Dorothy Faye Dunaway (born January 14, 1941) is an American actress. She has won an Academy Award , three Golden Globes, a BAFTA, an Emmy, and was the first recipient of a Leopard Club Award that honors film professionals whose work has left a mark on the collective imagination. In 2011, the government of France made her an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Dunaways career began in the early 1960s on Broadway. She made her screen debut in the 1967 film The Happening, and rose to fame that same year with her portrayal of famed outlaw Bonnie Parker in Arthur Penn‘s Bonnie and Clyde, for which she received her first Academy Award nomination. Her most notable films include the crime caper The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), the drama The Arrangement (1969), the revisionist western Little Big Man (1970), an adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic The Three Musketeers (1973), the neo-noir mystery Chinatown (1974), for which she earned her second Oscar nomination, the action-drama disaster The Towering Inferno (1974), the political thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975), the satirical Network (1976), for which she received an Academy Award for Best Actress, and the thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).
Dunaway’s career evolved to more mature and character roles in subsequent years, often in independent films, beginning with her controversial portrayal of Joan Crawford in the 1981 film Mommie Dearest. Other notable films in which she has appeared include the drama Barfly (1987), the surrealist comedy-drama Arizona Dream (1993), the biopic Gia (1998), and the black comedy The Rules of Attraction (2002). Dunaway also performed on stage in several plays including A Man for All Seasons (196163), After the Fall (1964), Hogan’s Goat (196567), A Streetcar Named Desire (1973) and was awarded the Sarah Siddons Award for her portrayal of opera singer Maria Callas in Master Class (1996).
Protective of her private life, she rarely gives interviews and makes very few public appearances. After romantic relationships with Jerry Schatzberg and Marcello Mastroianni, Dunaway married twice, first with singer Peter Wolf and then with photographer Terry O’Neill, with whom she had a son, Liam.
Dunaway was born in Bascom, Florida, the daughter of Grace April (ne Smith; 19222004), a housewife, and John MacDowell Dunaway, Jr. (19201984), a career non-commissioned officer in the United States Army. She is of Scots-Irish, English, and German descent. She spent her childhood traveling throughout the United States and Europe.
Dunaway took dance classes, tap, piano and singing, and then studied at Florida State University and University of Florida, and graduated from the Boston University with a degree in theatre. She spent the summer before her senior year in a summer stock company at Harvard’s Loeb Drama Center, where one of her co-players was Jane Alexander, the actress and future head of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1962, at the age of 21, she took acting classes at the American National Theater and Academy. She was spotted by Lloyd Richards while performing in a production of The Crucible, and was recommended to director Elia Kazan, who was in search of young talent for his Lincoln Center Repertory Company.
Shortly after graduating from Boston University, Dunaway was already appearing on Broadway as a replacement in Robert Bolt‘s drama A Man for All Seasons. She subsequently appeared in Arthur Miller‘s After the Fall and the award-winning Hogan’s Goat by Harvard professor William Alfred, who became her mentor and spiritual advisor. “With the exception of my mother, my brother, and my beloved son, Bill Alfred has been without question the most important single figure in my lifetime. A teacher, a mentor, and I suppose the father I never had, the parent and companion I would always have wanted, if that choice had been mine. He has taught me so much about the virtue of a simple life, about spirituality, about the purity of real beauty, and how to go at this messy business of life.”
Dunaway’s first screen role was the comedy crime film The Happening (1967), which starred Anthony Quinn. Her performance earned her good notices from critics, with Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times saying that she “exhibits a real neat trick of resting her cheek on the back of her hand.” That same year, she had a supporting role in Otto Preminger‘s drama Hurry Sundown, opposite Michael Caine and Jane Fonda. Filming proved to be difficult for Dunaway as she clashed with Preminger, whom she felt didn’t know “anything at all about the process of acting.” She later described this experience as a “psychodrama that left me feeling damaged at the end of each day.” Dunaway had signed a six-picture deal with Preminger but decided during the filming to get her contract back. “As much as it cost me to get out of the deal with Otto, if I’d had to do those movies with him, then I wouldn’t have done Bonnie and Clyde, or The Thomas Crown Affair, or any of the movies I was suddenly in a position to choose to do. Beyond the movies I might have missed, it would have been a kind of Chinese water torture to have been stuck in five more terrible movies. It’s impossible to assess the damage that might have done to me that early on in my career.” The film was a critical and commercial failure but earned Dunaway a Golden Globe Award nomination, for Best New Star of the Year.
Dunaway had tried to get an interview with director Arthur Penn when he was directing The Chase (1966), but was rebuffed by a casting director who didn’t think she had the right face for the movies. When Penn saw her scenes from The Happening before its release, he decided to let her read for the role of the bank robber Bonnie Parker for his upcoming film, Bonnie and Clyde. Casting for the role of Bonnie had proved to be difficult and many actresses had been considered for the role, including Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margret, Carol Lynley, Leslie Caron, and Natalie Wood. Penn loved Dunaway and managed to convince actor and producer, Warren Beatty, who played Clyde Barrow in the film, that she was right for the part. Besides her relative anonymity, Beatty’s concern was her “extraordinary bone structure,” which he thought might be inappropriate for Bonnie Parker, a local girl trying to look innocent while she held up smalltown Texas banks. However, he changed his mind after seeing some photographs of Dunaway taken by Curtis Hanson on the beach, “She could hit the ball across the net, and she had an intelligence and a strength that made her both powerful and romantic.” Dunaway only had a few weeks to prepare for the role and, when she was asked to lose weight to give her character a Depression-era look, she went on a starvation diet, stopped eating and dropped thirty pounds.
