Warren Beatty receives AFI Lifetime Achievement Award
Story by Jack Foley
WARREN Beatty has received the 36th AFI Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute (AFI), the highest honour for a career in film.
The award was presented to Beatty by former recipient Al Pacino at a star-studded gala tribute on June 12, 2008 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Among the celebrities to attend and pay tribute were his Bonnie & Clyde co-star Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, former US President Bill Clinton and Quentin Tarantino.
The AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the AFI Board of Trustees on February 26, 1973. It is presented to a single honoree each year based on the following criteria as mandated through a resolution passed by the AFI Board of Trustees:
“The recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.”
Tall, athletic and movie star-handsome, Warren Beatty has been a force both in front of and behind the camera for more than 40 years – producing, directing, writing and acting.
The younger brother of actress Shirley MacLaine was born Henry Warren Beaty in
Richmond, Virginia, on March 30, 1937. In his youth, Beatty – he later changed the
spelling of his last name – enjoyed acting in amateur plays.
After attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, for just one year, he dropped out to study acting with Stella Adler.
In 1959, Beatty landed his first major role on the CBS sitcom The Many LovesS Of Dobie Gillis opposite Tuesday Weld. His Broadway debut in William Inge’s A Loss Of Roses in 1960 earned him a Tony nomination, and a year later he appeared for the first time on the big screen in Elia Kazan’s study of teenage love, Splendor In The Grass.
Similar roles followed as an Italian gigolo opposite Vivian Leigh in The Roman Spring Of Mrs Stone (1961); All Fall Down (1962) and Lilith.
One of Beatty’s most accomplished portrayals of the 1960s was the title role
of Arthur Penn’s Mickey One (1965). His bracing performance as a paranoid
nightclub performer established him as a major talent.
In 1967, Beatty turned to producing, with director Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde. By championing the script, supervising rewrites and assisting with casting, Beatty proved to be a truly hands-on producer.
In addition, his charismatic lead performance earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination, one of 10 Academy Award nominations for the film, including Best Picture.
Robert Altman’s anti-Western McCabe & Mrs Millr (1971) showcased Beatty’s remarkable performance as a self-deluding frontiersman.
Politically active, he played a visible role in McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign and later served as an unofficial advisor during Gary Hart’s 1988 bid – Beatty acted in two of the more socially astute films of the 1970s, including The Parallax View (1974), about an organization of political conspirators; and Shampoo, (1975) which he co-wrote with Robert Towne.
A few years later, Heaven Can Wait (1978), a loose remake of Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941), garnered 10 Academy Award nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director (Beatty and Buck Henry) and
Best Screenplay (Beatty and Elaine May).
Beatty’s acting, writing, directing and producing efforts all coalesced brilliantly in
1981 with Reds, an epic love story based on the life of journalist John Reed, set against the Russian Revolution. Nominated for 12 Oscars, it received three, including one for Best Director for Beatty.
In 1987, Beatty and Dustin Hoffman teamed as struggling singer-songwriters in
Elaine May’s Ishtar, a loose homage to the Hope/Crosby road movies. Although savaged by the press and entertainment insiders, both Hoffman and Beatty – cast against type – delivered charming turns as the musically challenged duo, and the deliberately awful songs written by Paul Williams perfectly suited the material.
In 1990, Beatty directed and starred in the comic strip hit Dick Tracy. The film’s stylized primary colors production values, deft performances from the supporting cast (including Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Glenne Headley and William Forsythe) and enjoyable score by Stephen Sondheim all contributed to its commercial success.
As mobster Benjamin Siegel in the Barry Levinson-directed Bugsy (1991), Beatty proved once again his immense talents as an actor. Bugsy earned 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Beatty as Best Actor. The film also marked his first collaboration with future wife Annette Bening, who co-starred as Virginia Hill.
Beatty and Bening went on to co-star in Love Affair (1994), the second remake of the 1939 Leo McCarey film. For this updated version, producer/writer Beatty managed to charm screen legend Katharine Hepburn out of semi-retirement to play a one-scene role.
Following a four-year hiatus, Beatty returned to the big screen with Bulworth in 1998. As director, co-producer and co-writer, Beatty also starred as a politically incorrect US senator, opposite Halle Berry.
Most recently, Beatty co-starred with Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Garry Shandling in Town & Country, released in 2001.
Among his many honors, Warren Beatty received the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 2000, and in 2004 he was among the six individuals selected for the 27th annual Kennedy Center Honors for his significant contribution to the arts.