1977 was a great year for Faye Dunaway. She finally won her Academy Award for her blistering performance in the now-classic Network. Previously nominated for Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 and Chinatown in 1974, Dunaway was at the pinnacle of her career. Little did she know that the long slide to oblivion had already stared.
By 1981, when her infamous Mommie Dearest was released, Dunaway's career as a major star was pretty much over. Faye Dunaway always blamed Mommie Dearest as the reason for her decline, but her performance (see previous blog) was actually highly praised and she came in second in the New York Film Critics balloting that year. Faye's problems were simple. Faye was and is difficult at best, and her lousy film choices from 76-81 were abysmal—The Eyes of Laura Mars (at least this turkey made money); the ghastly remake of The Champ, and the dreadfully earnest Voyage of the Damned followed by The First Deadly Sin (a stinker with Frank Sinatra) pretty much destroyed her career.
There is a fabulous new book called Mad As Hell by Dave Itzkoff that chronicles the behind-the-scenes story of the making of Network. Naturally, Faye Dunaway did not participate or cooperate in the writing of this wonderful story. Reading about Faye Dunaway being difficult during Network pales to her behavior during the filming of Chinatown. Roman Polanski has been pretty blunt about how hard it was to deal with Dunaway's neurotic behavior. Plus, our own celebrity scribe Billy Masters has spent years detailing her ornery to grotesque behavior.
But we have come to praise Mommie Faye. Network is a great movie. How it lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Rocky, and how the great Sidney Lumet got gypped out of the Best Director award is dealt with candidly in this tell-all book. And Faye Dunaway as the predatory Diana, the newswoman from hell, gives a monumental no-holds-barred performance. Maybe Dunaway should always play neurotic women. Bonnie Parker and Evelyn Mulray from Chinatown gave neuroticism new definition. Plus Faye Dunaway played Aimee Semple McPherson and Evita in two memorable TV movies. Each of these ladies rates high on the deranged Richter scale.
The secret to Faye Dunaway's greatness may actually be her driving personality. And Dunaway is splendid in all these films. She was also a rare beauty who pretty much was able to play harpie women without cheating on the characters. Dunway never went soft in her best portrayals. She never let overt vulnerability or self-pity cheapen the performance.