Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael, and an Epic Hollywood Mistake

From the Magazine

After Pauline Kael’s impassioned defense of Bonnie and Clyde, Warren Beatty decided to invite the New Yorker film critic to collaborate on James Toback’s Love & Money. The experiment failed, and Kael left Hollywood under a cloud. Lili Anolik investigates what went wrong with the seemingly all-star pairing.

Illustration by André Carrilho.

In 1979, New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, 59, accepted an offer from
actor-director Warren Beatty, 41, to help him produce Love & Money, a
script his production company had acquired and set up at Paramount. Love
& Money
was to be the second feature of writer-director James Toback,
34, whose first feature, Fingers, Kael had reviewed ecstatically the
year before. Toback was also a personal friend. She took a leave of
absence from The New Yorker, headed to L.A.

Kael and Toback began working together. She wanted substantial changes
to the script. He did not want to change the script substantially. She
was removed from the project. Beatty secured a new deal for her at
Paramount as a creative production executive. At the time, Paramount’s
chairman was Barry Diller, a fan. It was not to Diller, however, that
she would be reporting. It was to Don Simpson, senior V.P. of worldwide
production. There were a number of properties she wished to develop.
Simpson rejected all but one. Her contract was for five months. When it
lapsed, it wasn’t renewed. She returned to The New Yorker in the spring
of 1980.

These, as I said, are the matters of fact, checked and established, of
the situation. And before I obscure them or re-arrange them, deface them
with conjecture and speculation, intuition, feminine and otherwise, I
wanted you to see them plain. Now you have. We still can’t get started,
though. There are a few more things you should know first, mostly about
the leads, Kael and Beatty: who they are and where they came from, what
they meant in Hollywood and in America, in the worlds of movies and
letters and politics, in the late 1970s.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.

Flashback, Hers

Pauline Kael was born in Petaluma, California, in 1919, the youngest
daughter of a Polish-Jewish chicken farmer. She attended Berkeley,
dropping out a few credits shy of graduation, but stuck around the Bay
Area, running in bohemian circles and writing plays. As her 20s turned
into her 30s, she was still running and writing. The plays went
unproduced, and she supported herself with a series of go-nowhere jobs.
Her wheels were spinning.

And then, suddenly, purchase. In the mid-50s she changed it up, switched
from stage to screen, creative writing to critical. She was given a
weekly movie column on listener-sponsored KPFA. She also took over a
local art house, the Berkeley Cinema Guild. Two points worth emphasizing
about these apprentice years: the radio spot meant her reviews were
written to be spoken, performed, in essence, and managing a theater
meant movies were a commercial proposition for her as well as an
aesthetic. And the two points are actually one: her background was equal
parts show and business.

Her reviews were, without question, show business. They swung. Were
fast, funny, combative, and hugely entertaining. Unlike her plays, which
were mannered, inert, and a big fat drag. (That one was titled Orpheus
in Sausalito
tells you all you need know.) And she grasped that while
the potential of movies—“the great bastard cross-fertilized
super-art”—was vast, realizing that potential was, especially in
America, and under the studio system, near impossible. Which was O.K. by
her since she adored trash, trash with some snap to it, anyway.

Kael was a local phenomenon but became national when her first
collection, I Lost It at the Movies (1965), hit the best-seller list.
Two years later, her phone rang. It was The New Yorker’s William Shawn.
Would she be interested in the position of staff critic? She’d been
discovered at last. An ingénue at 48.

Not just an ingénue, though. An erotic sensation. Lauren Bacall, 19 and
insolent, giving Humphrey Bogart a lesson on how to whistle in To Have
and Have Not
. As a movie critic, Kael was young, hot, and a walk on the
wild side, even if as a human being she was middle-aged, bespectacled,
and easily mistaken for somebody’s maiden aunt. Sitting in the dark,
watching, was her favorite turn-on, her eyes so avid they were like
Fingers, stroking and caressing the gorgeous, oversize images up on the
screen. That’s why for Kael seeing a movie was having sex with a movie.
And the thrill of reading her writing on movies was close to the thrill
of movies themselves, was close, in other words, to the thrill of sex.

So Kael’s movie sex life was killer. How about her sex life sex life?
Well, according to Toback, by the time she joined The New Yorker, it was
over: “She was done with men.” She costumed herself accordingly.
Writer John Gregory Dunne recalled meeting her at a party in the 70s: a
“birdlike woman in a Pucci knockdown and orthopedic shoes.” Producer
Marcia Nasatir, Kael’s friend: “I never believed those shoes. It was
like the bad feet or whatever it was was in her head.” Or Kael’s way of
getting in your head. Kael was intensely responsive to chic and beauty
and eroticism without having claims on those qualities herself. She knew
it and wanted you to know she knew it. Which is why she
separated—sharply, distinctly, unmistakably—Kael the writer from
Kael the person.

And you could argue her sex life was over before it began. She was
married once, to Ed Landberg, head of the Cinema Guild, who described
the union as “a business arrangement.” And before Landberg, there was
just one affair of consequence, with the experimental filmmaker James
Broughton, father of her only child, Gina. Broughton, however, was
bisexual leaning toward gay. Says Nasatir, with a laugh, “Gina was
immaculately conceived.”

I marked Kael’s discovery as the moment William Shawn made her staff
critic. But, in fact, that was the moment before the moment. Her
breakout at The New Yorker came when the magazine bought a 9,000-word
piece rejected by the New Republic on a shoot-’em-up gangster picture
called Bonnie and Clyde.

Flashback, His

Warren Beatty has spent three-quarters of his life as a movie star, one
measly quarter as a mere mortal. To say he was born on March 30, 1937,
in Richmond, Virginia, is thus a misleading statement. His true birth
date is March 3, 1960, the day Elia Kazan cast him in Splendor in the
. So fast and hitchless was Beatty’s ascent, it seemed fated. But
getting to the top was one thing, staying another.

Jump-cut to 1966. Beatty, now just shy of 30, had a few interesting
failures (Lilith) to his credit, plus a few uninteresting
(Kaleidoscope). He was still famous, though more for his off-screen life
than on, all those leading ladies he captivated. Which brings us to his
reputation as a stud, and he was one, unequivocally. His conquest list
reads like the combined wish lists of three generations of American
males. Yet, in a fundamental sense, he was the opposite. In spite of his
prodigality and prowess, he never came across as aggressive or
swaggering. In fact, there was something passive, almost feminine about
his sexual persona, so fat-lipped was it, so sultry-eyed and
lazy-limbed. He perpetually had the look of somebody who’d just risen
from a rumpled bed. In other words, he became a love god by conducting
himself like a love goddess.

By the mid-60s, American movies were as bland and characterless as
they’d ever been. Beatty: “I was always looking around. I was certainly
aware of what was going on in France.” No surprise. That country then
was rampant with enfant genius directors. Girlfriend Leslie Caron:
“Warren was very keen on the Nouvelle Vague. I contacted François
Truffaut to have lunch. François was pretty sharp and he understood
Warren wanted to star in Fahrenheit 451. He said, ‘Oskar Werner has that
role, but there’s a script I can’t do because of Fahrenheit. You might
be interested.’ ”

When Robert Benton and David Newman saw Breathless and Jules and Jim,
they were so knocked out they decided to write an American version of a
Nouvelle Vague movie. It would be based on the Depression-era bank
robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. As in Breathless, there’d be
abrupt shifts in tone; and, as in Jules and Jim, there’d be a love
triangle. Clyde, crazy about Bonnie but gay, needed to throw a guy, C.
W. Moss, a fellow outlaw, into the mix in order to make it happen.
(Director Arthur Penn would persuade Benton and Newman to change Clyde’s
homosexuality to impotence.)

Beatty was ready to make his move. Had to, ready or not. Friend and
collaborator Robert Towne: “Conventional wisdom was that Warren had
shot his bolt. He was in a precarious position.” Besides, there’d
always been a double-edged quality to Beatty as an actor, the feeling
that he was deliberately following in Brando’s and Dean’s footsteps,
while at the same time dragging his feet. Maybe he didn’t care to take
orders, something actors, even movie-star actors, must do. Now he’d be
giving them. He didn’t just star in Bonnie and Clyde, he cast it,
produced it, and pretty much everything-elsed it. Benton: “Warren was
the guiding spirit.”

