Beatty and the Beasts
Two biographies revisit the studio system's 1970s swan song
How Warren Beatty Seduced America
by Peter Biskind
Simon & Schuster
$30.00 List Price
In March 1974, Warren Beatty and director Hal Ashby filmed Shampoo. Set on Election Day 1968, it's a sex farce about a Beverly Hills hairdresser, George (Beatty), bedding his client list while trying to get investment money to open his own salon from a husband he's cuckolding, Lester (Jack Warden). While Shampoo was in postproduction, Watergate undid Richard Nixon, and Ashby made sure to feature him prominently on televisions and radios—though no character even thinks of voting—to comment on the newly chastened era in which the film's audience was living. Sending up not only Nixon, the easy target, but how he came to power, Shampoo shrugs off partisanship with Lester's reaction to the Nixon win, as he's considering having George beaten to a pulp for sleeping with his fiancée (and his ex-wife, and his daughter). "Maybe Nixon'll be better," Lester sighs. "What's the difference? They're all a bunch of jerks."
As political, sexual, and class satire, Shampoo was a zeitgeist bull's-eye. Of course, it also offered less subtle associations—chiefly that of Beatty's character exploiting the actor's real-life playboy image; his exes Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie star opposite him. "Half the audience thought I was showing off how sexy I am," says Beatty, who had spent 1972 as a top adviser to the George McGovern campaign. "Nobody understood that it was about politics. Shampoo's audience was the audience that didn't want to go to war, that used every means to end the war. Then Watergate destroyed authority in the country, ended trust in politicians. What Shampoo had to say was what