door, causing huge budget blowouts and angering studios.
You can hear the frustration in Biskind’s words. Here’s a man who had the world at his feet but was more interested in shagging. Sure he made some good films, but he passed on numerous thanks to his indecisiveness. Biskind ends on a sombre note. At his age he’s no longer the leading man, and his reputation for going way over budget have made him virtually unemployable as a director. What a waste.