The reviews were bad, The New York Times’s Bosley Crowther’s the worst:
“a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick.” And then came Kael’s with its
them’s-fighting-words opener: “How do you make a good movie in this
country without being jumped on?” Her review altered not only her own
fate, securing her a position at The New Yorker (incidentally,
Crowther’s cost him his position, the Times firing him after 27 years
for missing both boat and point), it helped alter the fate of the movie.
Says writer-director Paul Schrader, “Bonnie and Clyde came out. It
flopped. The critics saved it. Joe Morgenstern reversed himself in
Newsweek. It became a hit, was on the cover of Time. Pauline’s review
set that up. Nothing to date had shown the power of film criticism like
that.” The review helped alter movie history’s fate, too, because
Bonnie and Clyde was the ripple that swelled into the American New Wave.

Montage, 1967-79

We’re nearly up to speed.

Beatty, Penn, and Towne were only the beginning. Peckinpah, Altman,
Coppola, Scorsese, and De Palma soon followed. Suddenly American movies
were smart, adult, alive—a mass entertainment on the verge of becoming
a mass art. Kael’s writing took on a messianic quality. And why not? The
New Wave wasn’t something she was watching from the shore. No, she was
speeding down its face, zipping into its tunnel. She wanted to keep the
momentum going, ride it forever—perhaps the reason she began doing
dicey things, like reviewing movies in rough-cut (Nashville), forming
personal ties with directors (Peckinpah), and gathering disciples,
young, mostly male critics who aped her taste and tone. In 1973, her
fourth collection won the National Book Award, a first for a book on
movies. She was more than a cultural critic, she was a cultural heroine.
Her days as the farmer’s daughter, a lone voice heckling the East Coast
intelligentsia from the sticks, were over. She was a New Yorker—The
New Yorker

And speaking of The New Yorker, Kael’s partnership with it, while
successful, wasn’t easy. Its style was genteel, hers was not. And she
clashed violently with William Shawn. Kael’s editor William Whitworth:
“Nobody at the magazine argued with Mr. Shawn. Pauline did. In the
proofs of her Goin’ South review, you can see he has a kind of fit in
his handwriting, when she refers to Jack Nicholson [as being ‘a
commercial for cunnilingus’]. I worried about his health. He’d already
had a heart attack.” Shawn, possibly to keep her in check, retained
Penelope Gilliatt. The Current Cinema column, much as Kael wanted it to
be, needed it to be (as the critic for only half the year, she wasn’t
quite earning a living wage), was not hers alone.

In the years following Bonnie and Clyde, Beatty’s star grew ever larger
and more lustrous. Nor was his influence limited to Hollywood. He seemed
to be one of the men defining his era, was in perfect sync with the
erratic pulse of the country. Two of Kael’s favorite movies of the 70s
were his; he was the lead in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller
(1971) and the lead, producer, and co-writer of Hal Ashby’s Shampoo
(1975). His greatest commercial hit of the decade came in 1978, when he
was the lead, producer, co-writer, and co-director of the romantic
comedy Heaven Can Wait. This one, though, she didn’t like. Hated, in
fact. A “little smudge of a movie,” she called it. That Heaven was
inoffensive was precisely why it offended her. It was the kind of film
that Bonnie and Clyde was reacting against: old-fashioned, genial, soft,

A Twice-Told Tale, the First

It was a classic story of sexual suspense, Kael and Beatty the
lover-adversaries. She was from the New Yorker family, a
publishing-world institution, and revered, but also middle-class,
priggish, and convinced of its own virtue. As the rebellious daughter,
she was forever threatening to send daddy Shawn to an early grave. Yet
she was wild only to a point, and still very much in the fold. Beatty
was the dark prince of Hollywood, an aristocrat-rake living a life of
excess and indulgence. He admired Kael, whose brilliance and
restlessness matched his own. He disliked, however, the power she, as
the most influential film critic in America, wielded. Her immaculate
faith in her judgment and inviolability were a reproach to him. And a

He’d been pursuing her for years (Kael, from an unpublished interview
with writer Peter Biskind: “Beatty called after the [Bonnie and
] review. He’s charming and comes on very personally, as if
you’ve always been friends”), without success. Every time he suggested
she run off with him, use her smarts to make movies go right before the
fact rather than point out where they went wrong after, she demurred.
She was happy where she was, she said.


