Warren Beatty has probably fucked your wife. According to Peter Biskind's new biography, Beatty has bedded 12, 775 women, "a figure that does not include daytime quickies, drive-by blowjobs, casual groupings, stolen kisses, and so on." It's possible—even likely—that your wife is there among that brobdingnagian statistic. Go ahead, ask her when you get home.
Biskind's book, Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (Simon and Schuster), is the fourth biography of the actor, producer, and Oscar winner. Already the author of histories covering Hollywood filmmaking in the '70s and the '90s, Biskind is unlike other biographers in his complete boredom with psychology, which is perhaps to his credit. He’s largely uninterested in Beatty's motivations; he barely mentions Beatty's childhood in Virginia, where he was merely little Henry Beaty. Biskin is, however, quite interested in gossip, and offers up many facts, or rather "facts," among which are:
• Jane Fonda was usually proficient at oral sex because apparently she could briefly dislocate her jaw (page 15-16)
• Beatty believes that "every woman is a lesbian at heart" (page 161)
• Old women are Beatty's "biggest fetish" (page 138)
• This hip Hollywood lothario's favorite movie is Dr. Zhivago (page 122)
• Beatty has received a writing credit many times, but has never actually put fingers to keyboard (passim)
• An affair with Jacqueline Onassis ended abruptly because she learned that Beatty was bragging about it (page 258)
• Madonna never had an orgasm with Beatty, and was interested in him because she thought he might be bisexual (page 409)
• Tarantino wanted Beatty for Kill Bill, but Beatty eventually withdrew because he thought he would be blamed for the movie's budget overages (page 551)
This is all very edifying information that enriches our understanding of society and civilization, but Mr. Biskin's book also raises some larger themes.
One issue is how limited the actor/director biography genre has become. These sort of books tend to be as repetitious and cyclical as Mr. Beatty's alleged love life. It usually goes like this: Once a filmmaker completes a film, an idea for a new movie comes to the filmmaker, and he beds various women while pondering it, and eventually starts the new project, and the film is shot, edited, and released to a spectrum of opinion, whereupon the subject beds someone new, and embarks on a new film, and the cycle begins again for another 30 pages. Worse, the stars, directors, and craftsmen who are the usual subjects of the modern Hollywood bio haven't really done all that much in their lives. They haven't fought in wars or revolutions, boxed, chopped trees, spied; they haven't discovered a new technology, or composed a lasting poem. They made a movie. This requires some skill, of course, but everyone knows that the core objective of these biographies is gossip concerning other people who also haven't really done anything. The book isn't really an analysis of the subject, but about whom he or she knew and/or blew.
Aside from gossipmongers, the only readers who might find such a book appealing are budding Hollywood aspirants seeking moviemaking insight, which Biskind provides in small measure. Which brings us to the second issue that Star, as a cultural artifact, raises: The sloppiness of Hollywood as a creative institution. Because movies cost millions of dollars to manufacture, you'd think that executives and filmmakers would begin each project with a completed script, competent collaborators who share the vision, and a realistic production schedule. Instead, with film after film, from Shampoo to Reds, Beatty and his colleagues procrastinate for years, sell the concept to confused executives who don't know what they’re getting into, begin filming before a script is finalized, bicker with each other nearly to the point of murder, and then battle each other throughout post-production over technical issues, credit, and money. The participants must find this contentious method of filmmaking secretly fun, but the reader, embarking on yet another chapter on a film (Ishtar, Town and Country) made in chaos, does not.
Beatty is indeed a figure of some historical importance, if only for being the father of the '70s "movie brat" era with his production of Bonnie and Clyde. But Mr. Biskind rates Beatty higher than history will. Beatty's cinematic output solely as an actor was decidedly slim and uneven. The rest was just fucking around.
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