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How Warren Beatty Went From Oscar Winner to Oscar Cautionary Tale

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HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Actor Warren Beatty (C) explains a presentation error which resulted in Best Picture being announced as 'La La Land' instead of 'Moonlight' onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Warren Beatty explains a presentation error which resulted in Best Picture being announced as ‘La La Land’ instead of ‘Moonlight’ during the 89th Annual Academy Awards on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)


Of all the icons in Hollywood history, Warren Beatty may be the least prolific.

That’s not a criticism, but a statement of fact: He acted in the 2001’s Town & Country… then didn’t appear in another film until 2016’s Rules Don’t Apply. Which makes it all the more ironic that a man so cautious about his projects and even public appearances could wind up at the center of the Oscars’ biggest embarrassment ever.

Then again, nothing seems too shocking when it comes to the the life of a Hollywood legend, who has been especially larger than life off the screen.

Beatty has been a film star for an absurd 56 years. He debuted back in 1961 in Splendor in the Grass, which earned him a Golden Globe was he was only 24. In the film, his physical allure literally drives costar Natalie Wood mad. Wood went on to date Beatty in real life and described their relationship as “Mount Vesuvius, a live volcano with eruptions each day.” (The first in a long line of relationships with his co-stars.)

American actors Warren Beatty, as Bud Stamper, and Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981), as Wilma Dean Loomis, in 'Splendor In The Grass', directed by Elia Kazan, 1961. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Warren Beatty, as Bud Stamper, and Natalie Wood, as Wilma Dean Loomis, in ‘Splendor In The Grass’, directed by Elia Kazan, 1961. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)


During those 56 years, he’s made shockingly few films. Compare his career to that of Jack Nicholson, who, like Beatty, is 79. (And starred with Beatty in 1975’s The Fortune and 1981’s Reds, which earned Beatty a Best Director Oscar.) Nicholson didn’t establish himself as a star until 1969’s Easy Rider. Yet Nicholson has made roughly three times as many films as Beatty. For instance, Nicholson starred in 11 movies released in the 1980s. Beatty managed two. Over nearly six decades, Beatty has appeared in only 23 films. He has, however, directed five, including co-directing 1978’s Heaven Can Wait with Buck Henry.

Beatty has a remarkable list of rejected roles. The Godfather. Boogie Nights. Kill Bill. Those are just three of the projects Beatty has turned down. Indeed, the recent decades of Beatty’s career have taken on a pattern of long gaps marked with the occasional disaster. From 1987 to 2016, he starred in just seven films, and they include the notorious Ishtar (30 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes), his remake of Love Affair (31 percent on the review aggregator site), Town & Country (13 percent), and Rules Don’t Apply (which, during its brief theatrical run, grossed under $4 million). But he gets to keeps making movies because…

Beatty had a remarkable run in the 1960s and 1970s. From 1966 to 1978, his iconic films include Bonnie and Clyde, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Shampoo, and Heaven Can Wait. That said, even back then he wasn’t exactly setting a grueling pace, as in this period he managed to go three years between films twice. Still, his lack of film production may be understandable, because…

Beatty was unusually active on the dating front. In 2016, Beatty felt the need to deny a biographer’s claim he had slept with 12,775 women. Even so, his actual total reportedly includes Wood, Madonna, Joan Collins, Goldie Hawn, Michelle Phillips (from the Mamas and the Papas), Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Julie Christie, and model Stephanie Seymour. Oh, and Carly Simon. Which we know because…

He inspired one classic song. Simon has confirmed that the second verse of “You’re So Vain” is indeed about Beatty. Simon said this wasn’t news to her former beau: “Warren thinks the whole thing is about him!” (In general, Beatty’s breakups have been surprisingly non-bitter, which he attributes to being a “nice guy.”) In 1992, Beatty turned his back on this chapter of his life, marrying actress Annette Bening, who is 21 years his junior, after they starred together in Bugsy. The two have four children together. Of course, Beatty is used to having show biz in the family, because…

(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Annette Bening (left), Warren Beatty (right) with children Kathlyn, Benjamin and Isabel *EXCLUSIVE* (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
Annette Bening, Warren Beatty, and three of their four children: Kathlyn, Benjamin and Isabel. (Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)


Beatty may be overshadowed by his sister. Warren’s older sibling Shirley MacLaine found success before him (she won a Golden Globe for 1955’s The Trouble With Harry) and has had a far more prolific film career, with classics including 1960’s The Apartment, 1962’s Irma la Douce, and 1983’s Terms of Endearment (which earned her a Best Actress Oscar). She also was the only woman capable of hanging with Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. Then there’s the little matter of her believing in reincarnation and even claiming to be able to access her past lives, including a “memory of being androgynous in the Lemurian (pre-Atlantis) time period.” Her brother’s Oscar debacle, though, is likely something she never saw over her thousands of years of past lives.

—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife