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Warren Beatty Biography


Home > Actors > B > Beatty, Warren > Biography


Birth Name: Warren Beatty
Born: 03/30/1937
Birth Place: Richmond, Virginia, USA


Born Henry Warren Beatty in Richmond, VA on March 30, 1937, his career choice may have been set for him at an early age. Beatty's mother Kathlyn was a drama teacher, and his older sister, Shirley (who later adopted her middle name, MacLean, for her stage name, Shirley MacLaine) had found success on Broadway in "The Pajama Game." Beatty made a name for himself on the high school football field, but his sister's fame inspired him to try his hand at acting as well. After a stint as a stagehand at the National Theater in Washington, D.C., Beatty rejected numerous football scholarships to study drama at Northwestern University. His tenure there would last only a year; Beatty dropped out after his freshman year to study with Stella Adler at the Actors Conservatory in New York City. Beatty's incredible good looks and build made him a natural for television casting agents looking for virile young leading men, so it was no surprise he began marking time on numerous live television dramas in the late 1950s, including "Studio One" (CBS, 1948-1958) and "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961). He made brief inroad onto a network series with the popular teen comedy "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (CBS, 1959-1963), for which he played wealthy Milton Armitage, contender for the hand of Dobie's dream girl Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld). Beatty found the show insipid and departed for the legitimate theater. The move proved a difficult one, but Beatty logged time in some 40-plus productions before making his mark on Broadway in William Inge's "A Loss of Roses," for which he received a Tony nomination in 1960 - proving MacLaine was no longer the sole star of the family.

Beatty's film debut came the following year in the racy-for-its-time, "Splendor in the Grass" (1961), directed by Elia Kazan and starring Natalie Wood. The film was a success, netting Beatty a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, but critics were not quite sold on his abilities, citing his pretty-boy looks as a distraction. An affair with his co-star, Wood - who was then one half of America's sweethearts along with husband Robert Wagner - did little to endear him to fans who now considered him a homewrecker. Unfortunately, Beatty's next roles seemed to be geared more towards his appearance than his acting talent. He was a young Italian lover who romances lonely widow Vivien Leigh in the disappointing film version of Tennessee Williams' novella "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" (1961); the caddish older brother of a wealthy family in "All Fall Down" (1962) for "Playhouse 90" director John Frankenheimer; and a psychiatrist who is seduced by his patient (Jean Seberg) in Robert Rossen's controversial "Lilith" (1964). One role which failed to come to fruition was that of John F. Kennedy in the film version of "PT-109" (1963), about JFK's experiences in World War II. Kennedy apparently wanted Beatty to portray him in the film after hearing Elia Kazan recommend the actor for the part. However, Beatty rejected the role due to the film's weak script. However, he and Kennedy remained friendly until the President's assassination in November 1963.

Beatty tried to break this streak of dull romantic heroes and heels by starring as a nightclub comic on the run from mobsters in Arthur Penn's semi-experimental drama "Mickey One" (1965). The picture found few champions in the press for its grotesque characters and downbeat tone, but did signal Beatty's interest in tackling offbeat projects. He returned to Hollywood in the lightweight comedy "Promise Her Anything" (1965), with a script by William Peter Blatty, but the picture earned more headlines for the romance between Beatty and his married co-star Leslie Caron. Having moved on from and broken Wood's heart - which reportedly caused the fragile actress to attempt suicide - Beatty was now being named as a co-defendant in Caron's subsequent divorce from director Peter Hall and was even forced to pay court costs. The latter scandal firmly established Beatty's reputation as one of Hollywood's leading Lotharios, a label he reinforced by squiring such movieland beauties as Ann-Margret, Joan Collins, Catherine Deneuve and countless others during the 1960s.

Beatty was slated to play the womanizing hero of Woody Allen's comedy "What's New, Pussycat?" (1967) - reportedly, Beatty also came up with the title, which was his standard greeting to his female companions - but pre-production conflicts with Allen and producer Charles K. Feldman forced him to abandon the film. Frustrated that his career seemed mired in the same one-dimensional role, he decided to produce his next movie and oversee every aspect of its production from start to finish. He reunited with "Mickey One" director Arthur Penn and tapped a newcomer, Robert Benton, to write a script based loosely on the short life and career of Depression Era gangsters Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Beatty himself would play Barrow, while Faye Dunaway was tapped to play Bonnie, with Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Michael J. Pollard, and a young Gene Wilder filling out the remainder of the cast. The result - 1967's "Bonnie and Clyde" - hit Hollywood like a bombshell. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave, the picture attempted to reinterpret the romantic Hollywood notion of the gangster film and comment on the current wave of political and social unrest in the country by upping the film's violence to disturbing levels. In fact, the finale, in which Bonnie and Clyde are killed by lawmen, showed the actors cut to pieces in a hail of bullets. Mainstream critics were appalled, but audiences turned out in droves, and the film grossed some $70 million for Beatty who earned a windfall as producer due to Warner Bros.' lack of faith in the film. Rather than paying him a standard fee, he was given 40 percent of the gross - not the last time the savvy and uncompromising Beatty would beat studios at their own game. The actor was also nominated for an Academy Award along with Penn and most of the cast. "Bonnie and Clyde" had also helped usher in the "New Hollywood" period of the early Seventies - cinema's second "Golden Age" - in which filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola were afforded a nearly unlimited degree of creative freedom with their films.