The film was controversial on its original release for its supposed glorification of murderers, and for its level of graphic violence, which was unprecedented at the time. It performed well at the box office and elevated Dunaway to stardom. Roger Ebert gave the film a rave review and wrote, “The performances throughout are flawless. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, in the title roles, surpass anything they have done on the screen before and establish themselves (somewhat to my surprise) as major actors.” The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Dunaway received her first nomination for Best Actress. Her performance earned her a BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer and a David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actress, and she was now among the most bankable actresses in Hollywood, as she later recalled. “It put me firmly in the ranks of actresses that would do work that was art. There are those who elevate the craft of acting to the art of acting, and now I would be among them. I was the golden girl at that time. One of those women who was going to be nominated year after year for an Oscar and would win at least one. The movie established the quality of my work. Bonnie and Clyde would also turn me into a star.”
That movie touched the core of my being. Never have I felt so close to a character as I felt to Bonnie. She was a yearning, edgy, ambitious southern girl who wanted to get out of wherever she was. I knew everything about wanting to get out, and the getting out doesn’t come easy. But with Bonnie there was a real tragic irony. She got out only to see that she was heading nowhere and that the end was death.Faye Dunaway
Dunaway followed this success with another hit, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), in which she played Vicki Anderson, an insurance investigator who becomes involved with Thomas Crown, a millionaire, played by Steve McQueen, who attempts to pull off the perfect crime. Director Norman Jewison hired Dunaway after he saw scenes from Bonnie and Clyde before its release and, like Arthur Penn did with Warren Beatty, had to convince McQueen that she was right for the part. The film emphasized Dunaway’s sensuality and elegance with a character who has remained an influential style icon. The role required over 29 costume changes and was a complex one to play. “Vicki’s dilemma was, at the time, a newly emerging phenomenon for women: How does one do all of this in a man’s world and not sacrifice one’s emotional and personal life in the process?” Despite his original reluctance to work with her, McQueen later called Dunaway the best actress he ever worked with. Dunaway was also very fond of McQueen. “It was really my first time to play opposite someone who was a great big old movie star, and that’s exactly what Steve was. He was one of the best-loved actors around, one whose talent more than equaled his sizable commercial appeal.” The film was immensely popular, and was famed for a scene where Dunaway and McQueen play a chess game and silently engage in heavy seduction of each other across the board.
Career setbacks, 19691973
Following the completion of The Thomas Crown Affair, Dunaway began filming Vittorio de Sica‘s romantic drama, A Place for Lovers (1968), with Marcello Mastroianni, in which she played a terminally ill American fashion designer in Venice who has a whirlwind affair with a race car driver. Although Dunaway had always wanted to avoid romances with her co-stars, she began a love affair with Mastroianni that lasted for two years. The film was an artistic disappointment and a commercial failure. In 1969, Dunaway appeared in The Arrangement, a drama directed by Elia Kazan, based upon his novel of the same title, opposite Kirk Douglas. The film did poorly at the box office, receiving mostly negative reviews, although Dunaway was praised, with Roger Ebert writing that her acting “is not only the equal of in Bonnie and Clyde but is, indeed, the only good acting she has done since.” Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that she was “looking so cool and elegant that the sight of her almost pinches the optic nerves.” Also in 1969, The Extraordinary Seaman, a comedy adventure directed by John Frankenheimer and also starring David Niven that she shot right after Bonnie and Clyde, was released to poor reviews and proved to be a commercial failure. Despite protests from her agent, Dunaway turned down a lot of high-profile projects in order to spend time with Mastroianni.
In 1970, Dunaway took a supporting role as a favor to Arthur Penn in his western, Little Big Man. In a rare comic role, Dunaway played the sexually frustrated wife of a minister who helps raise and seduce a boy raised by Native Americans, played by Dustin Hoffman. The film was widely praised by critics and was one of Dunaway’s few commercial successes at this point. That same year, she appeared in the lead role in Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970), an experimental drama directed by Jerry Schatzberg and inspired by the life of model Anne St. Marie. The film failed to generate commercial interest, though it earned for Dunaway a second Golden Globe nomination, for Best Actress Motion Picture Drama. The film remained in obscurity over 40 years, until it was revived at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in honor of Dunaway. Her next role was in the western Doc (1971), which tells the story of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral and of one of its protagonists, Doc Holliday. During the filming, Dunaway realized how much she missed working. That same year, she went on to make the French thriller The Deadly Trap with Frank Langella. It was a chance for her to work with one of the most widely respected postwar directors in France, Ren Clment. The film was screened only five months after the first day of shooting at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition.
Neither Doc nor The Deadly Trap had generated much attention, either critically or financially, so Dunaway accepted an offer to star in a movie for television, The Woman I Love (1972), in which she portrayed Wallis Simpson. She returned to film in 1973 with Stanley Kramer‘s drama, Oklahoma Crude, opposite George C. Scott. It was an ambitious project in which Dunaway had to play another complex character, “a woman who is caught between her ambition and her feminity. When the film opens, she is as tough as nails, a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later woman. Along the way, she slowly opens herself up to her estranged father and a lover. I understood that dilemma well, the conflict between ambition and love, the fear of trusting someone else with your love.” The film was a modest success but Dunaway received good notices for her performance. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert noted how she had never topped the work she did in Bonnie and Clyde, and said that her career had been “rather absentminded” ever since. He praised her performance in Oklahoma Crude, saying that she played the role with “a great deal of style,” while adding, “Perhaps she has decided to get back to acting.”
