New Again: Warren Beatty

Published August 4, 2015

As the fall festival circuit approaches, one film we’re hoping to see make the rounds is Warren Beatty’s long-gestating Howard Hughes project. The film began development in 2011, has been in post-production for over a year, and has no trailer, production photos, or title, making audiences beyond curious about what will ensue when the film is finally screened.  

An iconic and passionately political filmmaker, actor, writer, and producer, Warren Beatty made his on-screen debut in 1957. Since then, the 78-year-old has starred in critically acclaimed and generation-defining films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Lilith (1964), and Shampoo (1975), and has been nominated for 18 Golden Globes and 14 Academy Awards. Beatty, who married actress Annette Bening in 1992, is the only person aside from Orson Welles to receive Oscar nominations for acting, directing, writing, and producing in the same film (1978’s Heaven Can Wait). In 1999, he also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Academy’s highest honor. As we wait for more news on the Hughes film, we decided to revisit an archival interview with Beatty, when he was working within Senator McGovern’s inner circle during his campaign for presidency.—Saloni Gajjar

Beatty on the BandwagonBy R. Couri Hay

I wasn’t sure. It looked like Warren Beatty. But not like Clyde, not like McCabe, more like an aging college student in his olive two bottom suit, open-necked whole wheat shirt, sophomore fruit boots and tincture-shag coif. But there he was, Warren Beatty—one of Hollywood’s leading men—wearing a blue and white McGovern button. And he is a leading man, leading the Hollywood crowd onto the political stage.

He was signing in just ahead of me at the Eastern Airlines shuttle counter, traveling light, heading from Washington to New York with just his black two suiter. The plane was packed. Warren found a front window seat next to an attractive brunette and exercised just enough charm to trade in for the aisle seat. I had no choice but to take the tail till take off.

Once in the air, I rushed to his seat, tapped him on the shoulder, fell to one knee and shoved my microphone to within earshot. He turned toward me deliberately but cautiously and I pleaded for an interview. And since Julie Christie reads Interview and since I agreed to talk only politics, he graciously consented.

R. COURI HAY: What are you doing now?

WARREN BEATTY: I’m working on a series of concerts to raise some money for the McGovern campaign.

HAY: Who’s working with you on these concerts?

BEATTY: Well, the other night we had Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. And a few weeks before that we had one with Carole King, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, and Quincy Jones.

HAY: How much money do you hope to raise with this series of concerts?

BEATTY: A lot!

HAY: A million dollars?

BEATTY: A lot!

HAY: Are you going to be devoting all your time to this work and not doing ay movies at all?

BEATTY: No.

HAY: What can you tell me about McGovern? What’s motivated you to work for Senator McGovern?

BEATTY: Well, he’s the most intelligent man that I can see in pursuit of the presidency. He’s exhibited the most foresight; he’s the most compassionate, the most organized…I think he’d make a better president than other people.

Warren agreed that Hollywood’s old tradition against the stars speaking out politically died officially when the Motion Pictures Academy conferred an Oscar on Jane Fonda. When asked to speculate on whom McGovern would choose for a Vice-President candidate, he declined. When asked about the possibility of a woman candidate, he admitted to be seriously interested in the idea himself, but couldn’t speak for the Senator. When I asked him about Liz Carpenter’s idea of a Wallace-Kennedy ticket or vice verse he replied, “She must be hallucinating.” What he did think was that it was great that Muskie had dropped off the campaign trail and he did believe that McGovern was the odds on favorite to win the nomination, and the election. 

HAY: What do you think of McGovern’s tax reforms on sums of over $500,000? A lot of people with this kind of money give it to charities. Should the choice be theirs? 

BEATTY: I don’t think they’ve been giving enough.

HAY: I’m sure you have more than $500,000 somewhere. How do you feel about this money going to your son or daughter?

BEATTY: I think that by that time this society is going to be completely different for one thing. Your own son or your own son’s son is not going to have the needs for money that you feel you have now. The society itself will be less dependent on money and currency to get along. 

HAY: I get the distinct idea that you are talking about an increase of socialism, more medical insurance, more car insurance, and more no fault…a society where everything is taken care of much like England or Sweden. 

BEATTY: It’s not really taken care of there, is it?

HAY: A great deal more than it’s taken care here.

BEATTY: Well, we certainly need to take care of people more. Don’t we?

HAY: Certainly.

BEATTY: I agree with you on that. Basically the tax reform ideas are to clean up the tax system and to eliminate the loopholes that only very few make use of, to eliminate the possibility of people making millions of dollars every year and not paying any tax at all through oil depletion allowances and things like that. 

HAY: Did you see President Nixon on TV speaking on the war?

BEATTY: I had some reading to catch up on when it was on. I’ve seen his speech so many times it was difficult for me to concentrate on it.

HAY: Were you impressed by his statement that we had 500,000 men in Vietnam when in the past administration and now we have only 49,000. Do you believe he’s winding down the war?

BEATTY: I was impressed by his speech, but in a negative way.

HAY: Do you believe if McGovern becomes President, he’ll withdraw everyone the next day?

BEATTY: Well, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

HAY: It seems so.

BEATTY:  He would give the order to withdraw the next day. He said it would take ninety days to get out of there.

Warren Beatty travels around with a two suiter filled with papers. He does his homework and can quote you all the facts and figures you won’t find in Time or Newsweek. Beatty’s been with McGovern for ages; he was behind the concerts that raised $320,000 for the campaign in L.A. and $62,000 in Cleveland. And he’ll be behind McGovern right up to Miami and hopefully to the White House. The interview closed with the flash of seatbelt signs and Warren added that the McGovern committee was now busy planning a free concert in Central Park June 18. And hopefully they’ll be able to charm their way into Madison Square Garden the second week in June for another benefit. That’s Warren’s job. He’s not a singer.   

THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE JUNE 1972 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW. 

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