Beatty's new higher profile afforded him a better range of material, which in turn allowed him to pursue more personal projects. Though he turned down leads in "The Godfather" (1972), "The Sting" (1973), and "The Great Gatsby" (1974) to serve as an advisor to George McGovern's presidential campaign, he did star as an enterprising brothel owner who runs afoul of big business in Robert Altman's exceptional anti-Western, "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" (1971); a bank employee who partners with a hooker (Goldie Hawn) to rob a large European bank in "$" (1971); and a reporter caught up in a conspiracy surrounding the murder of a senator in Alan J. Pakula's superior thriller "The Parallax View" (1973). Beatty then partnered with director Hal Ashby and writer Robert Towne to produce and star in "Shampoo" (1975), a wry and bitter look at the death of Sixties idealism and the rise of the self-centered Seventies as seen through the jaded eyes of a successful hairstylist (Beatty). The picture was a considerable success, and netted several Academy Award nominations. Beatty had carried on relationships with both of his "Shampoo" co-stars, Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie, as well as continued his womanizing streak by dating countless other celebrities during the 1970s, including Jane Fonda, Bianca Jagger and Carly Simon; the latter was rumored to have penned her hit single "You're So Vain" about him, but it was Christie who proved to be one of his greatest loves. The couple had come together while Christie was shooting "Petulia" in 1968, and remained a twosome until after the release of "Shampoo" in 1976. She ended the relationship over differing ideas for their future, but remained close to him over the subsequent decades.

Beatty's next blockbuster was a remake of "Heaven Can Wait" (1978), with Beatty as a former football player accidentally spirited away to heaven by an overeager angel (Buck Henry) and then deposited in the body of a deceased millionaire. The picture marked Beatty's directorial debut (though he split the duties with Henry) and he also co-wrote the script with Elaine May. "Heaven Can Wait" was one of the biggest hits of the year, and earned a Best Picture nomination, with Beatty himself receiving nods for Best Director and Best Actor. Its success allowed Beatty to pursue his next project - an epic film version of author John Reed's coverage of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The film "Reds" (1981) took several years to complete, but the final product - which starred Beatty as Reed, Diane Keaton as his lover Louise Bryant, Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman, and Jack Nicholson as playwright Eugene O'Neill, was a critical success, and solidified Beatty's status as a committed and adventurous filmmaker. For his efforts, he won the Best Director Oscar and was also nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Script. Beatty's remarkable run of the Seventies left him in the company of Orson Welles as one of the only filmmakers to earn Academy Award nominations for acting, writing, producing and directing in the same year. Unlike Welles, however, Beatty did it twice. On top of that, he began dating another great love - not surprisingly, his co-star, Diane Keaton.

Beatty knew that a picture of the scale and scope of "Reds" would be a hard act to follow, and he remained inactive for much of the 1980s, though he reportedly turned down the role of Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" (1987). When he did return to filmmaking, the results were unexpectedly disastrous. "Ishtar" (1987), directed by Elaine May and starring Beatty (who co-produced) and Dustin Hoffman as untalented lounge pianists who become involved in a Middle Eastern coup d'etat, was a staggering expensive and unfunny flop. Beatty attempted to save face by defending the picture and May to the legions of critics and pundits who lined up to savage it (and him), but the film's legacy - a synonym for box office failure - could not be dispelled.

Undaunted, Beatty launched into another high-profile project for his next picture - the long-gestating film version of the comic strip "Dick Tracy" (1990). Beatty corralled an impressive collection of stars to fill out the gallery of grotesques created by Chester Gould, including Al Pacino, James Caan, Dustin Hoffman, and Henry Silva, as well as netted pop music superstar Madonna to add sex appeal as femme fatale, Breathless Mahoney. Not surprisingly, Beatty's off-screen involvement with Madonna was duly covered by the press and in her feature documentary, "Truth or Dare" (1991), in which it was painfully apparent that the Beatty/Madonna combo was a mismatched couple from the start. The picture, which was noted for both its impressive photography by Vittorio Storaro, its use of only six primary colors in its imagery, and for the wall-to-wall promotional campaign carried out in the summer of 1990, resulted in massive returns at the box office, making it the ninth highest grossing film of that year and the recipient of several Oscar nominations. By the accounts of several participants, including Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and composer Danny Elfman, the shoot was a difficult one, resulting in Beatty choosing not to direct another picture until 1998's "Bulworth." A legal battle over "Dick Tracy" would later erupt in 2005 when Beatty filed suit against Tribune Media Services over ownership of the rights to Dick Tracy on film and television, which the actor claimed he legally received in 1985.

