Warren Beatty: 5 Fascinating Behind-The-Scenes Stories From His Films

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The Hollywood legend turns 81 on March 30, so we look back at some of the most fascinating stories to come from his movie sets.

Forget that Best Picture Oscar debacle—Warren Beatty, the critically lauded actor-director (and infamous ladies man), has been a Hollywood mainstay for decades ever since he first broke onto the Hollywood scene in 1961’s Splendor in the Grass.

Over the years, Beatty has proved himself as more than just another pretty face, working with some of the industries biggest and brightest stars while bringing a dedicated work ethic to each of his movie sets. With the exception of 2016’s Rules Don’t Apply, he’s been largely absent from the film world since 2001’s Town & Country—but that hasn’t diminished Beatty’s star. With career-defining performances in Bonnie & Clyde, Shampoo, Reds and Bugsy, Beatty has worked on some of the most famous films of the last four decades.

And, as is so often the case, what goes on behind the scenes is sometimes even more interesting than the film itself. We look back at some of the most entertaining stories to come from Beatty’s movie sets over the years.

1. Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Fascinating facts: 

Actor Pat Hingle, who plays Beatty’s father in the film, was only 13 years older than his onscreen son.

The kiss shared between Beatty and co-star Natalie Wood is often considered the first-ever depiction of a French kiss in a major Hollywood film.

Beatty and Wood were an item throughout filming, although Beatty later had an on-again, off-again relationship with Wood’s younger sister, Lana.


2. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

Fascinating facts:

Warner Brothers had little faith in the film’s ability to make money at the box office so, in an unprecedented move, it offered Beatty—then a first-time producer—a whopping 40 per cent of the entire gross instead of a salary. Bonnie & Clyde went on to gross more than $50 million—and Beatty laughed his way to the bank.

The film marks the big screen debut of actor Gene Wilder (as Eugene Grizzard).

The real Blanche Barrow (played by Estelle Parsons in the film) was upset over the depiction of her character, pointing out that, in reality, she’d been the same age as Bonnie Parker, was arguably better looking and did not spend the entire ordeal shrieking at the top of her lungs.

Initially, Beatty was only on board as producer and considered casting his sister Shirley MacLaine in the role of Bonnie. But when he ultimately decided to play Clyde himself he held open auditions for the role of Bonnie.

3. Shampoo (1975)

Fascinating facts:

The film marks the movie debut of a then 17-year-old Carrie Fisher. Her famous mother, Debbie Reynolds, was reportedly upset by the sexual frankness of her daughter’s character.

Paul Simon wrote the original music for the film—and it’s where he first met his future wife, Carrie Fisher.

Julie Christie allegedly hated her role as the character Jackie, but agreed to take on the role because she was dating Beatty at the time of filming.

The film is loosely based on the life of hairstylist Jay Sebring, one of the victims of the Manson Family.

4. Reds (1981)

Fascinating facts:

A stickler for perfection, Beatty reportedly re-shot some scenes more than 35 times. However, actor Paul Sorvino alleged he did as many as 70 takes for one scene while Gene Hackman, who accepted a small supporting role in the film as a “thank you” to Beatty for casting him in Bonnie & Clyde early on in his career, said he was forced to do 100 takes for a single scene.

In a rare move for a big-time Hollywood director, Beatty spent time with the extras to explain the premise of the film. After one particular lecture on the “rights of the working man”, the extras took the message to heart and didn’t show up for work, claiming they  felt exploited. Beatty, “appreciating the irony”, agreed to increase their wages.

With Reds, Beatty became only the third person ever to be nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories for a film that was also nominated for Best Picture. The other two? Woody Allen for Annie Hall (1977) and Orson Welles for Citizen Kane (1941).

5. Bugsy (1991)

Fascinating facts:

A Bugsy Siegel biopic had been in the works since 1967 when Tony Curtis was first rumoured to star in the title role.

Long considered the eternal bachelor, Beatty shocked fans when he wed his Bugsy co-star, Annette Bening, after filming was completed.

In 1991, Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor for their roles in Bugsy, making it the second film that same year with two cast members nominated for the same award. The others were Best Actress nominees Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis for Thelma & Louise.