Although he takes issue with it, Warren Beatty’s reputation as a Hollywood Casanova in the ‘60s and ‘70s was legendary. He dated Natalie Wood, Leslie Caron, and Julie Christie. He was rumored to be the subject of Carly’s Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” He loved loving women, and they seemed to love loving him back. He was Tinseltown’s Great Seducer. The more tabloidy corners of the press at the time had a field day speculating on Beatty’s extracurricular activities. And there were moments when he seemed to be as famous for his life off screen as his work on it.
Then, in 1975, Beatty sent up that Lothario image with one of the era’s great movie satires, Shampoo. Directed by Hal Ashby and co-written by Beatty and Robert Towne, the sex-fueled screwball comedy is a dizzy, fizzy time capsule of the politics, hedonism, and consciousness of the Me Decade (even though it’s set on election day in 1968). Beatty stars as George Roundy, an insatiable and harried Beverly Hills hairdresser who hops on the back of his motorcycle and zips from client to client like Don Juan with a blow-dryer (the women in George’s life include Christie, Goldie Hawn, and Lee Grant). What drives his compulsive bed-hopping? In the film, he tries to put his finger on it: “As long as I can remember, when I see a pretty girl and I go after her and I make her, it’s like I’m gonna live forever.”
When Shampoo came out, people understandably mistook Beatty’s character for the man playing him. That is was some sort of confessional caught on celluloid. But to this day, the actor laughs it off with a shake of his head. In a recent sit-down interview with Entertainment Weekly, Beatty (whose latest film, Rules Don’t Apply, opens on Nov. 23) said, “I think there were people who thought when I did Shampoo, they were like, What is he trying to do, show us how sexy he is? Well, I thought of my character as someone who couldn’t perform. He was exhausted, out of gas.”
But one of his costars seems to think that George and Warren were a little more inseparable than Beatty thinks. Grant, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as one of George’s married lovers, recalls, “As the character, I was shaking with desire to see this hairdresser who I was having an affair with. I just wanted to get him home and get him upstairs and have sex. It had taken over everything, my hair and my nerves and my life and my vagina. I was consumed with Warren.”
It wasn’t just on the set of Shampoo that Grant felt Beatty’s power with the opposite sex. The actress recalls the actor attending a New Year’s Eve party that she threw. “Warren came into my living room one New Year’s,” she says. “I had 100 people in my apartment. And 50 pairs of knees just buckled at the same time. It was like a hypnotist who can cast a spell. He absolutely had that power.”
Grant continues: “One of the actresses that night, the last one he said hello to, she asked, ‘Can I go to bed with you?’ It was an actress friend of my daughter’s. And then he left and the air had gone out of the building. The party was over! There was electricity and he left — and the lights went out. And then I think that night or the next he went to bed with a friend of mine…. Well, listen, he had a reputation to uphold.”
For more from Beatty and his former costars reflecting on his six decades in Hollywood, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, or buy it here – and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
—Reporting by Joe McGovern