In 1972, following the filming of Oklahoma Crude, Dunaway returned to the stage in an adaptation of Harold Pinter‘s Old Times. She found the stage more challenging than film. “Old Times affected me in a lot of very complex ways. The play itself reminded me during a difficult point in my life that there are a million facets to life. There is never just one answer. Professionally, if I hadn’t taken that step to go back to the stage, in a serious way, I think I would have suffered for it.” The following year, Dunaway portrayed Blanche DuBois in a Los Angeles stage adaptation of Tennessee Williams‘s A Streetcar Named Desire. “It was a fun performance for me, but hard, very draining. At the height of the madness each night, I would go from standing straight up to falling to my knees, in one swift move.” Williams himself praised Dunaway for her performance, “He told me later that he thought I was brave and adorable and reminded him of a precocious child, and that my performance ranked with the very best. It was high praise indeed coming from him.” Also in 1973, Dunaway appeared as the villainous Milady de Winter in Richard Lester‘s The Three Musketeers, based on Alexandre Dumas‘ novel of the same name, co-starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Charlton Heston. Eventually, producers decided to split the film into two parts: The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (released in 1974). Critics and audiences alike praised the film for its action and its comic tone, and it was the first in a line of successful projects for Dunaway.
Director Roman Polanski offered Dunaway the lead role of Evelyn Mulwray in his mystery neo-noir Chinatown (1974). Although its producer, Robert Evans, wanted Polanski to consider Jane Fonda for the role, arguing that Dunaway had a reputation for temperament, Polanski insisted on using Dunaway. She accepted the challenging and complex role of Mulwray, a shadowy femme fatale who knows more than she is willing to let Detective J.J. Gittes (played by Jack Nicholson) know. Dunaway got along well with Nicholson, describing him later as a “soul mate,” but she clashed with Polanski, who had a reputation for being dictatorial and controlling on a set. “Roman was very much an autocrat, always forcing things. It ranged from the physical to the mental. He was very domineering and abrasive and made it clear he wanted to manipulate the performance. That approach has never worked with me.”
Two weeks after the filming started, the two had a confrontation that became notorious. Polanski pulled one of Dunaway’s hairs out of her head, without telling her, because it was catching the light. Dunaway was offended, describing his act as “sadistic” and left the set furious. “It was not the hair, it was the incessant cruelty that I felt, the constant sarcasm, the never-ending need to humiliate me.” Years later, both shared their admiration for each other, with Polanski saying that their feud was not important “Its the result that counts. And she was formidable,” while Dunaway admitted that “it was way too much made out of it,” added that she enjoyed working with Polanski, calling him “a great director,” and stated that Chinatown was “possibly the best film I ever made.”
Despite the complications on the set, the film was finished, released to glowing reviews and ultimately became a classic. It made back its budget almost five times, and received 11 Academy Award nominations. Dunaway received a second Best Actress nomination, and also received a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA nomination. Upon the release of the film, producer Robert Evans was full of praise for Dunaway. “She has everythingbeauty, talent, neurosis. She’s one of the great strange ones. When the lights go out and that face comes out of the dark and she looks at you with those big mysterious eyes, I tell you, it’s a very compelling thing. She has something we haven’t seen on the screen for a long time. She has witchery. She’s a femme fatale.”
That same year, Dunaway appeared in a television adaptation of After the Fall with Christopher Plummer. She played the lead role, which was for her “like a dream come true. As with Bonnie, I knew the territory well. Maggie (her character) was a completely wounded soul, a girl who had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks.” She next played Paul Newman‘s girlfriend who is trapped in a burning skyscraper along with several hundred other people in the all-star disaster epic, The Towering Inferno (1974). The film became the highest-grossing film of the year, further cementing Dunaway as a top actress in Hollywood. Also in 1974, Dunaway married Peter Wolf, who was the lead singer of the rock group The J. Geils Band. At this time, she felt “exhausted from the constant and intense pressures of the work,” and decided to pull out of The Wind and the Lion (1975), in which she was to costar with Sean Connery, at the last moment to concentrate on her married life.
Her next feature was Sydney Pollack‘s political thriller, Three Days of the Condor (1975). Her character was to be held hostage by a CIA analyst, played by Robert Redford, and Dunaway was required to display fear that she might be raped. However, she had difficulty not breaking into laughter during the shoot as “the idea of being kidnapped and ravaged by Robert Redford was anything but frightening.” The film was a critical and commercial success, and Dunaway’s performance, which was praised by the critics, earned her a fifth Golden Globe nomination. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert called her character “the very embodiment of pluck,” and said that, “She has three lines of dialogue that brings the house down. They’re obscene and funny and poignant all at once, and Dunaway delivers them just marvelously.” Dunaway took a break from acting and spent almost a year turning down projects. She passed on a role in Alfred Hitchcock‘s final film, the comic thriller Family Plot, which she later lamented. She returned to the screen in 1976 with the Holocaust drama Voyage of the Damned. The story was inspired by true events concerning the fate of the MS St. Louis ocean liner carrying Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba in 1939.
That same year, Dunaway appeared in the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted satire Network as the scheming TV executive Diana Christensen, a ruthless woman who will do anything for higher ratings. She loved the script and later said this was “the only film I ever did that you didn’t touch the script because it was almost as if it were written in verse.” She pursued the role over the objections of her husband, Peter Wolf, and her confidant, William Alfred, who regarded Christensen as too heartless and were concerned that people would confuse her with the character. However, Dunaway believed it was “one of the most important female roles to come along in years” and went along with Chayevsky’s conception and director Sidney Lumet‘s warning that she would not be allowed to sneak in any weeping or softness, and that it would remain on the cutting room floor if she did.
