As Benjamin Franklin allegedly once said there are only a few certainties in this life: death, taxes and Faye Dunaway flying into a rage if you ask her about Mommie Dearest. It’s a common mandate handed to journalists prior to interviews with the veteran actress, but it appears to have changed with news that the Oscar-winner is writing a book about the tumultuous making of the camp classic.
Dunaway’s lingering anger over Mommie is somewhat understandable. The film adaptation of Christina Crawford’s bestselling exploitation novel about the horrors she faced at the hands of her adoptive mother, screen icon Joan Crawford, crashed and burned instantly upon its theatrical release in 1981. However, it just as quickly became a camp film with few peers (only 1967’s Valley of the Dolls and 1995’s Showgirls are spoken about in the same hushed tones).
Despite a bravura turn by Dunaway (it was hailed by the great critic Pauline Kael as a “startling, ferocious performance”), the star took the brunt of the harsh criticism, which should have been leveled at director Frank Perry for not creating a more balanced portrait that showed the humanity of Crawford, instead of a non-stop horror show of Dunaway wielding an axe, bathroom cleaning powder and, in the film’s most talked-about scene, wire hangers.
While many pundits have suggested that the commercial failure of the film caused the Oscar-winning actress to topple from Hollywood’s A List, Dunaway says she paid a greater price by having her own persona confused with that of of the movie’s depiction of the forever-raging Crawford. Before the 1981 film, Dunaway had been one of Tinseltown’s most sought-after and acclaimed actors, starring in a number of landmark films including Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Network, for which she won a best actress Academy Award. Since then, however, the actress appeared in a number of lesser films considered beneath a star of her stature, with only an occasional film of note, 1987’s Barfly for example. And stories of Dunaway’s temperament are legion in the industry. But at age 74,perhaps the actress is in a calmer, more reflective mood and finally ready to address the career-changing film.
Publisher’s Lunch, a publishing industry newsletter, mentioned an upcoming project in a recent email:
Academy Award winning actress Faye Dunaway’s recollections, stories and behind the scenes account of the making of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films, Mommie Dearest, to Julia Cheiffetz at Dey Street Books, by Alan Nevins at Renaissance (World).
Here’s Dunaway in a rare polite conversation about the film on Inside the Actor’s Studio.
Here’s a notorious message left by Dunaway on the answering machine of a producer working on a documentary about her career.