A few weeks ago, I got an email that thrilled me to no end. It was an invite to a junket for the new Warren Beatty film, Rules Don’t Apply, where I would’ve had the opportunity to screen the film and, after getting a good night’s sleep, sit down with Beatty and two of his co-stars, Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich. Alas, the opportunity to participate in the junket failed to materialize, and I reacted by going through all five stages of grief, as is only appropriate for the loss of a bucket-list interview opportunity, but after considering the situation further, I found solace.
For one thing, Beatty is a notoriously guarded interview, and there’s no reason to think that I would have walked away from a sit-down with him feeling anything but frustration. Perhaps more importantly, though, it occurred to me that I’ve probably learned far more about Beatty from talking to people who know him and have worked with him over the years than I ever would’ve learned from talking to Beatty himself.
In truth, I put together this collection of quotes from past interviews more as a cathartic exercise than anything else, but after taking a step back and looking at the resulting piece, I realized that it was a rather entertaining read, and given that Rules Don’t Apply is in theaters now, it also happens to be timely. As such, I decided I’d post it, because why not? Even if no one reads it, I’ve already gotten everything I needed out of compiling it (I feel a lot better now, thanks), but if you do give a look-see, I hope you find it as satisfying to read as it was to compile.
“That was a real fluke. [Robert] Altman and [Warren] Beatty came to New York to see MacBird! When they saw MacBird!, we had a drink afterwards, and they asked me if I would do this. And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I shot the last two days of that movie. They flew me up to Vancouver—it was one of the first movies they shot in Vancouver—so I went up there when they were shooting the end, and I got to do my two beats. But that was really nice, yeah. [The part] was kind of Bobby Kennedy, a young, brassy kind of lawyer. But it was fun. It’s always fun when you go from off-Broadway making $9.47 to standing there with Warren Beatty! It definitely makes you go, ‘Wait a second!’”
“Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson came to Memphis, Tennessee, to testify in my trial! The judge would not let them take the stand. He said that whatever they had to say was not relevant. And after the trial was over, I was bankrupted and needed more funds, and so we started the Harry Reems Legal Defense Fund back in the mid-‘70s to raise money to pay for all the transcripts, to pay for all the attorneys. Yeah, I had celebrities host numerous fundraisers all around the country. They weren’t my friends; I hadn’t met many of them. They were there because of the issue that was being threatened, and that was creative freedom. They weren’t there supporting Harry Reems; they were supporting an issue. I had no pretense that they were there for anything other than that. I thanked them, and I’m very grateful to all of them to this day.”
William Daniels: Alan J. Pakula directed [The Parallax View]. We did it in Seattle, and one of the scenes was up in the Needle. It went pretty well. It was kind of funny. I got a couple of laughs. One was, “You don’t play with that gun, son. That’s my car gun.”
Bonnie Bartlett: No, that’s a different one.
WD: Oh, is that a different one?
BB: The car gun is from that movie The President’s Analyst.
WD: Well, it’s been awhile! I get them confused.
BB: Well, you went through a period where there was a lot of violence, dogs, and guns.
WD: I’m sorry about that. But you asked about The Parallax View, and I was up there in Seattle for a while doing that. I remember I had a scene with Warren, and we did the scene, and it went well. But then Pakula asked us to do it again. And we did it again, we remembered all our lines, and he said, “Let’s do it again.” And at that point, Warren went over, and they started talking quietly. And we went back, and he asked us to do it again, which had never happened to me. We did about 12 takes! Nobody dropped any lines or anything like that. And afterwards I remember having lunch with Pakula and asking, “What the hell was going on there?” He said, “We were fighting.” What he wanted was a more emotional response from Warren, but Warren has a firm grip on his film image, and he wasn’t about to show some kind of emotion!
BB: In that scene. We don’t know who was right.
WD: No, I don’t know. I’m just telling you: He was not going to get emotional, and that was that. But the film itself was very well received. Reds I did almost like a favor for Warren, because we had done The Parallax View together, and he asked me. And he said, “Bring Bonnie to London!” Actually, it was to Manchester. So I went over there, and we did it in a day or two. I’ll tell you this: I complained about my living accommodations, the hotel, the room. And Warren was coming down the hall when I was yelling at the floor manager, and he heard that, and he had his secretary… He didn’t say anything to me, but he had his secretary put us up in a first-class hotel.