And then, suddenly, she wasn’t. The New Yorker was putting her under
severe strain: the allowance it granted was a pittance, and, more
gallingly, it insisted on treating her like all its other children,
making her share her column. Beatty sensed her susceptibility. In early
‘79, he phoned under the guise of asking for advice (Kael: “Beatty
wanted my assurance that he should back Toback”). He then suggested,
very casually, that the three of them work on the movie together. A
split-second’s hesitation, a single breath slipping in before her
answer: “Yes.”

That Kael had put herself in desperate peril with this alliance was
plain to everybody save her. Friends begged her to
reconsider—Hollywood was a place of evil and cunning! She’d spent her
life among gentlefolk!—but she was determined. Things turned sordid
quick. Almost as soon as she entered Beatty’s protection, he withdrew
it, when Toback betrayed her six weeks in. (Toback: “I said, ‘Warren, I
can’t function under these circumstances.’ ”) All at once, she was
exposed, vulnerable to the industry she’d been dishing it out to for
years. And the industry, which worshipped and adored women, though not
as much as it feared and loathed them, especially if they were
intelligent or disdainful, could hardly wait to pay her back. She was
passed off to Don Simpson, a souped-up, coked-up Sammy Glick whose
instinct for the lowest common denominator would make him one of the
most successful producers of the 80s. Her spirit crushed, she was tossed
away. She returned to the East a broken and tragic figure.

That’s the Seduced and Abandoned version of the story. It’s the one that
appeared in Brian Kellow’s biography of Kael, A Life in the Dark, and
Peter Biskind’s excellent history of the American New Wave, Easy Riders,
Raging Bulls
. I understand why it’s caught on. It plays. Meaning it
jibes with Beatty the legend, a man so beguiling he need only look at a
woman and she’s hooked, hypnotized by the image of herself reflected in
the bedroom of his eyes (Schrader, quoted by Kellow: “[Warren]
wanted to hunt [Pauline] down, and get her. If she was a
twenty-two-year-old starlet, he would get her in one way. If she was a
sixty-year-old film critic, he would get her another”), and the
smoothest of operators (Buck Henry, quoted by Biskind: “[What Warren
did to Pauline] is so Machiavellian, even I can’t quite believe it,
except that it was Warren”). It doesn’t jibe, however, with Beatty the
person. There are two kinds of chasers: chasers who chase to take down,
and chasers who chase to catch. Beatty’s the second. Look at his
squeezes, main only—Joan Collins, Natalie Wood, Leslie Caron, Julie
Christie, Michelle Phillips, Diane Keaton, Madonna, Annette Bening—and
you start to notice a pattern. These are smart, willful women with minds
and careers of their own. Kael is Beatty’s type, in other words. Besides
which, Kael, her review of Heaven notwithstanding, had been tremendously
supportive of him. As Towne says, “Her review of Bonnie and Clyde
changed everybody’s lives.” So, as far as revenge as a motive goes—it
isn’t one.

A Twice-Told Tale, the Second

The story of Pauline and Warren was the story of Bonnie and Clyde. Take
Bonnie at the movie’s start—carnal, restless, not getting any younger.
Under her bedroom window stood a boy, a hood-Romeo. To impress her, he
stuck up a market. She was in his lap before he could pull the getaway
car to the side of the road.

There’s a clear resemblance between Bonnie’s attitude toward men and
Kael’s toward movies, at least the ones made in America: game, hot to
trot even, but disappointed. Experience had taught them that you could
depend on men and movies for a couple hours’ worth of mindless
excitement. Little else, though. Wrote Kael: “The movie doesn’t have to
be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a
good performance, or the joy in just a good line.” Beatty would show
Kael, as Clyde would show Bonnie, however, that she didn’t have to set
her sights so dismally low. Bonnie and Clyde proved that movies,
American movies, could be more than a fast fuck in a boosted car, could
be real love and a dream come true—an art for the people.

Not that Kael didn’t give as good as she got. Like Bonnie she was a
writer who immortalized her man in print. When Bonnie read Clyde her
poem, the one that would be published in newspapers across the country,
he said, “You know what you done there? You told my story . . . . You
made me somebody they’re gonna remember.” A more apt description of
what Kael’s review did for Beatty is hard to imagine.


