Taming of the Beast

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Warren Beatty’s conquest list reads like a who’s who of celebrity vixens. Raquel Welch, Linda McCartney, Diana Ross, Joan Collins, Vivien Leigh, Cher, Natalie Wood, Faye Dunaway, Bridgette Bardot Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Madonna all gave it their best shot to be “the one” in Beatty’s eyes. But this Richmond,Virginia native, born Henry Warren Beatty on March 30, 1937 knew instantly which woman would capture his heart forever.

San Pietre, a pizza restaurant in a mini-mall near his office in Beverly Hills was the meeting place between he and a young actress 21 years his junior named Annette Francine Bening. The attraction was instantaneous and the Bugsy co-stars fell in love in a whirlwind fashion. Bening developed the moniker jealously referred to as “the woman who tamed the beast.”

Bening was born in Wichita, Kansas, but moved to the West Coast when she was seven. She received her BA degree in Theater Arts from San Francisco State University and performed with the American Conservatory Theater. Shortly after, she gave New York City a try and it paid off, big time. Her Tony-nominated performance in Tina Howe’s “Coastal Disturbances” opened the eyes of many casting directors who wanted more of this sultry and talented young actress. Her introduction to film came quickly with roles in The Great Outdoors, Valmont and The Big Heat.

Life was just beginning to blossom for Annette Bening. Her marriage to J. Steven White, a former director of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, ended in 1991 opening up her dance card for the next eligible bachelor in line. And this was the Bachelor of all Bachelors.

The son of a drama teacher, Beatty seemed to always possess a certain charm and charisma. At Washington-Lee High School in Arlington,Virginia, he was a top football player and president of his class. He went on to Northwestern University in 1955, but he dropped out after a year to move to New York City. Focused on becoming an actor, Beatty studied with famed teacher Stella Adler. His older sister, Shirley MacLaine, had already enjoyed some success as a performer.

Beatty’s career reached a new level of fame in 1967 with the crime drama Bonnie and Clyde, based on the real-life thieving couple of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Behind the scenes, Beatty took the reins as the film’s producer. A commercial and critical hit, Bonnie and Clyde earned 10 Academy Award nominations, including several acting nods for Beatty, his co-star Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and other supporting cast members.

With some producing credits to his name, Beatty’s next challenge saw him take on the lead role in an adaptation of the Dean Jennings book, We Only Kill Each Other: The Life and Bad Times of Bugsy Siegel. In order to capture the strong will of Virginia Hill, Beatty was going to have to find an actress worthy of the challenge.

While sitting together at San Pietre Pizza discussing the film, something began to stir in Beatty. Within minutes, Beatty claims he knew she was “the one.” Bening put up more of a fight and would later go on to state: “I didn’t go into that meeting with Warren thinking it would lead to anything personal. I was thinking about the job. I didn’t feel I would spend the rest of my life with him.”

The resistance was futile however as Bening came around during the filming of Bugsy and fell madly in love with Warren. The two were married on March 3, 1992 in a “super secret” ceremony and didn’t announce their official marriage until March 12. Their two-month old daughter, Kathlyn, was their maid of honor.

Certainly, no one was expected Beatty to marry. Indeed, he once stated that he had never married because he could not “buy into that ‘til death do us part’ stuff’,” and he had always had a weakness for infidelity. But now he yearned to have a family and time was running out. Children, he told his friends, were “the key to understanding what is important.”

The public’s opinion of Warren didn’t seem to affect Annette in any negative way. “I didn’t have any preconceptions about him. He didn’t have any about me either,” Annette says defiantly. “This wasn’t about how many women he had been out with. Sure he likes women. Why shouldn’t he? He makes you feel good. Well, he made me feel good! In fact, he is very committed to whatever he does and that includes being a father. He wants to do things well. I think we both knew pretty early on in Bugsy what was going on between us.”

The couple would go on to have an incredibly strong and wonderful relationship while raising four children together. To mark their 10th wedding anniversary on March 3, 2002, Warren Beatty bought her a 19th-century flower-petal choker pendant from Neil Lanein L.A.The four petals, made of red garnets and surrounded by diamonds, represent their four children, while the diamond in the center represents Bening.

Warren: “After years of running around and having a good time, I began to realize with some embarrassment that in most ways my movies all seem to return to one fairly unoriginal recurring theme: ‘Love conquers all,’ ” he said. “I don’t know if it’s true but it seems to be true for me.”

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