Today is Warren Beatty's 79th birthday. Beatty is one of those great stars who, by virtue of his exceptionally careful project selection, may today be much less prominent to younger people than others of his generation who have sought the spotlight more fervently but who nonetheless has left behind a body of work that anyone would be proud of.
Growing up, both he and older sister Shirley MacLaine had show-business aspirations. As her movie career took off, he studied acting with Stella Adler, worked on the stage and went to Hollywood where he became a busy television actor. Elia Kazan cast him in a star-making role in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS and he became a sought after young lead in films. In particular the handsome actor seemed to have a natural chemistry with every actress he shared the screen with. Even at this early stage, Beatty was interested in more than just drawing a salary and smiling for the camera.
As he neared 30 years of age he decided to become a producer as well. He developed BONNIE & CLYDE with an eye towards casting it with his sister Shirley MacLaine and another male lead, but when that did not materialize he recast the film with himself as Clyde and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie. The studio saw BONNIE & CLYDE as a low-budget drive-in film that would make its money back and keep the restless Beatty happy. In fact Warner Brothers thought so little of the idea that they gave Beatty 40 gross percentage points in lieu of a producer's salary. After the unexpected success of the film, Beatty found himself not only a major star but a very wealthy man.
No longer at the beck and call of anyone, Beatty became a mini-mogul, calling his own shots and making films he believed in. Other stars may have had a six or eight year run of prominence but Beatty was able to remain in the public eye even when the films were years apart by virtue of his excellent taste in selecting projects. SHAMPOO (1975) and HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978) were major hits. REDS (1981) lost money but won Beatty the Best Director Oscar and was highly acclaimed critically, ISHTAR (1987) was a box office failure and roundly panned, though now we can see that its humor was just ahead of its time, DICK TRACY (1990) was a big hit and padded Beatty's bank account even more, BUGSY (1991) netted Beatty even more awards and critical acclaim and 1998's BULWORTH did the same.
Here, from 1975, is Beatty being interviewed by Austin television personality Carolyn Jackson. The footage is from the invaluable Texas Archive Of The Moving Image.