And didn’t that spate of Hollywood movies from 1967 to 1979, from Bonnie
and Clyde
to, say, Apocalypse Now, feel like a crime spree? As if the
American New Wavers were pulling a fast one? The spree couldn’t last, of
course. Sooner or later lawmen, i.e., studio men, would catch up. Or,
worse, audiences wouldn’t. Times had changed. Kael understood this. In
1978’s “Fear of Movies,” she wrote: “Now that the war has ended
. . . [people have] lost the hope that things are going to be
better . . . . So they go to the movies to be lulled.” But I’m not
quite sure Beatty, who was considerably younger and had been knocked
around far less, did. The chaos of the 60s and
early-to-mid-70s—Vietnam, Watergate—made for an opening, though it
was closing quick. Kael prophesied the end of Pauline and Warren when
she wrote of the “new cultural Puritanism,” as surely as Bonnie
prophesied the end of Bonnie and Clyde when she wrote of the “sub-gun’s
rat-a-tat-tat.” (Did Kael foresee, too, the medium’s end? That the VHS
revolution was just around the corner? That the 70s would be the last
decade in which movies were truly a tribal experience?)

Maybe Kael went to Hollywood, at least in part, to thwart this prophecy.
Beatty had eyes for Kael, and Kael for Beatty, but they weren’t able to
relate in a direct way. They’d need a go-between, a C. W. Moss. Toback,
who’d just made Fingers, a genuinely alarming movie about a concert
pianist-cum-debt collector, would do nicely in that role since he
excited them both. Writer George Malko recalls seeing Fingers with Kael:
“She lifted up out of her seat, and even as she was settling back down,
she was breathing fast.” Toback, on screening Fingers for Beatty:
“Warren stood after it was over and walked around in circles for a good
two or three minutes.” So Toback, quite literally, got Kael panting and
Beatty erect. And Kael and Beatty used Toback to work each other up.
Kael had socked it to Beatty for Heaven, accused him of going
commercial, selling out. It wasn’t only a review, it was a taunt. And a
dare. Beatty double-dog-dared her back with an offer to produce. Kael
and Beatty had been leading anti-Establishment figures for a
decade-plus, which meant that they’d become the Establishment. By
getting behind Toback, an artist, yes, but also a pickup artist, the
protégé of composer Aaron Copland and orgy buddy of football player Jim
Brown, they would prove that the spark hadn’t gone out of their rebel
spirits, that they were still subversive, undaunted, young. Viewed from
that angle, the crazy scheme starts to seem not so crazy after all, or
possibly just crazy enough to work. Of course it was neither. It was the
look Bonnie and Clyde exchanged—passionate, agonized, doomed—before
the hail of bullets.

That Kael had been hit was obvious instantly. Spitting out teeth and
blood, she crawled back to The New Yorker. Only it wouldn’t have her.
Whitworth: “Mr. Shawn felt Pauline had sullied herself.” Eventually,
Whitworth convinced Shawn to reverse his decision. Pauline resumed her
post, but it wasn’t much of a homecoming. Two months in, Renata Adler,
in The New York Review of Books, declared Kael’s latest collection
“piece by piece, line by line, and without interruption, worthless.”
It was the most savage attack Kael had ever endured. She remained at the
magazine until she retired in 1991. Never again, though, would she be so
dynamic a critic or writer.

Beatty made it out, not just alive but stronger. It was the late 70s,
the Cold War as chilly as ever, and he was able to persuade Paramount to
give him $25 million for Reds, a biopic of Communist John Reed. Except
not so fast. Beatty’s wounds were as mortal as Kael’s if less visible,
and his death slower. While he’d continue to direct and act in movies,
none were as urgent or essential as Bonnie and Clyde or McCabe &
Mrs. Miller
or Shampoo. Though Reds would win him an Oscar, the film, in
retrospect, appears a slighter achievement, the subject matter more
daring than it. At heart, it’s a conventional Hollywood picture, its
rabble-rousing hero as cute and cuddly as a kitten, as a movie star.
Plus which, I don’t think it felt like enough. After finishing it, this
three-and-a-half-hour . . . epic on politics, he turned increasingly to the
real thing, becoming involved in Gary Hart’s two failed presidential
campaigns. The fun had even gone out of fun. Madonna was his big
relationship in the 80s, a love affair that had all the passion of a
corporate merger. He found contentment, at last, in marriage and
children. Yet his contentment is tinged unmistakably with its opposite.
Never being satisfied is what gave him his edge, kept stagnation at bay.
How could he not be a little wistful?

