Written By: Lily Rothman, Liz Ronk

It may be hard to believe these days, but Warren Beatty wasn’t always Hollywood royalty. 

But, as LIFE described in a major feature about Beatty that ran in April of 1968, there was a moment when it seemed that his burgeoning career might fade. In 1961, he had broken into the business with a star turn in Splendor in the Grass from filmmaker Elia Kazan with a script by William Inge and, as LIFE pointed out, “you cannot break in much higher than that.” But he had followed that film with movies that were less than spectacular hits, and his reputation as a headstrong on-set personality and a headline-making celebrity serial monogamist (of whom LIFE declared that “the radiance of unquestioned virility pours out” when he smiled) threatened to overshadow his actual work.

All that changed with Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 movie in which he starred with Faye Dunaway.

But it wasn’t just the movie itself that set Beatty right. With low expectations for its success, the studio buried its release in its calendar. The initial response from critics and audiences was middling. It was then that Beatty accomplished the remarkable feat of convincing the public to reconsider. In fact, TIME essentially reviewed the picture twice, first as a “strange and purposeless mingling of fact and claptrap” in August of 1967 and a few months later, in a cover story, as “the sleeper of the decade,” noting that the first review had made a “mistake.”

By the time it was nominated for Best Picture, Beatty was set. Here’s a look back at LIFE best portraits of the star from the 1960s and ’70s.

Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, 1961.

Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, 1961.

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock images

Warren Beatty with Natalie Wood at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Warren Beatty with Natalie Wood at the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Allan Grant The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Warren Beatty sitting in field of flowers in 1967.

Warren Beatty, 1967.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Warren Beatty accepting an award in 1968.

Original caption: “Enchanting his audience, Beatty is a gracious award winner at a dinner given by the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, which picked Bonnie and Clyde as the best picture of 1967.”

Bob Gomel The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Warren Beatty at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1967.

Warren Beatty at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1967.

Bob Gomel The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Warren Beatty at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1967.

Warren Beatty at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1967.

Bob Gomel The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Warren Beatty at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1967.

Warren Beatty at the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures in 1967.

Bob Gomel / LIFE Picture Collection via Shutterstock

Warren Beatty at the ocean, 1967.

Warren Beatty, 1967.

Ralph Crane The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Warren Beatty on the phone as he campaigns for Sen. George McGovern's democratic presidential nomination, 1972.

Warren Beatty on the phone as he campaigns for Sen. George McGovern’s democratic presidential nomination, 1972.

Ralph Morse The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

More Like This

people

The Champ, The Beatles and a Tearful Girl: The Photography of Bob Gomel

people

The ‘Queen of Soul’ in ’90’s Fashion

people

What Meets the Eye: The Photography of Co Rentmeester

people

Barack Obama at 60: His Life, His Work, His Living Legacy

people

Before She Was Catwoman: Julie Newmar in LIFE

people

Van Halen: The Dave Years, the Sammy Years, the Life, the Music, and the Joy