He flirted with Oscar but never wholly embraced the way the industry, and probably he himself, thought he deserved. The icon who had one eye on the mirror as he watched himself walk by was known for so many things. A pretty boy who got serious fairly quickly and who seemed to be embodied so many times over – was he Bud Stamper from Splendor in the Grass? Was he Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde? Or was he John McCabe or George Roundy from Shampoo? Joe Pendleton from Heaven Can Wait and of course, Jack Reed from Reds? Dick Tracy? Bugsy? He was so many cinematic icons – he became them, didn’t he?
Anne Thompson has written, I think, the best sum up of last night’s AFI tribute to Beatty at the Kodak:
A luminous Jane Fonda started out the evening saying that she knew Warren longer than anyone, 50 years, from his days playing piano bar in New York. “We did our first screen test together,” she recalled, a love scene for a Josh Logan movie that never got made. She kicks herself for not realizing at the time that this great-looking man surrounded by smart gay friends was actually straight. “It’s nice to know somebody else who shares the same chunk of this town’s history,” she said.
Still, no tribute to Beatty is complete without my own personal favorite role – Lyle Rogers in Ishtar. Beatty was perfectly cast as the dumb one, the less charismatic but sweet one. Sweet though? Not sure about that. Growing in Southern California over the ’70s my older sister encountered Beatty once while she was the checkout girl at a market. He took one look at her tits and loudly thanked her. He never hid who he was but of course, this was all before Annette Bening changed him into his final metaself, husband and father.
Woody Allen once famously said that when he died he wanted to be reincarnated as Warren Beatty’s fingertips. It’s true that he was known for his taste for women and his taste in them. Natalie Wood, Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Michelle Phillips and famously, Madonna who appeared to scare him out of bachelorhood forever as he met and hooked up with Bening shortly thereafter. Maybe he realized, after appearing in Truth or Dare, he was just getting too old for that shit. But he nailed her. He nailed Madonna. If he weren’t married, though, and maybe ten years younger I feel certain he’d make a play for Angelina Jolie. He seemed to seek out the girl of the moment. Someone once said about him that winning an Oscar was a great way to get to date Warren Beatty.
Beatty was always good on film, always good behind the camera. He only faltered later when he seemed unable to let go of his own narcissism and insisted upon being filmed through a silk screen. He has to know that there is value to growing old and value in playing older characters. He just needs to get his old self out of the way. I sound like I’m writing a horoscope.