Left, Beatty in 1979; Right Pauline Kael in 1980.

Left, by Ron Galella/WireImage; Right, by Deborah Feingold/Getty Images.

Thrice-Told a Charm?

The Bonnie and Clyde version is the version I find more plausible.
Obviously. I’ve already dismissed Seduced and Abandoned as so much
cornball claptrap. To talk of villainy and virtue, sin and redemption,
in post-pill, pre-AIDS Hollywood is lunatic. Only, here’s the thing:
Seduced and Abandoned won’t be dismissed, because while Kael’s
humiliation was professional, it was, in a deeper sense, sexual.
Granted, there wasn’t any sex going on. But there was sex not going on.
Schrader: “Jimmy then was thin, handsome, an irrepressible raconteur
and hustler. He was the Jewish Warren Beatty, and with a lot more kinks
in his hose.” And Toback admits, “If I wanted to push it in a sexual
direction with Pauline, I could have. There was never a minute’s
awkwardness between us. It was just there.”

So, the question then becomes, Did Kael do it all for love? The answer
is another question, What else? Her official reasons—fear of growing
stale as a critic, eagerness for new worlds to conquer—are true but
insufficient. She had to have been impelled by something stronger than
reason. Had to have known at some level what was in store for her too.
The stakes were just so wildly uneven. She was giving up both job and
home to move to L.A., a city where, as she once wrote, “a man can get
along without his honor, but not without his car.” And she couldn’t
drive. Beatty, conversely, stood only to gain. Reds was always the
priority, Love & Money a side project. And Kael, says Schrader, “was
the bête noire of film at that time.” If the hire worked, Beatty had
tamed the shrew; if not, he’d as good as. So win or lose, he won.

Another twist: actress Veronica Cartwright’s encounter with Kael and
Toback just before the Hollywood foray. Kael, who’d raved about
Cartwright in the past, requested a sit-down. They were having cocktails
when Toback appeared. Cartwright: “Pauline had invited him. It was an
odd relationship, very intense. I got a vibe like it was a little kinky.
After our drink, Pauline asked me to a screening. I told her I couldn’t.
Maybe she liked me. Maybe it pissed her off that I didn’t reciprocate,
because she never mentioned me in a review again. I don’t know whether
or not she was gay. Maybe she was gay and Toback was her protégé. I
mean, she facilitated a meeting between me and him, and I couldn’t tell
if it was an audition or she was setting me up with him or what.”
Toback as Kael’s id, acting out her secret longings? Well, it’s a
theory, and Toback doesn’t dismiss it: “If I ever thought Pauline might
be gay, it was for Veronica. No critic has ever hyped an actress to me
as she did Veronica. And I do think there was a vicarious leap going on
with me and Pauline. There are certain people where, when you go into
detail, they not only welcome it, they want more. Never was there a stop
sign with Pauline. It was always laughing and ‘Oh, honey, oh,
honey.’ ”

What was going on in Beatty’s mind? Why did he imagine Kael capable of
so radical a career change? Beatty: “My thinking was influenced by the
Cahiers du Cinéma guys. To me, it seemed like a natural progression,
film criticism to film production.” As reasoning goes, it’s reasonable.
And maybe that’s that. No need to look deeper or further. But then
there’s the timing. Kael had tried to talk Beatty out of Reds, his
passion project, told him to do Toback’s movie instead. And this right
after her brutal Heaven review. I seriously doubt that he set out to do
her harm, as Schrader and Henry suggested. So does Toback: “When I
asked that Pauline be fired, Warren was 100 percent opposed. He admired
Pauline.” Perhaps, though, there was an unconscious desire on Beatty’s
part not to take her out but on, show her he wasn’t intimidated.