BB: Warren did his very first job with me, actually, on a soap opera: Love Of Life. But he’s been a good friend and wonderful for Bill when Bill needed help in the union [during Daniels’ tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild]. He’s been a very, very good friend.
“Working with Warren was… well, it was part nightmare and mostly glorious! Well, he was famous for the number of takes. I think mine topped out at about 52. Something like that. And he would never tell you what he wanted to do! ‘Well, just do it again, do it again.’ ‘Uh, okay…’ Finally, I heard Maureen Stapleton on the set, she played Emma Goldman, and she said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Oh, come on, Mo…’ ‘No! Go eff yourself! I’m not going to do this again! Tell me what you want, Warren! I’ll take my clothes off and stand on my head, I’ll do it any way you want, but you’ve gotta tell me what you want!’ ‘Look, could you just do it again?’ ‘No! I’m not going to do it again! Goodbye!’
“So finally… he had a pathological aversion to destroying spontaneity. He wanted something to happen that he could grab, and he felt that if he explained it, the actor would just imitate, which is a legitimate take on things. And I thought his take on the whole Bolshevik revolution seemed simplistic to European intellectuals, but it was actually quite profound. It was, ‘Who’s the toughest guy on the block?’ It had nothing to do with dialectical materialism. It had to do with who was stronger. It had to do with who was sexier, who was shrewder, and they used the vocabulary of the revolution to sort of laud their talk. I have to say, it’s a brilliant movie. And I was very glad to be part of it.”
“That was a movie where you felt the plug being pulled while it was still being made. It was shot—at least the parts that I was in—in Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York, and there were a couple of scenes, I think four or five, that were supposed to be in this big nightclub that was based on Rick’s American Café from Casablanca. It was a big set, and there were certain scenes that were based on those Casablanca scenes, so there were a lot of extras. There were probably 100 extras, maybe 80 of whom were sitting at tables and were supposed patrons, but there were waiters and a maître d’ and some people that were in the band, just like in Rick’s.
“I remember going in on Monday—the whole week we were shooting these scenes on this café set—and things were not going well, but I didn’t know that, because I was just starting. I must say that Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty were quite tough on Elaine May. On Monday, there were probably 100 extras. Tuesday, it was maybe 70. By Thursday, there was probably 30. And by Friday, there were maybe 11 extras! You just saw this thing, this film, it was like cotton candy in somebody’s mouth, just completely dissolving while it was still being shot. I don’t know how that actually transpired, but it was really obvious even while we were making it.
“There was an actor in that movie that I befriended. His name was Ian Gray, an English actor. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty played this songwriting and performing team that gets this gig in the Middle East, and this friend of mine played the emcee in the club where they perform. They put him up in a hotel, and he and I became friendly, and he was very funny. Every year for maybe 10 years after that, he would send me a Christmas card, and the card always said the same thing: ‘Hope you’re getting plenty of work and… the other!’ So that’s something that came out of that.
“But that was a strange experience, to be in a movie that had a big budget like that but see it dissolve before my eyes. And I don’t know what the dynamics were, but it was clear that somebody was not supporting Elaine May in making that movie. And that was disheartening to see.”
“Ah, man. Warren. Warren Beatty is a great director. I wish Warren would direct another film right now, because I’d love to do another film with Warren. I think that Dick Tracy is an outstanding film in its own right. I mean, I don’t think it’s Warren’s greatest film, but I’m honored to have been chosen by him, because he went out of his way to get to know my work and to get to know me as much as he could, and he wanted me to do his film. And here I was—I had a poster of Bonnie And Clyde on my wall when I was a teenager. It was just one of those wonderful things that happens to you. It was great. Of course, then I had to wear the makeup for six months, which is its own world of madness and torture! But I loved it. It was a good experience, and I had a lot of fun when I made that movie.”
“[The soundtrack] was a pretty challenging thing, because Warren Beatty wanted the music to sound like anything that was done before 1939. 1939 was the cutoff date. Warren Beatty’s actually a really musical guy – he plays piano pretty well – and he would drop by the studio and just kind of check out what was going on. After I got over the fact that it was kind of a daunting assignment and it was a little bit intimidating, I got into work mode with my brother and some other writers I know, and we started writing songs that would make sense. For somebody like Brenda Lee, if she was going to sing a song, what could we do? She’s got a great voice, so what would be appropriate? So we wrote a song called ‘You’re in the Doghouse Now,’ which was kind of a jazz song. But the truth is, if you write a good verse and a good bridge, you can do it in any style, y’know? I mean, I could take ‘You’re in the Doghouse Now,’ and if I wanted to, I could arrange it like a Tommy James record.