The film, a success in its own day, is frequently discussed today due to its almost prophetic take on the television industry. Dunaway’s performance was lauded, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times saying that she “in particular, is successful in making touching and funny a woman of psychopathic ambition and lack of feeling.” Dunaway’s performance in Network earned her many awards. She was named Best Actress in the Kansas City Film Critics Awards, and she also received mentions from the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. She received her sixth Golden Globe nomination for Network and was awarded Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama. In early 1977, the Academy Awards nominated Network for ten awards, with Dunaway winning in her third Best Actress nomination.
I will never forget the moment, and the feeling, when I heard my name. It was, without question, one of the most wonderful nights of my life. The Oscar represented the epitome of what I had struggled for and dreamt about since I was a child. The emotional rush of getting this accolade, the highest one this industry can award you, just hit me like a bomb. It was the symbol of everything I ever thought I wanted as an actress.Faye Dunaway
Also in 1976, Dunaway appeared as the lead in the made-for-television movie, The Disappearance of Aimee, in which she co-starred with Bette Davis. Following her Oscar win, Dunaway took another break from acting to figure out her personal life. As her marriage was falling apart, she began a relationship with English photographer Terry O’Neill, who took one of his most famous pictures, The Morning After, showing Dunaway poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel with her Oscar the morning after the ceremony. In 1978, Dunaway returned to the screen in Irvin Kershner‘s thriller Eyes of Laura Mars, about a fashion photographer who sees visions of a killer murdering people. The film was a success at the box office and Dunaway received positive reviews for her performance, with Janet Maslin writing for The New York Times that she was “perfect for her role.” She played supporting roles in The Champ (1979), as the film offered her the chance to play the role of a mother, “which was emotionally where I wanted to be in my life,” and The First Deadly Sin (1980), as she wanted to work with Frank Sinatra. In 1981, Dunaway played the title role in Evita Peron, a television miniseries based on the life of the famed First Lady of Argentina.
That same year, Dunaway portrayed actress Joan Crawford in the adaptation of her daughter Christina‘s controversial memoirs, Mommie Dearest, in which she had depicted her adopted mother as an abusive tyrant, who only adopted her four children to promote her acting career, making quite a stir as the first celebrity tell-all book. Dunaway accepted the role after meeting producer Frank Yablans and director Frank Perry, who both assured her that they wanted to tell the real story of Joan Crawford and not just a tabloid version of her life. “Though Christina’s book was obviously an exploitation book, the first one of its kind, my task was to portray a woman, a full woman who she was in all her facets, not just one. I tried to illuminate who this woman was. But it was more than just about being angry, it was about trying to examine and explore the forces that undermined her.” To play the role, Dunaway researched Crawford’s films and met with many of her friends and co-workers, including director George Cukor. Filming proved difficult for her as she was almost never out of character. “If your mind is on a woman who is dead and youre trying to find out who she was and do right by her, you do feel a presence. I felt it at home at night sometimes. It wasnt pleasant. I felt Joan was not at rest.” Following of the filming of the infamous wire hangers tantrum scene, Dunaway was so hoarse from screaming that she lost her voice. Frank Sinatra drove her to see a throat specialist and shared his own tips on how to preserve her voice.
The film in 1981 and was a commercial success despite negative reviews. Dunaway’s uncanny performance earned her two Best Actress award nominations by the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and the National Society of Film Critics Awards, and was lauded by critics. Janet Maslin, while dismissing the film as incoherent, wrote that Dunaway’s performance was “a small miracle” and praised her energy and commitment to the role. The frequently harsh Pauline Kael raved about Dunaway’s performance, stating that she had reached new heights as an actress and surmised that it would be difficult for Dunaway to top her performance as Crawford. Vincent Canby also praised Dunaway, writing that “Mommie Dearest doesn’t work very well, but the ferocious intensity of Faye Dunaway’s impersonation does, as does the film’s point of view, which succeeds in making Joan Crawford into a woman far more complicated, more self-aware and more profoundly disturbed than the mother remembered in Christina Crawford’s book.” Director Sidney Lumet stated that it was “a brilliant, an extraordinary performance. The courage of that evil that she brings to it, I think thats just major acting.” Although the film became a cult classic as well as one of her most famous characters, Dunaway expressed her regrets for playing Crawford as she felt “it was meant to be a window into a tortured soul. But it was made into camp.” She also blamed the film for hurting her career and almost never agreed to discuss it in interviews afterwards.
I know you have a life, and you act many roles. But after Mommie Dearest, my own personality and the memory of all my other roles got lost along the way in the mind of the public and in the mind of many in Hollywood. It was a performance. That’s all that it was. For better or worse, the roles we play become a part of our persona, and the actress and the woman are identified with that persona. People thought of me as being like her. And that was the unfortunate reality for me about this project.Faye Dunaway
Film, television, and theatre, 19821999
In 1982, Dunaway appeared in a television adaptation of Clifford Odets‘s dramatic play The Country Girl as the wife of a washed-up alcoholic singer played by Dick Van Dyke, whom she later described as “one of the sweetest and funniest men in the world,” but admitted “Though it was a valiant effort on all our parts, and there were moments were I thought were good and true, the remake fell short of our hopes and certainly of the original. But doing it helped remind of that I do love this business of acting, something the Crawford movie had come close to making me forget.” That same year, she returned to the stage with The Curse of an Aching Heart in a part she later felt she had been miscast in. “It was a little bit too star-heavy with me in it. The play would have been better with just the simplest of women.” Despite her mixed feelings about it, her performance earned her good reviews from the critics, with Frank Rich writing for The New York Times that “Miss Dunaway’s absence from the theater has not dimmed her stage technique. She’s usually in command.”