And then there’s the air of degradation and moral downfall that hovers
over the episode. Now Kael was no Victorian waif. She was a modern
woman, and tough. She was tender too, though. As a romantic—and nobody
as ardent about movies could be other than—she was, fundamentally, a
pure-heart. And so the betrayal she experienced was double, by the man
she loved and by the thing, the second the more damaging. Naturally,
she’d known going in that Hollywood was a cesspool. Knowing something
intellectually, however, is different from knowing it viscerally. In any
case, her enchantment with the movies was over. She didn’t, it seems,
admit this to anyone, maybe not even to herself. Yet the proof is in her
prose. When she returned to reviewing, she sounded like her old self.
Too much. Her tone became less passionate than bullying, her praise less
extravagant than excessive. (Casualties of War has the same kind of
purity as Grand Illusion?) It felt as if she was faking it. Says writer
James Wolcott, “In the last couple of years, she despaired. She didn’t
care about the films. I’d suggest she try something else. ‘I can’t
re-invent myself. I’m a movie critic,’ she’d say.”

Kael’s mistake, I think, was in believing she needed the movies. Really,
it was the other way around. Movies are an art that is only
intermittently an art. She, however, was an artist, always and
invariably, the equal to any director or actor she covered, the superior
to most. In writing about one thing, she managed to write about all
things. Her movie reviews were cultural criticism, sociological
treatise, personal essay. Through sheer passion and craft, she
transformed what was intended to be a consumer guide into a literary
vehicle as supple and expressive as the short story or sonnet. Not by
the end, though. The form she started out transcending she wound up
trapped by. And the final scenes of her career were the final scenes of
Sunset Boulevard, except she was Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond, the
writer floating dead in the swimming pool and the actress-murderess
descending the staircase as the cameras flashed, a star who’d outgrown
the pictures that had gotten so small.

Closing Credits

And now, back to the beginning. I called the facts I listed verifiable.
They both are and aren’t. (Basically, I let you think we were standing
on solid ground when I knew perfectly well it was quicksand.) In
Beatty’s telling, he was far from a lead in this real-life drama: “My
role, if that’s what you want to call it, was to encourage Love & Money
to get made at Paramount, but not as an active producer, certainly not
as a star.” He didn’t ask Kael to produce. It was vice versa: “She
said, ‘I’d really love to produce a movie.’ I said, ‘I think I can make
that happen.’ ”

This is counter to Toback’s telling. His take on Love & Money,
ultimately made, but at Lorimar, and without Kael or Beatty: “Of the 14
movies I’ve done, Love & Money is my least favorite, a distant last
place. I shouldn’t have got rid of Pauline. I regret it.” His
willingness to do himself the dirty, make unflattering admissions, gives
his account the ring of truth. That and the fact that it aligns with the
characters—so far as I understand them, anyway—of the people
involved. Also helping his cause: Kael backs him up, posthumously. As do
Barry Diller and Kael’s lawyer, Kenneth Ziffren, non-posthumously.

So Beatty, it would seem, got it wrong. It could be that his memory’s on
the fritz. Or it could be that he’s intentionally trying to deceive,
wants to dissociate himself from a failed movie and a dark episode in
Kael’s life. Or it could be that Toback nailed it: “Warren, at that
time, was also selling Heaven Can Wait and developing Reds. So he had
three things going on, only one of which was Love & Money. I had
nothing else on my mind. I’m going to remember better!”

A final possibility: that Beatty, an individual not given to mistakes,
didn’t make one here. In which case, all I can say in my own defense is
that I was following his advice. After all, it was he who quoted to me
the man he played in his most recent movie, Howard Hughes: “Never check
an interesting fact.”

During the production of 1962’s All Fall Down.

Photo: Digital Colorization by Impact Digital.

With Natalie Wood at the 1962 Academy Awards.

Photo: From Bettmann/Getty Images.

Julie Christie and Beatty in 1975’s Shampoo.

Photo: By Peter Sorel/Columbia Pictures/Photofest; Digital Colorization by Impact Digital.

With Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

Photo: From mptvimages.com.

With sister Shirley MacLaine at the 1966 Academy Awards.

Photo: From Bettmann/Getty Images.

Beatty on the set of 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.

Photo: From Warner Bros./Photofest; Digital Colorization by Impact Digital.

Beatty and wife Annette Bening in 1994’s Love Affair.

Photo: From Warner Bros./Photofest.