Beatty segued from lawman Dick Tracy to notorious real-life gangster Bugsy Siegel in Barry Levinson's "Bugsy" (1991). The film, which he also produced, earned countless Oscar nominations - including a Best Actor nod for Beatty - and a Golden Globe for Best Picture, also became notable as the project on which Beatty met Annette Bening, an acclaimed stage actress and Oscar nominee for her dazzling turn in Stephen Frears' "The Grifters" (1990). As with so many of his female co-stars, Beatty began a romance with Bening, but unlike his commitment-phobic tendencies in the past, the inveterate bachelor surprised Hollywood by marrying her in 1992. Four children (three daughters and a son) followed between 1992 and 2000, with the couple considered almost Hollywood royalty. Certainly Bening benefited at the onset from just a PR standpoint, as the one woman who had made perhaps the most notorious bachelor in the history of film finally settle down.

Flush with newfound domestic happiness and onscreen success, Beatty began work on several new projects - the first of which was "Love Affair" (1994), a remake of the 1957 Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr romance "An Affair To Remember" (1957). Beatty and Bening took the leads, and despite the presence of a rare (and final) screen appearance by Katherine Hepburn, the film failed to ignite any heat with audiences. Undaunted, Beatty began work on "Town and Country" (2001) in 1998. The costly comedy, which co-starred former flame Diane Keaton and Garry Shandling, quickly ran into production troubles, most notably from producer Beatty himself, who insisted on countless retakes. Shooting ran on into 1999, and several cast members (including Keaton and Shandling) had to take leave of the film to work on other projects. By 2000, reshoots were required (which added significantly to the budget), as well as a whole new script (by Buck Henry, who was the last in a long line of new writers for the film). When the picture arrived in theaters in 2001, the negative advance notice helped to crush any hopes of ticket sales. Its final tally was just over $10 million - some $80 million shy of its production costs.

No matter the troubles during the turbulent birthing of "Town and Country," Beatty soon managed to turn out one of his finest and most ambitious films to date. In "Bulworth" (1998), which he directed, co-wrote, and co-produced, he told the story of a faded Democratic senator (Beatty) who decides to have himself killed in order for his family to claim a sizable insurance policy. Realizing that his days were numbered, he decides to speak out against the growing tide of right-wing ideology that had engulfed modern politics - and in doing so, attracts a sizable following. An exceptionally risky and delicate project on nearly every front - from the casting of poet and political activist Amiri Baraka, to the romance between Beatty and African-American actress Halle Berry, to Bulworth's adoption of hip-hop rhymes and dress to deliver his message - "Bulworth" managed to connect with audiences, who admired Beatty's bravado and willingness to put forward a bold political statement on film which would foreshadow the future of politics. Academy voters also acknowledged his gutsy move by nominating its screenplay in 1999.

Politics had always been part of Beatty's personality - in addition to his relationships with J.F.K. and George McGovern, Beatty had also campaigned tirelessly for Robert F. Kennedy during the late 1960s, and helped introduce the idea of the "benefit concert" by bringing together Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel to raise funds for McGovern's campaign in 1972. Later, Beatty would lend his name and words to presidential runs for McGovern's former campaign manager, Senator Gary Hart, in 1984 and 1988. In 1999, Beatty made what sounded like overtures to a run for the Presidency when he expressed disappointment in Democratic candidates Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore. A flurry of press activity followed Beatty's consultation with various political advisors, but by September of that year, he announced that he would not seek the candidacy. However, the Reform Party, which was reeling over radical conservative Pat Buchanan's switch from Republican to their camp, pressed Beatty to reconsider. Despite pressure from everyone from Donald Trump to Ariana Huffington, Beatty remained steadfast in his decision not to run. In 2005, Beatty again surfaced as a possible political candidate in a special election launched by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to pass several ballot measures on political spending, energy regulation, and parental notification for teens seeking abortions. Beatty campaigned against the election in person and on radio, and when the measures were defeated in 2005, speculation grew that he would run against Schwarzenegger in the 2006 election. Beatty quickly nixed the notion, but added that he would consider a run for office if he could add to the debate in a positive manner.

Beatty's film career went dormant after "Town and Country" and "Bulworth," though he was courted for several high-profile projects, including Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" (2005), in which he was slated to play uber-pimp and killer Bill, but soon departed. His suggestion that Tarantino cast David Carradine in the role led to the latter's career revival. He was also considered for the role of president in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" (1995), but was replaced by longtime friend Jack Nicholson; Jack Horner in "Boogie Nights" (1995), but Burt Reynolds took the role; and two turns as Richard Nixon - in Oliver Stone's "Nixon" (1995) and Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon," (2008). As befitting a filmmaker of his stature, he was honored with several top awards by the creative community, including the Irving Thalberg Award in 2000, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004, honorary chairman status of the Stella Adler Studio (replacing Marlon Brando) in 2006, the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at the 2007 Golden Globes, and the recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Meanwhile, word spread in 2011 that Beatty was returning to the director's chair for the pseudo-biopic "The Rules Don't Apply," in which he planned on playing mogul Howard Hughes, who has an affair with a younger woman later in life.