During this time, Dunaway moved to England with her partner Terry O’Neill, whom she married in 1983, and, being more interested in her married life, only took on work that was convenient for her. That same year, she returned to the screen in Michael Winner‘s period melodrama The Wicked Lady, in which she played an 18th-century highway robber. The film proved to be a critical and commercial failure. “Though I loved making The Wicked Lady, in the end it just didn’t have the juice it needed to be a hit. It seemed to never quite decide whether to be a farce or a drama, and so it failed by being neither.”
In 1984, Dunaway played the lead villain in the superhero movie Supergirl. She felt that “the film was really just a send-up, a spoof, and I had a lot of fun with Selena (her character)” but later admitted she was furious with the director Jeannot Szwarc, “Every time I tried to do something funny, he wouldn’t let me. He said, “you have to be the straight person”. I always wanted to do comedy but it’s daunting when you’ve not done it before.” Also in 1984, Dunaway appeared in a television miniseries, Ellis Island, which earned her a second Golden Globe Award, for Best Supporting Actress Series, Miniseries or Television Film. The following year, she starred in the miniseries, Christopher Columbus. She also appeared in two Agatha Christie adaptations, Ordeal by Innocence and Thirteen at Dinner (which was made for television). Though the work was involving, Dunaway struggled to find artistically fulfilling roles during this period in England. “I missed doing movies. The television scripts I was getting were thin. There is no comparison between those and a Chinatown script.” “Though I had worked steadily in England, it felt as if I had disappeared completely. I was rapidly becoming invisible. I felt increasingly that my career was being limited to, and limited by, the projects that were being mounted there.” Following her divorce from O’Neill in 1987, Dunaway returned to the United States and attempted to rebuild her career by appearing in several independent dramas.
Dunaway was widely praised for her performance as an alcoholic opposite Mickey Rourke in Barbet Schroeder‘s drama Barfly (1987). Based on a novel by Charles Bukowski, the film was very important to her as she later explained, “This character, who has given over her days and nights to a bottle, is my way back to the light. This is a role that I care deeply about. I haven’t felt this passion for a character since Network. I saw the promise of a comeback for me in the deglamorized face of Wanda, a woman of sweet vulnerability.” The film was a small success at the box office, but received excellent reviews from critics and Dunaway earned her sixth Golden Globe Award nomination, for Best Actress Motion Picture Drama. Pauline Kael wrote that “Dunaway plays the self-destructive Wanda with a minimum of fuss… she wins your admiration by the simplicity of her effects” and Roger Ebert felt that both Rourke and Dunaway take their characters as opportunities to stretch as actors, to take changes and do extreme things. After Barfly, which remained one of her favorite films, Dunaway tried to be careful about the roles she chose, but was also faced with the reality she had to work to support herself and her child.
In 1988, she appeared in the period drama The Gamble but felt that the best part of this experience turned out to be meeting her co-star Matthew Modine. The following year, she produced and starred in an adaptation for television of Olive Ann Burns‘ historical novel Cold Sassy Tree. Dunaway co-starred Richard Widmark and Neil Patrick Harris as an enchanting dressmaker who lightens up the lives of a young boy and his grandfather, whom she marries to the town’s disapproval. The film aired on TNT to great success and became one of Dunaway’s favorite experiences. “What gave Cold Sassy its heart were the people who were involved. It was an incredible collaboration, and I treasure the experience as much as the result, of which I am extremely proud.” That same year, she agreed to take part in Wait Until Spring, Bandini with Joe Mantegna as a favor to Tom Luddy, who had produced Barfly. Also in 1989, she appeared in the Italian drama Crystal or Ash, Fire or Wind, as Long as It’s Love as she wanted to work with director Lina Wertmller. In 1990, she was reunited with Robert Duvall, with whom she had co-starred in Network, in Volker Schlndorff‘s adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale. The film did not do well at the box office but Dunaway’s performance earned her good reviews. Roger Ebert wrote that “Duvall and Dunaway provide the best moments in the movie, he by showing the unconscious egotism of the male libido, she by showing that in all times and all weathers, some kinds of women will gauge their happiness by the degree to which their family’s exterior appearance matches the accepted values of society.”
Double Edge (1992) by Israeli director, writer and actor Amos Kollek offered her a role she wanted to play, a New York Times reporter who has been sent to Jerusalem for three weeks to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All of these were smaller movies that never manage to draw the attention of a mass audience. The following year, Dunaway accepted a supporting role in the thriller The Temp as she felt the project had the potential to be a mainstream hit and was a chance for her to reconnect with a larger audience. The film however proved to be a critical and commercial failure. Four weeks before the release of the film, Paramount decided to re-shoot the final scene, much to Dunaway’s displeasure as her character was going to be turned into the murderer. “Once again, I could see myself being thrown into playing the extreme what was initially conceived as a character in the tradition of Diana in Network was being turned into a high-gloss female executive/slasher. The new ending wasn’t enough to salvage the film, though. By the final scene, it didn’t matter who was the killer, the film had been dead for an hour at least.” Also in 1993, Dunaway was cast as Johnny Depp‘s love interest in Emir Kusturica‘s surrealist comedy-drama Arizona Dream. The film, in which she played a woman who dreams of building a flying machine, premiered in Europe to great acclaim, and received the Silver Bear Special Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. Dunaway was very proud of the film, and believed that her role could bring her career to higher heights than ever. However, Warner Bros. elected to re-edit Kusturica’s film, cutting and changing it. Dunaway was dismayed to find that some of her best scenes were left out of the American version. Warner Bros. released the film in United States in 1994 to positive reviews, but little box office.
