The last movie Warren Beatty appeared in was 2001’s Town and Country, and he’s kept a low profile ever since, declining most interviews except for the 2010 one he gave to Leonard Maltin in character as Dick Tracy. But now he’s back with a new film to sell — next month’s Rules Don’t Apply, which he directed and in which he gives a semi-autobiographical performance as Howard Hughes — and he once again finds himself submitting to journalists’ questions, most recently those of Cara Buckley from the New York Times, whose profile went up online yesterday. Beatty has lived one of the most fascinating lives in Hollywood history, so you’d expect that he’d have lots of great anecdotes from the past two decades to share with his fans. You’d be totally wrong, though, as Buckley found out: “We also spent two hours talking before he consented to being recorded. Inquisitive and engaging, Mr. Beatty said he wanted to get to know me. But when he finally did go on the record, the colorful tales vanished, the free-flowing chat dried up, and his speech became so tortuously stilted that I had to ask why he was suddenly talking like a robot. ‘If you think I am being careful, you are correct,’ he said in a slow drip.”
Well, Rules Don’t Apply isn’t going to promote itself, so if Beatty isn’t going to tell any fun stories about himself, we guess it’s up to us. We’ve searched the archives and found 11 great tales about Beatty, told by himself and others.
1. He called Carly Simon to thank her for writing “You’re So Vain” about him.
It’s no secret that Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is in part about Beatty, specifically the second verse. The two dated in the early ‘70s, and Simon confirmed the songwriting inspiration in her memoir Boys in the Trees. (She also reveals that after sleeping with Beatty and telling her therapist about it, the therapist told her: “You are not my first patient of the day who spent the night with Warren Beatty last night.”) Of course, that’s not even the most patently Warren Beatty part of the story. Long before Simon publicly ID’ed Beatty as one of the song’s subjects, Beatty supposedly assumed it was so and actually called Simon to thank her.
2. He carried around a list of “the main loves of his life” in his pocket.
The Beatty section of Simon’s memoir totally has Beatty’s number, thanks in part to this most excellent detail about his pickup strategies. Apparently, Beatty used to keep a list in his pocket that he called “the main loves of his life.” The illustrious designation included ladies like Catherine the Great, Marie Curie, Maria Tallchief, and Lillian Hellman. When Beatty met Simon, Simon says he showed her the list and added her name to the top of it in a bit of effortful flirtation.
3. He used to start every phone conversation with, “What’s new, pussycat?”
This detail is so cemented in Beatty’s image as to have inspired the Peter Sellers film of the same name. As good as Beatty was with women, he was known to be extraordinarily charming over the phone, beginning every conversation with a woman with, “What’s new, pussycat?” The line became so well-known in the industry that producer Charles Feldman paired with Beatty to develop a film somewhat based on Beatty’s womanizing lifestyle, and although Beatty eventually left the project because of creative discord with writer Woody Allen, the title stuck.
4. Bob Dylan thought he was a Freemason.
Bob Dylan and Warren Beatty were neighbors in the late ‘80s, but it seems their relationship wasn’t all that neighborly. According to Peter Biskind’s book on Beatty, Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, Beatty found himself at Dylan’s place quite a lot while trying to woo Joyce Hyser. And while Beatty liked Dylan because Dylan made him feel “normal,” Dylan did not feel as at ease. Instead, he found Beatty so secretive that he suspected him of being a Freemason.
5. He missed the moon landing because he was fooling around with Edie Sedgwick.
The “It” girl was one of the few he didn’t aggressively pursue. Instead, as he told Vanity Fair recently, Sedgwick just showed up at his hotel wearing a yellow rain slicker and nothing else. Beatty says he was initially reluctant to engage, but just as he and Sedgwick started getting it on, they heard someone say, “One small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind.” They turned to the TV to find Neil Armstrong had just taken the first steps on the moon.
6. He was one of the last people to see Marilyn Monroe before her death.
In the same Vanity Fair piece, Beatty remembers his one meeting with Marilyn Monroe, which took place at Peter Lawford’s house. Monroe and Beatty walked along the beach, he played piano for her, and they enjoyed a connection that was “more soulful than romantic.” The next day, Beatty got a call informing him that Marilyn Monroe had died.
7. He once found himself on a nearly lethal car ride with a very drunk Hunter S. Thompson and a pollster for George McGovern.
In the oral biography Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, George McGovern pollster Pat Caddell remembers ending up on a wild car ride with Beatty and Hunter S. Thompson after a party at McGovern’s house in 1972. Thompson was driving drunk, “with a bottle of Wild Turkey between his legs.” In addition to driving a police car off of the road, Thompson nearly steered Beatty and Caddell into the sea, almost veering off of a half-finished bridge and into the Potomac. According to Caddell, Beatty survived the ordeal looking “whiter than a sheet.”
8. He’s a demanding boss.
While making Reds, the movie that netted him a Best Director Oscar, Beatty was allegedly strict with his cast. When playwright Trevor Griffiths attempted to leave the project, citing the reason that his wife had died in a plane crash and he needed to take care of their children, Beatty refused to let him go. According to Biskind’s book, he allegedly told Griffiths: “You can’t go home. Once you sign on with me, you surrender all rights to your life.”
9. He initially wanted his relation to sister Shirley MacLaine kept a secret.
When Ira Beaty confirmed the relationship between his children, Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine, to the Washington Star, it was apparently against the wishes of his son. Beatty told the paper, “Warren asked me not to reveal this. He wanted to make it on his own, and not trade on his sister’s reputation.” And by the account of Suzanne Finstad’s Warren Beatty: A Private Man, the secrecy was something more than a matter a pride. In the aftermath of the reveal, a press agent once referred to Beatty as MacLaine’s brother, causing Beatty to flip out. Beatty supposedly insisted that from there on MacLaine be referred to as his sister, not the other way around, a demand that started something of a cold war between the siblings.
10. He’s happy to attend a party barefoot.
While on Jimmy Kimmy Live! earlier this year, comedian Jim Jefferies told a fun story about a party run-in with Beatty and Al Pacino, both of whom were barefoot. After hitting it off, Beatty told Jefferies to “keep in touch,” but when Jefferies gave Beatty a call, he overheard Beatty telling his assistant to “get rid of him.” Pretty curt behavior for a guy who likes the feeling of sand beneath his toes.
11. He has slept with 12,775 people.
Okay, Beatty has attempted to debunk this one himself, but it’d be blasphemy to the Beatty mystique to forego mention of the estimation altogether. The number comes from Biskind’s biography,”using simple arithmetic” to get to a total of “12,775 women, give or take, a figure that does not include daytime quickies, drive-bys, casual gropings, stolen kisses and so on.” In disregarding the count, Beatty told AARP: “That would mean not just that there were multiple people a day, but that there was no repetition.” But, still. With a list of rumored paramours — beyond those mentioned above — that includes Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Madonna, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah, Mary Tyler Moore, Janice Dickinson, Iman, Joni Mitchell, Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Faye Dunaway, Natalie Wood, Joan Collins, Diana Ross, and wife Annette Bening, among many, many more, you get the picture. A lot of women.