"Simple arithmetic," Biskind writes in "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America," "tells us that if he had no more than one partner a night - and often there were several - over a period of say, three and a half decades, from the mid-1950s . . . to 1991 when he met Annette Bening, and allowing for the stretches when he was with the same woman, more or less we can arrive at a figure of 12,775 women."
Talk about the new math. Still, with paragraphs like that, no wonder this bio on Hollywood's biggest Lothario since Errol Flynn contains more juice than a case of Tropicana. Biskind, a former executive editor of Premiere magazine and author of "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," introduces us to a long list of characters who fell under Beatty's spell. He starts with Joan Collins, who had a hard time keeping up with Beatty's sexual appetite ("He never stops - it must be all those vitamins he takes"). Cher had a one-night stand with Beatty when she was 16, and found him disappointing. Julie Christie couldn't stand his jealousy, and the loser in their many flare-ups was often the furniture. The screaming matches in "Reds" between Beatty and Diane Keaton paled next to their real-life bouts. Also passing through Beatty's revolving bedroom door: Leslie Caron, Michelle Phillips, Britt Eklund, Mary Tyler Moore, Carly Simon (was he the inspiration for "You're So Vain"?), Natalie Wood . . . the list goes on.
In all of those relationships, Beatty comes off as self-absorbed, narcissistic (he washed his hair with a six-pack of beer every morning to keep it shiny), jealous and a control freak. His partners often ended up in psychoanalysis, though he remained friends with many after the breakups. Biskind also digs into Beatty's fetishes (three was never a crowd).
One who never wanted to see him again was Madonna, especially after he refused to let her appear with him on a Newsweek cover to promote "Dick Tracy." Her philandering and partying ways were too much even for Beatty, and after they split, Beatty was ready to settle down - at age 53. Enter Bening, who comes across as sane, family-oriented and a much-needed stabilizing force in Beatty's life.
Unfortunately, one other woman in his life - estranged older sibling Shirley MacLaine - makes only a cameo appearance in "Star." Biskind quotes MacLaine: "I only know what I read in the papers about Warren. We rarely see each other anymore. I've tried to reach out to him, but he just doesn't seem to want to communicate with me."
In between the sexploits, Beatty managed to make a few movies and is still the only person ever to manage this Oscar feat, not once but twice: He was nominated as best actor, director, writer and producer for both "Heaven Can Wait" and "Reds." (His only win was for directing the latter.) Biskind delves deeply into Beatty's screen career, and the controlling nature and perfectionism that often alienated cast and crew. Katharine Hepburn walked off the set of "Love Affair" after Beatty insisted on take after take. Hal Ashby was ostensibly the director on "Shampoo," but producer Beatty usually overruled his decisions. And on "Reds," after numerous takes of a rain-soaked rally scene, Maureen Stapleton snapped, "What do you want me to do? Take off my clothes?" Still, she won an Oscar for her performance, so maybe there was some method to Beatty's madness.
Biskind clearly has respect for Beatty as one of the foremost film talents of our time. But he seems to regard Beatty the man as one of the foremost egomaniacs of our time. No one will ever accuse Biskind of turning "Star" into a big, wet kiss to Beatty.
A WARREN BEATTY FIVESOME
Peter Biskind's "Star" will tell you everything you always wanted to know about Warren Beatty but were afraid to ask. Five things you'll learn:
1. Even though Beatty's politics leaned liberal, he was good friends with Ronald Reagan.
3. In his films before "Shampoo," Beatty wore mascara to make his eyes look "prettier."
4. He considered marrying Madonna and even bought her a 6-carat diamond and sapphire ring worth $30,000.
5. Indicative of their relationship, Beatty once gave Diane Keaton a pair of handcuffs as a gift.