updated 06/13/2008 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 06/13/2008 AT 10:00 AM ET
The actor-filmmaker Time magazine once dubbed “Mr. Hollywood” was saluted by that very town Thursday night, as Warren Beatty became the 36th annual American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement honoree.
Several generations of actors – from Robert Downey Jr. to Angela Lansbury – turned out at the Kodak Theatre for the 71-year-old, who’s been a movie star since his 1961 vehicle opposite Natalie Wood, Splendor in the Grass, and a Tinsel Town force since his groundbreaking Bonnie and Clyde – which he starred in and produced in 1967.
But other distinctions were singled out, too. Halle Berry, Beatty’s 1998 Bulworth costar, referred to him as “the greatest white rapper of the past 15 years.”
She further revealed that, when it came to their working together, “there was the usual discussion with the studio if there should be a scene to spice up the movie – if somebody should go topless. But I have to say, to Warren’s credit, he put his foot down and he insisted on keeping his shirt on for the entire movie.”
The evening also touched upon Beatty’s two other great passions: politics and the ladies – though, as one guest speaker, Jane Fonda, told the crowd, when she long ago met (and screen-tested) with Beatty in the 1950s, “I thought he was gay. He was so cute, and all his men friends were gay, and brilliant. He had a way of collecting really brilliant gay men friends. And he liked to play piano in a piano bar – I mean, what were the odds he was straight? Shows you how dumb I was.”
Recollecting the memorable scene in 1981’s Reds when her character is reunited with Beatty’s after a long and potentially tragic period of time, Beatty’s former real-life romance Diane Keaton recalled how Beatty the director pushed her in take after take to find the real emotion of the moment, despite her resistance.
“Finally,” said a now very emotional Keaton at the Kodak, “there was this sweet anguish of love when I saw your face, in a moment shared in time together. Thank you, Warren, and congratulations.”
Longtime friend Dustin Hoffman, who costarred with Beatty in the much-trashed 1987 comedy Ishtar and the much-dismissed 1990 Dick Tracy, jokingly called the AFI ceremony the “one-foot-in-the-grave” award, and said, “It’s ironic that I’m here for the ‘movies-that-bombed’ portion of the evening.”
Hoffman added, as the two stars both raised their fists in solidarity, “Ishtar shall rise again.”
As for his politics, Beatty himself said, “I was a liberal when it was fashionable, I was a liberal when it was unfashionable, and I’m a liberal when it’s coming back into style.”
All in all, the event proved a lovefest, as was even demonstrated by the star attraction.
Loves Wife and His Sister
“I love my profession, because it’s introduced me to the person who’s given me the most important thing of all, which is her love and the love of our four children Annette,” Beatty told the assembled, as his wife (since 1992), actress Annette Bening, teared up, and his sister, Shirley MacLaine, looked at her sister-in-law adoringly.
“I can thank the movies for leading me to you,” he said to Bening, while also paying tribute to MacLaine as “the person who set an example that I could do anything in life I wanted to do.”
Reporting by SCOTT HUVER
More: Warren Beatty has been among PEOPLE’s most popular cover boys. To see him through the years, click here
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