That same year, Dunaway was cast in the short-lived CBS sitcom, It Had to Be You. Around that time, she was contacted by NBC who wanted her to take on the role of a female sleuth, more in the vein of Columbo than Murder, She Wrote. As the prospective series was being developed, Dunaway contacted Columbo star Peter Falk, wanting his advice on how to approach playing a sleuth character. While discussing the role, Falk told Dunaway about a Columbo script that he had written himself. It’s All in the Game featured a seductive woman who plays a game of cat-and-mouse with Lt. Columbo in the midst of a murder. Falk had written the script some years prior, saying that he could not find the right actress to take on the role. He offered her the role, and Dunaway accepted immediately. The 1993 TV movie proved a success, nominated for several Golden Globe and Emmy Awards. Dunaway was recognized with the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, saying it was that moment when she felt like she was truly home. “I was overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit my colleagues extended me that night. It was like being wrapped up in a warm embrace. Though this is more often than not a town of grand illusions and transitory friendships, the moment seemed heartfelt, and touched me deeply.”
With the prospective detective show not working out, Dunaway became interested in returning to the stage. She auditioned to replace Glenn Close in the musical Sunset Boulevard, a stage version of 1950 film of the same name. The composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber cast Dunaway in the famed role of Norma Desmond, and Dunaway began rehearsing to take over the LA engagement from Close when Close moved the show to Broadway. Tickets went on sale for Dunaway’s engagement, but shortly after the rehearsals started, Webber and his associates announced that Dunaway was unable to sing to their desired standards. They announced that when Close finished her engagement, the show would shut down completely. Dunaway filed a lawsuit, claiming that Webber had damaged her reputation with his claims. The case went to court and a settlement was later reached, but Dunaway and the producers have not discussed it. In 1995, Dunaway reunited with Johnny Depp in the romantic comedy Don Juan DeMarco, in which she played Marlon Brando‘s wife. A hit at the box office, the film was praised for its romance and the performances of the three main characters. That same year, Dunaway published Looking for Gatsby, a memoir she co-wrote with Betsy Sharkey, which earned her great reviews. Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly wrote in his review of the book that “to read her accounts of her Oscar-nominated performances as the taut, sexy, neurotic femmes fatales of Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, and Network is to learn from an expert about the instincts, collaborations, and compromises that go into great film acting.”
The following year, Dunaway was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and starred in the family comedy Dunston Checks In, the crime thriller The Chamber, which reunited her with her Bonnie and Clyde co-star Gene Hackman, and the directorial debut of actor Kevin Spacey, Albino Alligator. Also in 1996, Dunaway returned to the stage, playing famed opera singer Maria Callas in the U.S. national tour of the Tony Award winning play Master Class by Terrence McNally. Callas was one of Dunaway’s favorite characters she ever played. “That woman changed an art form and not many people can say that. Callas is to opera what Fellini is to cinema.” Similarities were made by the press between the career and personalities of Callas and Dunaway as both were seen as perfectionists whose run-ins with directors had them castigated as prima donnas. “I think the play is really about what it takes to do something in life, and it’s original in that, because there’s not a play I know of that has been written about that. This is about an uncompromising artist and a professional who will stop at almost nothing to serve the art that she loves. She said it over and over again in many of her interviews: “It’s not a question of discipline, it’s a question of love, of what you do out of the passion for your art.” And she’s right. She was all about feeling that’s why I love this role so much.” The tour was a great success and earned Dunaway rave reviews for her performance, as well as the Sarah Siddons Award.
Her performance as the matron of a wealthy Jewish family in turmoil in the drama The Twilight of the Golds (1997) earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries. In 1998, she starred with Angelina Jolie in Gia, a biographical film about the rise and fall of supermodel Gia Carangi. Playing the small but key role of Carangi’s agent, Dunaway was well reviewed and won her third Golden Globe Award, for Best Supporting Actress Series, Miniseries or Television. The following year, Dunaway appeared in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, and Roger Ebert argued in his review of the film that she had more electricity in 1968 and still does compared to actress Rene Russo who was cast in her original role. Also in 1999, Dunaway portrayed Yolande of Aragon in Luc Besson‘s historical drama The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
Independent films and break, 2000-2015
In 2000, Dunaway appeared in the James Gray-directed crime film The Yards as Charlize Therons mother. Although failing to perform at the box office, the film was received with positive reviews. That same year, she turned down the opportunity to play a drug addict in Requiem for a Dream and the role went to Ellen Burstyn, who received an Academy Award nomination for her performance. In 2001, Dunaway’s role in Running Mates earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film. In 2002, she played Ian Somerhalder‘s rich Xanax-popping mother in Roger Avary‘s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘ novel, The Rules of Attraction. She served as a judge on the 2005 reality show The Starlet, which sought, American Idol-style, to find the next young actress with the potential to become a major star. In 2006, Dunaway guest-starred in one episode of the crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation because she was a huge fan of the show. She also appeared on Touched by an Angel, Alias and Grey’s Anatomy. In 2008, Dunaway agreed to star in a low-budget Welsh horror film, Flick, for a fraction of her usual $1million fee after falling in love with the script. She called the writer and director David Howard personally to accept the part of a one-armed American detective, saying it was “a really original story.” The film premiered at the Raindance Film Festival. That same year, she criticized Hollywoods treatment of older women, saying: “I am furious that they think I’m too old to play the love interest of guys like Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. Why should I play sisters and mothers while guys like Jack and Clint, who are older than me, have on-screen lovers half their age?”