“’Now I’m Following You,’ [Madonna] took it off into kind of a funk thing in her version of it. So, yeah, I think was really just writing songs that were catchy. The great thing to me, actually… One of my favorite things about Dick Tracy was that, because of that record, I ended up getting to work with Jerry Lee Lewis…and after that record, I made a whole album with Jerry Lee Lewis! Warren Beatty asked me if I had anything that sounded like a Bob Wills record or some old western swing record, and I said, ‘I have one in my head, but I always thought Jerry Lee Lewis should do it. I’ve sent it to Jerry Lee Lewis a number of times, and I’ve never heard anything back.’ And Warren Beatty…this is the brilliance, the great thing about being a movie star in Hollywood: he just said, ‘Oh, I’ll get to him.’ So Warren Beatty made a couple of phone calls, and the next thing I know, I’m in Memphis at Sun Studios with Jerry Lee Lewis, recording ‘“It Was the Whiskey Talking (Not Me).’ That’s the power of Hollywood stardom! And then everyone loved the record, and…I don’t remember how much longer after that it was, but we started making a Jerry Lee Lewis album. So that’s how one thing leads to another in the music business…or you hope it does, anyway!”
“He hired me for Dick Tracy, I had one line and I did it, and then he asked me to do it again. And he corrected me. And maybe I did it another time and he corrected me some more. And that was the end. And then I got a call from him, and he said, ‘Mary, I want to do your line over.’ And I said, ‘Oh?’ And he said, ‘Yes, you were correct the first time, so I’d like you to repeat that.’ I thought that was funny. I got it right the first time!”
“I felt like the essence of where Benjamin Siegel came from, underneath the gloss of the handsome killer Bugsy Siegel, he was like Harry Greenberg. They came from the same place, they knew one another as children. So in the scene, we were on a train, and Harry Greenberg asks Benjamin Siegel for some money, and… in movies, when you’re on a bell, it means that sound is going, and you’re just a heartbeat away from action and acting. And Warren suddenly said to me, ‘Do you like to rehearse?’ And I thought, ‘Gee, I’ve never heard anyone want to rehearse once we’re on a bell.’ But then I thought, ‘Well, Warren is like that. He likes to do it over and over and over and over again until he feels it’s perfect… or at least he’s perfect!’ Barry Levinson directed the picture, but Warren was playing the leading role, and Warren Beatty is Warren Beatty, so I said, ‘Okay, we’ll do it ’til you’re happy.’ I was a tap dancer as a child, so I understand precision and repetition.”
“Warren Beatty means everything to me. He’s the love of my life. He’s like my brother. I love him so much. That guy is so great. He would do things like, ‘Okay, let me just see you improvise something here,’ so Paul Mazursky and I would improvise something, and Warren would be bent over laughing, holding his stomach, he thought it was so funny. He’d say, ‘I love it! Let’s leave it in!’ He’s fun to work with, Warren. He’s very close to me, and I had a great time working with him.”
“That was the director’s [idea.]. It was Richard Loncraine. And I resisted it, and I had to say because, basically, I had done the script and it bothered me that it wasn’t by Shakespeare. Everything else, including the song that opens the film, ‘Come Live With Me and Be My Love,’ has been attributed to Shakespeare. Probably he didn’t write it, but he certainly didn’t write ‘I’m Sitting on Top of the World’! Warren Beatty was around because his wife was in the film, and I was saying to him, ‘And Richard wants to end it all with an Al Jolson song,’ and he said, ‘Well, what do you think about that?’ I said, ‘No, it doesn’t seem right to me.’ He said, ‘So you keep making the point that Shakespeare can belong in the cinema, and that soliloquy spoken to an audience in the theater can work particularly well on the screen. You’re determined to discover everything that’s filmatic and cinematic about the play and express it on the screen — and you don’t want the support of the man who was the first person to ever speak in a movie?’ Well, that comforted me totally. And there we are.”