Warren Beatty, a person whom I’ve known and admired for years, is in a jam. It’s not hard to figure out what happened. He’s famous for hemming and hawing. Twenty years ago when he was finishing “Dick Tracy,” I tried like crazy to get him for a cover story for the new defunct Fame magazine. He wouldn’t say yes, he wouldn’t say no. He once actually called me at my grandmother’s house to discuss why he hadn’t given an answer. It just went on forever until he’d worn us both out.
I can imagine that in pursuit of writing a biography of Beatty, Peter Biskind ‘‘a journalist I do not trust ‘ had the same back and forth. Yes, no, yes, no, maybe, uh, well, sometime. All that time, Biskind took notes. And now we have “Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America,” the unauthorized biography of Beatty in which the subject unwittingly collaborated. Oy vey.
Warren once said to me, in front of another star, these words: “You make the mistake of thinking we’re [we ‘ being stars] not reading what you write. We do.” Biskind maybe made that mistake now, since the book is about to be published. He’s riled up attorney Bert Fields, who loves to issue proclamations and back away. Fields says the book isn’t authorized. I’ve no doubt he’s right. Too late, Bert!
The biggest bone of contention? The number of women Beatty’s been with. Biskind says 12,775. Warren, pre-Annette Bening and four children, certainly got around. He’s no doubt not eager for his kids to see the whole thing in one place. Can we name these ladies? Let’s see: Julie Christie, Natalie Wood, Joan Collins, Carly Simon, Michelle Phillips, Isabelle Adjani, Britt Ekland, Madonna, Diane Keaton, Faye Dunaway ‘‘and those are just for starters. Maybe a thousand. Maybe two thousand. You’d have to examine very closely Julia Phillips’ seminal work, “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again,” the book from which much of Biskind’s work flows. It’s his bible.
So, what’s the point? Is this biography? Does anyone care? Is it film criticism? What is Biskind’s point anyway? Worst of all, is the way he treats the women whom allegedly Beatty bedded. Whether it’s one or one million, it doesn’t matter. He misses the charm, and the joke, how Beatty would even have gotten away with it all. As Jane Fonda told me a couple of years ago, and she repeated at Beatty’s AFI dinner: when she met him on a screen test, she thought he was gay. “He was too good looking, and all his friends were gay.” (Biskind’s other descriptions of Fonda and Beatty make the writer sound like a prurient 12-year-old.)
Of course, this dust up is just for publicity. Biskind needs a hook to sell his book. He’s not exactly Mr. Bestseller. And Beatty hasn’t made a movie in a long time, making him not a subject that immediate for younger readers. In the end, though, you can skip “Star.” A better unauthorized biography by a much more astute writer (I’ve been sworn to secrecy) may be in the works. As for Biskind, he named his book not after Beatty but after a supermarket tabloid. That should tell us everything.