1. So. We should probably take some time to talk about the greatest romance of the whole entire 1990s.
It lasted only 15 months and was largely for show, but it continues to boggle minds with its weird and wonderful SENSUALITY more than two decades after its conclusion. It’s the ballad of Madonna and Warren Beatty, and, as far as relationships that are essentially three-ways with the paparazzi go, it’s basically perfect in every way.
4. First, a bit of backstory on Beatty is in order.
Let me just give you a minute to process that picture. Why isn’t every face young Warren Beatty’s face?
OK, moving on now. The first thing to know about Warren Beatty is that he made sure tons of people got to enjoy those good looks in a very intimate way. Beatty has reportedly slept with a micronation’s worth of women, according to his biographer, Peter Biskind, who wrote that the actor’s number of sexual partners is around “12,775… give or take, a figure that does not include daytime quickies, drive-bys, casual gropings, stolen kisses and so on.” Dude was hella notorious for being a tomcat.
In addition to all of these liaisons, he had an obsession with sotto voce late night phone calls to all manner of “pussycats,” as he called them. According to writer Anne Helen Petersen, Beatty “was constantly on the phone. He’d wake up, day or night, and get on the phone, and call everyone he knew, starting each conversation (with a woman) with ‘What’s new, Pussycat?’”
All of this is to say he was a MEGA Lothario, and also that I would kill for one of those phone calls. Given this context (consext? sorry), it’s pretty clear that a woman who literally wrote the book on sex would be a stellar match for Beatty.
7. Madonna and Beatty starred in Dick Tracy, a 1990 film he directed.
She played a lust-inspiring lounge singer, Breathless Mahoney, while he, of course, acted in the title role. According to Madonna’s close friend, comedian Sandra Bernhard, she took a keen interest fairly early on in the man whose chin deserves its own book of love sonnets. “Madonna and I were in the back of a limo driving to some concert in L.A., and she said, ‘Sandy, did you fuck Warren Beatty?’ I said, ‘No.’ And then a month later she started dating him.” They got together in January 1990, right on the heels of Madonna’s abusive marriage to Sean Penn, who reportedly jealously followed her car to Beatty’s house and waited outside nearly every night for her to leave. You know, like any totally sane and healthy ex would.
10. The two used each other’s fame like crazy to add complexity to their respective public images.
As Madonna’s brother, Christopher Ciccone, wrote in the Daily Mail, “My sister being my sister, she was acutely aware that being Warren’s girlfriend was wonderful for her mythology, her status in Hollywood.”
And Beatty, too, had ample reason to attach his name to Madonna’s. As a cover story in People magazine asserted, “Clearly his relationship with Madonna is symbiotic. He benefits from her name on the marquee [of Dick Tracy], she from his experience as an Oscar-winning director.” As the story goes on to point out over and over again, it’s important to bear in mind that they were promoting a movie throughout their involvement.
13. But for all its showiness, the relationship was also intimate and sexy as all get-out, as you might imagine.
Some sample stories from their courtship, according to Biskind:
“As Madonna reportedly recounted to a friend, Beatty called her from the car and said, ‘I’m half a mile from your house. Take off your panties.’ A few minutes later, he called again: ‘I’m four blocks from your house. Take off your bra.’ And again, when he pulled up outside her Malibu home: ‘Now I wanted you to go downstairs and unlock the door. Then I want you to lie on your bed and wait for me to come to you and make love to you like you’ve never been made love to before.’”
Um. I… whoa. OK. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
“During a dinner with Beatty at the Sushi Cove (sushi was his food of choice), Madonna was offered a selection of vanilla or chocolate ice cream for dessert. She chose both, which got him thinking. He asked her, ‘You seem to like to try everything. Have you ever made it with a woman?’ ‘Have you ever done it with a man?’ [she responded]. ‘Do you want a woman?’ he replied, ignoring her. ‘Because if you do, it will be my present to you. I’ll get you a woman… if I can watch.’ ‘All this, just from ordering two kinds of ice cream?’”
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! times infinity, divided by YOW.
As Petersen writes, “Beatty and Madonna were a perfect match: Both keenly understood how sex intertwined with their respective images, and how to exploit those images in a way that would endure.” YEAH, I’LL SAY. I think I need some sort of handkerchief or something before we move on.
16. Although Beatty reportedly asked Madonna to marry him, the relationship dissolved quietly after about a year.
In Madonna’s tour documentary Truth or Dare, you can see Beatty getting tired with her particular brand of attention-mongering. As the plot progresses, Beatty seems to get more and more peevish about the cameras following them everywhere, which culminates in his dressing down Madonna in a hotel room as she’s being examined by a doctor. He asks her why she’d want that on tape, then sarcastically sneers, “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk… What point is there of existing off-camera?”
When this contradiction of personality types is pulled into focus, it makes sense that the relationship never could have worked in the long run. The way Beatty conducted himself as a famous person was far less overt than Madonna’s outsized performance of her identity, which was especially true in terms of their sexualities — he communicated his by purring quietly and conspiratorially over the phone to one pussycat at a time, then luring her into the anonymity of being one among thirteen thousand others, while Madonna’s book has coffee-table-sized photos where she’s getting fingered by Vanilla Ice. So, you know, different strokes, etc.
And in the end, wouldn’t you know it — the last time Madonna and Beatty were seen in public as a couple was at the premiere of Dick Tracy. Has there ever been a more pat ending to a press-centric romance than literally breaking up immediately after the movie you’re in together premieres? “After that,” Ciccone writes, “their relationship just fizzles out. No fireworks, no recriminations herald the end of their romance. Just a slow, gentle fade-out.” Too bad for the tabloids, and for a future generation denied of the sexual monster-angel that their hypothetical child surely would have been. If you ever want to give it another go, Madonna and Beatty, I’ve got your back 5,000 percent, just as long as we get more stories out of it like the one about the ice cream. And if not, thank you for the gift of “chocolate and vanilla,” you two. May we always choose both in your honor henceforth.