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Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
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How Warren Beatty Seduced America

A-StarWarrenBeattyA former executive editor of Premiere magazine and a contributor to Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times, journalist Peter Biskind has written five previous books on Hollywood and American filmmaking. Star, the result of numerous interviews with Beatty dating as far back as 1989, generated a prepublication riot with its claim that the celebrity, long the subject of gossip and conjecture, has bedded an estimated 12,775 women in his lifetime. Beatty has since refuted this claim.

The Topic: Beginning with Beatty’s role in Splendor in the Grass (1961), Biskind reveals the clever and charismatic but maddeningly self-defeating man behind the Hollywood legend, infamous womanizer, and political hopeful. Throughout his career, Beatty charmed and bullied studio executives to gain unprecedented control of projects like Heaven Can Wait and Reds, but his indecision and perfectionism led to overblown budgets and harried employees, including an assistant editor who tried to commit suicide, resulting in a reputation as "one of the most difficult people to work with or for in the entire industry." Now 72, Beatty has not made a film in over a decade, but Biskind is quick to point out that we have not seen the last of this gifted and magnetic star.
Simon & Schuster. 640 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780743246583

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"In Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, Peter Biskind recounts endless on-the-set tales, some from Beatty himself, with an impressive lack of judgment, airing out the contradictions between memory and apocrypha that inevitably arise. In the process, he cleverly expands his scope until it’s less the story of a single star than the workings of the Hollywood firmament, where writers, producers, and lesser stellar bodies orbit blazing figures like Beatty, dragged in by their gravitational pull but constantly at risk of getting burned." Keith Staskiewicz

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"As he explains near the start of this equally stunning piece of truth-telling, every page full of nuggets without descending to salaciousness, the pair were always near-friends, and Beatty was always going to almost allow him to write the book officially. … The ever closed Beatty may hate this book, but it is both impeccable and rollicking, and a not disloyal tribute to a man who had it all and yet, but for himself, could have had so much more." Euan Ferguson

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Beatty is famously enigmatic and egotistical, making any biographer’s task a challenge, but Peter Biskind manages to capture the essence of the man with just the right combination of scholarship and salaciousness. … The achievement of this biography is to underline the reasons why, in spite of a string of unmemorable films, Beatty was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood for the best part of four decades." Tim Ecott

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Biskind tosses off the occasional groan-worthy phrase and leaden simile. He has the jarring habit of quoting dead people in the present tense, from interviews he conducted years ago. His chapter titles (‘Easy Writer,’ ‘One From the Hart’) are cheesy. This hardly matters." Lawrence Levi

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Biskind sleepwalks through the Shampoo and McCabe and Mrs. Miller years, sometimes hobbled by the fact that his earlier, mean-spirited writing estranged him from knowledgeable figures like Robert Towne. By the time Star picks up steam, in its long slog through the making of Reds and a relatively fresh discussion of the underappreciated Bulworth, this book’s tediousness has taken root." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[Because of his baffling lack of interest in the subject’s early life,] any attempt to lay the groundwork for understanding how Henry Beaty, a handsome Baptist jock from Virginia, evolved into Warren Beatty, the intellectual lothario who periodically manages to subvert the Hollywood system and hobnobs on the highest levels of American politics, goes largely for naught. We are left in the position of people who met him later in his life and are stuck trying to comprehend his myriad eccentricities." Joseph McBride

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s bad to get a sinking feeling at the start of a book, but Peter Biskind gives the reader just that in his introduction. … Biskind also refuses to psychologize, telling us almost nothing of Beatty’s childhood and youth, other than that he remained a virgin until he was ‘19 and ten months.’ That leaves a 600-plus-page biography with some rather large biographical gaps." Charles Matthews

Critical Summary

Though Biskind has done his best to appraise the aging star, his inexplicable indifference to Beatty’s early life and his overt refusal to explore Beatty’s marriage to Annette Bening leave gaping holes in this biography. Of Beatty’s sexual escapades, there is "plenty here to satisfy the most prurient readers," but "once all the anxious throat clearing is out of the way, Biskind settles down to a genuine investigation of Beatty’s enigmatic personality" (San Francisco Chronicle) with mixed results. Biskind seems sycophantically determined to convince readers that Beatty is "one of the foremost filmmakers of his generation." Star may have regaled British critics, but their American counterparts, though entertained, remained for the most part unimpressed. It seems the final word has yet to be written.

Also by the Author

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (1998): Drawing on in-depth interviews with icons like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola, Biskind provides a fascinating, sharply revealing, and at times hilariously bawdy account of Hollywood in the 1970s.