Beatty, Seinfeld -- targets for certain innuendoes

By Janet Maslin

New York Times News Service

The good news about celebrity like Warren Beatty's or Jerry Seinfeld's must be self-evident to anybody who wants to read about them. The bad news is that these guys cannot even floss in peace.

No, nothing is too personal, venereal or dental to escape the notice of a sufficiently mean-spirited show business Boswell. Both Jerry Oppenheimer, who tells readers that Seinfeld flossed before watching television on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and Ellis Amburn, who describes Beatty's dressing up a la Halloween for conjugal purposes with his wife, Annette Bening, are tireless in their pursuit of invidious personal glimpses.

"Later, back at Mulholland, they donned matching latex Tarzan and Jane outfits and played dress-up through the night," Amburn reveals about Beatty-style domestic bliss.


How does the biographer happen to know this? Whatever Beatty's sexual predilections might be, his idea of a good time does not apparently extend to having Amburn in his vicinity during intimate moments. Somebody else did the legwork on this anecdote, as is true for much of the recycled material that turns up in "The Sexiest Man Alive," Amburn's biography.

This is a book that treats Robert Evans' famously Paul Bunyan-esque memoir "The Kid Stays in the Picture" as near gospel; most of its sources are far more scandal-worthy than the stories they provide. Thank the supermarket tabloid The Star for an article headlined "Warren Beatty Plays Tarzan in Bedroom."

With one look at Amburn's panoply of footnotes, a pattern becomes clear. The more likely a celebrity biography is to be on a first-name basis with its subject ("Shirley and Warren," "Jack's Life," "Bardot," "Natasha," "Geffen," "Papa John" and "Miss Rona" are among his sources), even if the person in question is on a first-name basis with the world ("Madonna" and "Madonna Unauthorized" are also recycled), the shakier and more secondhand it becomes.

The reliability of "The Sexiest Man Alive" (which at least has the wit for a catchy title) is suspect long before Amburn quotes a high-priced call girl named Liza (a fellow author) and thanks the waitress in Beverly Hills who "served me roast beef and told me what Elizabeth Taylor had said in my banquette the night before."

With his nose pressed against the glass wall surrounding Beatty's legendarily libidinous exploits, Amburn ("what a wealth of tales I gleaned at Paul Jasmin's birthday party for Marisa Berenson at Giorgio Moroder's house on Castle Place, talking with Barry Diller, Bud Cort, Swifty Lazar, Ellen Burstyn and Brad Davis") gives free rein to resentment.

"At least his full beard" for "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" successfully "kept him from resembling an old pioneer woman, the fate of many men with long hair after age 20," Amburn points out.

The word "laughingstock" comes up more than once. Beatty is said to have been "approaching his senior years and fast losing his looks" by the late 1980s. Every now and then Amburn, an experienced biographer and book editor, trades the malice for a loftier, faux-dignified tone. He announces that "in squandering the power of his celebrity, Warren did not serve his country well."

Oppenheimer, the author of the windily named "Seinfeld: The Making of an American Icon," has previously served his country with the definitive tar and feathering of the Skakel family and an aprons-off attack on Martha Stewart that anticipated much of Christopher Byron's "Martha Inc." Venomous as they were, those books also were more successfully salacious than the Jerry Seinfeld story proves to be.


Aficionados of show business muckraking as a biographical art form will spot the signs of trouble on the back cover of this one. Prospective buyers are teased with the facts that Seinfeld could get upset enough to cry ("a college lover on Jerry's sensitivity"), that he has had an interest in Scientology ("a confidant on Jerry's involvement in Scientology") and that he has always been ambitious. Those are the exciting parts.

Although he maintains that "everyone tirelessly answered my difficult, probing questions," among the book's named and comically anonymous sources (e.g. "a critically observant close family friend" who found the Seinfeld family's furniture "schlocky"), Oppenheimer encounters a shortage of interesting information. His subject is widely acknowledged to be noncommittal, fastidiously clean and controlling, to the point of demanding a precise shade of gray grout for his entryway tiles. Naturally this makes pay dirt hard to find.

Like Beatty -- who is also grudgingly admired by his new biographer for business sense and careful dietary habits -- Seinfeld becomes a target for certain innuendoes. Each of these books hints, as legally as possible, at the thought that its subject has flirted with bisexuality.

Oppenheimer in particular goes down this road with two left feet, as when he cites gossip about Seinfeld's closeness to certain male friends. It seems that another young comedian "had his own questions about Jerry's friendship with Wallace, because of what appeared to him to be Jerry's disinterest in women, not that there's anything wrong with that."

In any case, it is a well-known tabloid fact that neither Beatty nor Seinfeld has ever lacked female companionship. And in both cases, assorted former flames are happy to talk. Unfortunately Oppenheimer is also happy to let them ramble on, and these girlfriends share interchangeable ideas.

What To Read Next
Get Local