Actor, producer, writer, auteur, legend. Warren Beatty turns 80 March 30th. From his discovery by homosexual playwright William Inge to his part in the Best Picture debacle at this year’s Academy Awards he has never seemed too far from the significant centre of writing and cinematic artistry that is Hollywood. He hero-worshipped Jean Renoir, George Stevens, the directors he felt that mattered and who could help him. He starred for Elia Kazan in Splendor in the Grass, that startlingly emotive Freudian psycho-fest that commenced his relationship with Natalie Wood, one of a series of Oscar-nominated actresses to whom he hooked his star over the following two decades. He became an actor-auteur proper in the wake of Mickey One, that New Wave-inspired drama about a Lenny Bruce-type comic made by Arthur Penn. When he bumped into novice screenwriter Robert Towne at the office of their mutual psychoanalyst he found the right man to do a major overhaul of a script called Bonnie and Clyde and changed cinema history. (For more on their working relationship and friendship see my book ChinaTowne: https://www.amazon.co.uk/ChinaTowne-Elaine-Lennon-ebook/dp/B01KCL3YXQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490790984&sr=8-1&keywords=elaine+lennon. ) The pair decamped to London and were part of the Swinging Sixties – those 200 or so people who all seemed to have sex with one another in 1967 – and when Towne saw a Restoration play there he thought up an idea for a movie about a heterosexual hairdresser based in part on an ex’s stylist who lived like a rooster in a henhouse. It became Shampoo several years later and it’s a profoundly caustic, sad, hilarious take on what was wrong in the US using Election Night 1968 as its fulcrum. Beatty plays George Roundy, the promiscuous motorcycle rider who is outwitted by absolutely everybody and he is superb in a role which yields unexpected pathos. It was a very personal story but also a political one, an interest which he’d espoused since he and sister Shirley MacLaine had campaigned for George McGovern. He had previously tried to express his worries with the government and the existential dread behind it with The Parallax View, a stunning look at the major conspiracy theories of the time. He pursued his interest in screenwriting (he’d persuaded Towne to give him a co-credit on Shampoo) with Heaven Can Wait, a light comic remake which had unexpected success following his brutal and rather low awards campaign. He expended a lot of energy making Reds, about American communist John Reed, which despite its epic political text is really about free love, infidelity and naivete. Following the failure of buddy comedy Ishtar made by his friend Elaine May (who occasionally did uncredited script rewrites for him) he made the comic strip extravaganza Dick Tracy which didn’t do as well as everyone had predicted. He bounced back with the gorgeous gangster flick Bugsy about the notorious mobster, a film that introduced him to wife Annette Bening (which came as a surprise to his girlfriend of the time who allegedly found them in flagrante in his trailer one lunchtime). They starred together in Love Affair (with a script assist again from Towne) but he really bounced back with the hilarious political satire Bulworth, one of the best films of the Nineties. If he never backed the winning political horse – Gary Hart, John McCain (close friends) – he has taken his time, too much, perhaps, in making films that he wants to make a splash. His latest, Rules Don’t Apply, a paean to Hollywood and Howard Hughes that was a box office flop with an ill-advised wide release, was preceded by a rare interview in Vanity Fair. He revealed that he had been at a gathering at Peter Lawford’s the evening of Marilyn Monroe’s death which Lawford always said she hadn’t attended. He said that he had walked on the beach with her and played piano and she’d been drunk by sunset. He didn’t say what time she left but she was found dead in her home a couple of hours later. But that wasn’t the story that made the newspaper headlines – it was the ‘revelation’ of the number of women he’d allegedly slept with, which he’d debunked. Don’t look here, look there, has always been his mantra. David Thomson got it right when he constructed that half-biography, half-fiction about him, Warren Beatty and Desert Eyes. He has retained long friendships and associations and been loyal to collaborators and made a lot of astonishingly persuasive and lengthy phonecalls, usually commencing with the line, What’s new, pussycat? Which tells its own story. People never really see what’s in front of their eyes, or what really matters. That’s why Beatty kept the envelope on Oscars night. He knows what’s important. Life. Reality. Now that’s a real star.