Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America

Article excerpt

Does Warren Beatty deserve a spot in the pantheon of Hollywood greats?

If Hollywood's a gingerbread house, Hansel and Gretel would do well

to watch out for Warren Beatty. As depicted by Peter Biskind in his

new biography Star, the 72-year-old

actor/director/producer/writer/lothario might not devour small

children, but will assuredly hijack directors' chairs, steal

screenwriting credits, bankrupt studios, and canoodle every woman in

sight - Gretel included.

Though its subject is as well known for his prowess with ladies -

Julie Christie, Diane Keaton, Madonna, and, by Biskind's math,

12,772 others (click here for some skeptical commentary on this

number), "Star" focuses as much on Beatty the Hollywood

professional as on Beatty the lover.

"[H]ow many defining motion pictures does a filmmaker have to make

to be considered great?" Suskind asks. "Beatty can claim five as

a producer - 'Bonnie and Clyde,' 'Shampoo,' 'Heaven Can

Wait,' 'Reds,' and 'Bugsy'.... You can quibble with any one

of these, but all together, it's a full house." But buyer beware:

The author of 1999's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" - which was

a love letter to America's artsy, European-influenced,

director-fueled 1970s cinema - Biskind is as enamored of Beatty's

oeuvre as some women seem to have been of the dramatic swoosh of hair

and skintight jeans of George Roundy, the clueless, ladykilling

hairdresser of "Shampoo."

"Beginning as a metaphorical apologia for Beatty's own

conduct," Biskind writes, "'Shampoo' evolves into an

auto-critique, as George devolves from a thoughtless hedonist to a

plaything of others, to his own victim." Don't be vexed by the

florid prose - Beatty is at his peak in this film, and Biskind's

dead-on discussion of it is his book's highlight. A marginal actor

with leading-man looks, Beatty had followed sister Shirley MacLaine

from Arlington, Va., to Hollywood and outgrew his reputation as a

second-rate James Dean to produce and star in the 1967 blockbuster

"Bonnie and Clyde." This genre-busting, ultraviolent tragicomedy

was an unlikely hit, but "Shampoo" - a film whose ridiculous,

"Saturday Night Live"-worthy premise (that gay hairdresser is

actually straight!) is a knowing indictment of both its own star's

promiscuity and the vacuous '70s - was an unlikely cultural

touchstone. If Biskind retreads material he already covered in

"Easy Riders," so what? Generation Y's dim memories of Beatty

as that guy from "Dick Tracy" are fading, and there's nothing

wrong with another history lesson.

But the history is not always flattering. Beatty was, in both his

professional and personal lives, often considerably less than a

stand-up guy. But Biskind rarely indicts him. On the actor's

pressuring of girlfriend Joan Collins to have an abortion in 1960:

"They both knew they weren't ready for the responsibility. …