In 2009, Dunaway began shooting a film version of the McNally play Master Class, starring herself as Maria Callas, Al Pacino (as Aristotle Onassis), Val Kilmer, Alan Cumming, her son Liam Dunaway O’Neill and lyric soprano Danielle de Niese (the latter two as opera students). As film roles became more difficult to find, Dunaway bought the rights to the play after the 1997 tour and announced her intention of writing, directing and starring in the film. The production however was a disaster and financing the project has been one of the many obstacles. “I want to do it my way. I’m not going to sell it out to a studio. You have to raise money. You have to get private investors and it takes a long time to get it right. It takes 10 years. People hear Faye Dunaway and think she has a lot of money, but I don’t because I’ve spent a lot. Not tonnes. I spent what I want to spend on this movie and you have to have skin in this game. You have to take risks.” In 2013, she confirmed that she had completed the first half of the film and planned to shoot the rest soon after. However, it was announced in June 2014 that after nearly 20 years of owning the film rights, Dunaway had decided to withdraw from the project.
In 2011, a photo of Dunaway taken by Jerry Schatzberg in 1970 was chosen as the 64th annual Cannes Film Festival poster backdrop. The festival organizers described it as a “Model of sophistication and timeless elegance, it is an embodiment of the cinematic dream that the Festival de Cannes seeks to maintain.” During the festival, Dunaway and Schatzberg appeared at a special screening of Puzzle of a Downfall Child, earning a standing ovation upon their entrance. In 2013, Dunaway was the first recipient of the Leopard Club Award and made a rare personal appearance at the Locarno International Film Festival to accept the award. In 2014, Dunaway was recognized as the guest of honor by the Lumire Film Festival. Organizers praised the “immense contribution she has made to the emergence of the independent American films of the sixties and seventies, and the contribution is of the highest caliber.” Her attendance at the festival was described as an “exceptional event.” Dunaway received a standing ovation by a crowd of 5,000 and declared in an emotional speech following the tribute she received, “My fans and my friends have supported me in this search for all these years and I thank you from all of my heart and without you I would not be the same Faye Dunaway.” Also in 2014, Dunaway had to pull out of a French drama called Macadam Stories, in which she was going to play the lead, due to health issues, and was replaced by Isabelle Huppert.
Return to film, 2016present
In 2016, Dunaway made two rare public appearances at the TCM Classic Film Festival. She hosted a screening of Network and also joined in conversation with Ben Mankiewicz for a Q&A session in which she discussed her decades-spanning career. The hour-long interview later aired on TCM as Faye Dunaway: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. Although she stated in a 2013 interview she felt her acting career was “pretty much over,” Dunaway told Mankiewicz she had no intention to retire, “We live for work. We live for what we do. I just want to keep working. It’s where I’m happiest.” That same year, she guest-starred as herself in the season finale of season two of the mockumentary series Documentary Now!. The episode, titled Mr. Runner Up: My Life as an Oscar Bridesmaid, was inspired by producer Robert Evans, with whom Dunaway worked on Chinatown, and the 2002 documentary about his life The Kid Stays in the Picture.
In 2017, Dunaway appeared in her first feature film in eight years with the release of The Bye Bye Man, a horror-thriller that proved to be a commercial success, despite negative reviews, and earned her positive notices. Dunaway then accepted a small role in The Case for Christ, a Christian drama based on the 1998 book of the same name by Lee Strobel, as she wanted to do a faith film, “I became aware of this genre maybe a year or two ago and I told my agent to look out for a project that I could do because I’ve been a devout Catholic since the beginning of my career.” Her final release of 2017 was Inconceivable, a psychological thriller in which she starred alongside Nicolas Cage and Gina Gershon. Dunaway broke her leg a few days before filming but director Jonathan Baker refused to recast the role, as it had been written specifically for her, and rewrote her part so that she would be able to perform sitting down. The critic Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter found “distressing that Dunaway cant find more dignified projects at this point in her estimable career.”
Also in 2017, Dunaway reunited with her Bonnie and Clyde co-star Warren Beatty at the 89th Academy Awards, in celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. After being introduced by Jimmy Kimmel, they were given a standing ovation as they walked out onto the stage to present the Best Picture Award. They were given the wrong envelope and Dunaway incorrectly announced La La Land as Best Picture, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. This became a social media sensation, trending all over the world. Dunaway was left “completely stunned” when Oscars crew members came on stage to explain that there had been a mistake and later said she felt “very guilty” about the incident, describing it as “one of the worst moments I’ve ever had”. That same year, Dunaway was honored at the Dallas International Film Festival where she was presented with the Dallas Star Award.
Legacy and reputation
Dunaway is regarded as one of the greatest and most beautiful actresses of her generation, as well as a powerful emblem of the New Hollywood.Joan Crawford praised Dunaway in her 1971 book, My Way of Life. “Of all the actresses, to me, only Faye Dunaway has the talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star.” Director John Huston, who played Dunaway’s father in Chinatown, stated in a 1985 interview that he found her to be “quite extraordinary.”Robert Evans, who produced Chinatown, also described her as “extraordinary” and affirmed that “no one could’ve played her part as well.”Stephen Rebello of Movieline wrote in a 2002 article, “Though fiercely modern, an ideal female analog for screen machos like Steve McQueen and the young Jack Nicholson, she also radiated the stuff vintage movie stars are made of. Any actress today would be lucky to have a fraction of her films on her resume.”
Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux said, “She has one of the most wonderful filmographies of any actress. Look at her movies from the ’70s for example she only made good choices. She’s had an incredible career.” Through her career, Dunaway worked with many of the 20th century’s greatest directorsElia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, Arthur Penn, Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack and Emir Kusturica among them, and several of the films she starred in became classics. In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Network on their list of the 100 best American movies ever made. Her roles as Bonnie Parker and Joan Crawford were respectively named 32nd and 41st on the AFI’s list of the fifty greatest screen characters in the villain category. Elizabeth Snead wrote in her review for USA Today of Dunaway’s memoirs that she was “the epitome of a modern, mature, sexy woman” and Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly felt that “Faye Dunaway is a rarity in the land of stars (and star bios) a tough, smart, committed pro.” In 1994, Dunaway was ranked 27th by People Magazine on a list of the 50 most beautiful people and in 1997 she was ranked 65th by Empire Magazine on a list of the 100 top stars in film history.
Famously demanding, with an attention to detail that sometimes drove costars and directors mad, Dunaway believed she was often mistaken for being as cold and calculating as some of the women she portrayed. Her clashes with Roman Polanski on the set of Chinatown earned her a reputation for being difficult to work with. Upon the release of the film, Polanski told a reporter for Rolling Stone that he considered Dunaway “a gigantic pain in the ass, but added that he had “never known an actress to take work as seriously as she does. I tell you, she is a maniac.Bette Davis described Dunaway as the worst person she had ever worked with in an interview with Johnny Carson in 1988, calling her “totally impossible”, “uncooperative’, and “very unprofessional”. Dunaway denied Davis’ claims in her autobiography, writing “Watching her, all I could think of was that she seemed like someone caught in a death throe, a final scream against a fate over which no one has control. I was just the target of her blind rage at the one sin Hollywood never forgives in its leading ladies growing old.”
In his 1996 book Making Movies, Sidney Lumet slammed Dunaway’s reputation for being difficult as “totally untrue” and called her a “selfless, devoted and wonderful actress.” Director Elia Kazan described Dunaway as “a supremely endowed, hungry, curious, bright young talent” and added “Faye is a brilliant actress and a shy, highly-strung woman. She is intelligent and she is strong-willed.” Like Lumet, Kazan felt she was not difficult but a perfectionist who was never satisfied. “The artist is rarely, if ever, satisfied. The artist is frequently grateful and intermittently amazed, but he or she is never satisfied. That Faye is unlikely to be satisfied with her effortsor those with whom she worksis not a caprice; it is not the willful misbehavior of a spoiled actress: This is how artists operate.” Johnny Depp, who co-starred with Dunaway in Arizona Dream and Don Juan deMarco, called her a misunderstood artist. “Shes just uncompromising as an actress and I think thats a positive thing.” Maria Elena Fernandez of The Los Angeles Times wrote in a 2005 article about Dunaway that “in her case, the behavior many call ‘difficult’ seems clearly linked more to passions than to ego.” In her autobiography Looking for Gatsby, Dunaway confronted this reputation and described herself as a “perfectionist.” “God is in the details. I want to get it right. The fact is a man can be difficult and people applaud him for trying to do a superior job. People say, ‘Well gosh, he’s got a lot of guts. He’s a real man.’ And a woman can try to get it right and she’s ‘a pain in the ass.’ It’s my nature to do really good jobs, and I would never have been successful if I hadn’t.”
In 1962, Dunaway started a romance with stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce that lasted for a year. She was engaged to photographer Jerry Schatzberg from 1967 to 1968. The two remained friends and Dunaway later starred in his first film as a director, Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970). During the filming of A Place for Lovers (1968), Dunaway fell in love with her co-star Marcello Mastroianni. The couple had a two-year-live-in relationship. Dunaway wanted to marry and have children, but Mastroianni, a married man, could not bear to hurt his wife and refused, despite protests from his teenage daughter Barbara and his close friend Federico Fellini. Dunaway decided to leave him and told a reporter at the time that she “gave too much. I gave things I have to save for my work”. She later recalled in her autobiography:
There are days when I look back on those years with Marcello and have moments of real regret. There is that one piece of me that thinks that had we married, we might be married still. It was one of our fantasies, that we would grow old together. He thought we would be like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, a love kept secret for a lifetime. Private and only belonging to the two of us.
Mastroianni later told a reporter for People in 1987 that he never got over his relationship with Dunaway. “She was the woman I loved the most”, he said. “I’ll always be sorry to have lost her. I was whole with her for the first time in my life.”
In 1974, Dunaway married Peter Wolf, the lead singer of the rock group The J. Geils Band. Their career commitments caused frequent separations and the two divorced in 1979. She met her second husband, the British photographer Terry O’Neill, when he was assigned by People magazine to take pictures of Peter Wolf and of her in 1977. They married in 1983 and Dunaway credited O’Neill with being “the one person responsible for helping me grow up to womanhood and a healthy sense of myself”. Their child, Liam Dunaway O’Neill, was born in 1980. In 2003, despite Dunaway’s earlier indications that she had given birth to Liam, Terry O’Neill revealed that their son was adopted. During their marriage, which lasted four years until their divorce in 1987, Dunaway, born a Protestant converted to Catholicism. In a rare interview for Harper’s Bazaar in 2016, Dunaway said she felt “it’s important to have a partner, probably” but she described herself as a “loner” and added, “I kind of like to be alone and do my work and, you know, be focused on my own things.”
Awards and nominations
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
- The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
- The Arrangement (1969)
- Little Big Man (1970)
- Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)
- The Three Musketeers (1973)
- Chinatown (1974)
- The Towering Inferno (1974)
- The Four Musketeers (1974)
- Three Days of the Condor (1975)
- Network (1976)
- Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
- The Champ (1979)
- Mommie Dearest (1981)
- Barfly (1987)
- Arizona Dream (1993)
- Don Juan DeMarco (1994)
- Gia (1998)
- The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
- The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)
- The Yards (2000)
- The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Select theatre roles: