Our Pledge To You

News

Ever political, Warren Beatty laments the waning of civility

Warren Beatty stands outside George McGovern headquarters in 1972, when he worked on the Democratic senator's presidential campaign full time. | AP FILE PHOTO

Warren Beatty glances out the window of the black SUV as we cross the State Street Bridge over the Chicago River, near the foot of the Marina City towers.

“We shot ‘Mickey One’ right here,” says Beatty, referring to the cutting-edge, semi-surrealistic 1965 gem starring Beatty as a stand-up comic who flees the mob in Detroit and creates a new identity in Chicago.

I ask him about his memories of visiting Chicago over the years. Beatty takes one of his famous pauses. (One learns not to jump in too fast, because usually there’s more to come.)

“With Chicago … most of the times I’ve been here, it’s [had to do] with politics. 1968, of course, I was here for the [Democratic National] Convention. … Did you know Mayor Daley, the first one? Nice fellow, actually …”

I spent time with Beatty two days running when he was in Chicago recently to promote “Rules Don’t Apply,” his first film in 15 years. (Beatty directs and has a supporting role as Howard Hughes. Excerpts from my conversations with him about that film and his career will appear in a future edition of the Sun-Times.)

Our talks often turned to politics. Beatty seemed as surprised as many a political veteran that Donald J. Trump, “a reality TV star,” was the Republican nominee. He lamented the lack of civility between Hillary Clinton and Trump in the debates and on the campaign trail.

“You know, one of my best friends is John McCain,” he told me. “We agree on almost nothing politically, but we can be friends. … We can have conversations about ideas.”

Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening (left) attend a 2005 charity event with their friends John McCain, the Republican senator, and his wife, Cindy. | KEVIN WINTER/GETTY IMAGES

Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening (left) attend a 2005 charity event with their friends John McCain, the Republican senator, and his wife, Cindy. | KEVIN WINTER/GETTY IMAGES

Beatty has been politically active for more than half a century. He gave gun control speeches at sporting events in the 1960s. (They were not received well.) He took a break from movies in the early 1970s to work full time on George McGovern’s presidential campaign. (During that time, Beatty became close friends with McGovern campaign manager Gary Hart, whose own run for the presidency in 1988 was famously derailed by reports of womanizing.)

In 1968, Beatty was just getting immersed in politics as an activist. He campaigned for Bobby Kennedy.

“He would have won the nomination,” Beatty says of RFK, who was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after emerging victorious in California’s winner-take-all primary. (Kennedy concluded what would be his final speech by saying, “Now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there.”)

Beatty and Julie Christie attended the DNC in Chicago in August of 1968. He recalled being in “the park,” as in Grant Park, with protesters as police gassed them.

And he recalled being asked to meet with Hubert Humphrey, who by then was the presumptive Democratic nominee, at what was then known as the Conrad Hilton Hotel on South Michigan Avenue.

“I was against the [Vietnam] War, of course,” says Beatty. “And Hubert at the time [was wavering]. I told him I could support him only if he came out against the war. But he just couldn’t do it right then.”

(A month later, Humphrey would pledge to halt U.S. bombing in South Vietnam, strengthening his position in the polls — but he was defeated by Richard Nixon in a relatively tight race, losing the popular vote by 7/10ths of 1 percent.)

Beatty spoke fondly of the late Irv Kupcinet, the legendary Sun-Times columnist and host of “The Irv Kupcinet Show,” later known simply as “Kup’s Show,” which ran on local television in Chicago from the early 1950s through the 1980s.

Irv Kupcinet (right) interviews Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on "Kup's Show" in 1966.  |  Sun-Times files

Irv Kupcinet (right) interviews Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on “Kup’s Show” in 1966. | Sun-Times files

The guest rosters on “Kup’s Show” were the stuff of legend. You were as likely to see Sammy Davis Jr. as Tennessee Williams; Judy Garland as Malcolm X; Barbra Streisand as Truman Capote.

“I was on Kup’s show in the late 1960s with Bob Hope,” says Beatty. “I loved Bob Hope … [but] at the time, he was doing the TV specials with the troops.”

For decades, the comedian would visit U.S. Armed Forces across the world and tape TV specials. In the mid- and late 1960s, “The Bob Hope Vietnam Christmas Show” was a perennial event on NBC.

Beatty: “Kup asked about the Vietnam War, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t think we should be there, I think we should get out.’ Because that’s the way I felt.

“And we go to a commercial break, and when we come back, Bob Hope is gone. He left. I never found out if he just had to leave, or he didn’t want to be on the show after what I said.”