The SRO movie-loving crowd lunching at the grand ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel today thought they knew why they were on hand — partially. It was to continue the week’s celebration of the AFI’s 40th anniversary and bid a fond farewell to its director of 27 years, Jean Picker Firstenberg. As soon as the guests departed, the news spread that Warren Beatty would be the next recipient of the AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He’ll receive it Thursday, June 12 at the Kodak Theater. I arrived at the hotel ballroom at the same time as Warren and his wife, Annette Bening. They looked like the personification of movie stars as they stood at the top of the stairs, graciously chatting with everyone. Warren is great at chatting — and telling you nothing on the record, of course. But his films spoke for him as the AFI screened clips from award-winning films, his included. As noted during the luncheon, the films also screened Wednesday night at the ArcLight celebration. At the Directors Guild screening of “Bonnie and Clyde,” Warren and I chatted briefly about his debut as a film producer exactly 40 years ago. He’s still planning on making more films — eventually.
Meanwhile, his wife had just returned from Boston, having completed her role in the feature remake of the 1939 film “The Women.” She plays the role originated by Rosalind Russell. Bening also recently announced she would not star in Joanna Murray Smith’s drama “The Female Of The Species,” which was to bow Feb. 5 – Mar. 16 at the Geffen Theater in Westwood and go on to Broadway as directed by Tony award-winner Michael Mayer. Bening said she didn’t want to again be apart from her four children (the oldest is 15) at this time in their lives, having just been on location in Boston throughout the production of the film,”even though we worked very fast.” She assured me she will return to the Broadway stage soon.
The AFI tribute to Firstenberg included accolades from Kirk Douglas, AFI Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Howard Stringer, Chairmen of the Board of Directors, John F. Cooke and Jon Avnet (on tape with Al Pacino) and an emotional tribute from brother David Picker relating Jean’s and the family’s showbiz heritage. George Stevens Jr., founder of the AFI and its first chairman, told of its beginnings and the initial support of the arts by President Lyndon Johnson. Clips showed support from all the following Presidents. Stevens said the AFI dream will continue with new President Bob Gazzale, but there’s no question Firstenberg will be missed by the showbiz community.