Column: Pop Cultures

by Matt Siegel

Faye Dunaway, hypersensitive lioness, capped fangs, and painted claws on the ready, lives in California, and in a state of constant outrage.

Throughout her career, Dunaway’s temperament has drawn comparisons to those of her recalcitrant Hollywood predecessors, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

But Davis could cut up every now and then. And Crawford could be coy when it served her purpose. Dunaway, though…what’s that line from Absolutely Fabulous? “She’s so cold, sweetie, I’ll just bet she has her period in cubes.”

Historically, Dunaway blames Mommie Dearest for creating her negative public persona. She claims that she was so believable in her role as Joan Crawford, audiences were unable to peel her away from the narcissistic, overwrought, exasperated stickler she portrays in the film. Well, if it looks like Mommie Dearest, walks like Mommie Dearest, and is prone to throwing shit fits like Mommie Dearest…

1. Dunaway v. Lloyd Webber To be fair, Dunaway had good reason to be humiliated. With tickets sold and only five weeks until its premiere, Andrew Lloyd Webber ousted her from the Los Angeles 1994 production of “Sunset Boulevard.” Apparently, Webber felt her vocal skills were not up to par.

With no Gloria Allred in sight, Faye held a press conference (yes, a press conference), from the backyard of her home in the Valley (yes, the Valley), punctuated by a bevy of microphones and dramatic gesticulations. With a demure robin’s egg blue sweater draped around her shoulders, voluminous hair, and a pearl necklace/earring set, she did her best kabuki performance of a calm and collected woman. She was all shit-eating grins, using fancy words à la “capricious” to describe Webber: “He tends to be a capricious man…This is, yet, another capricious act by a capricious man.”

2. Dunaway v. Davis Just as she is lifting a silver goblet to her parched coral lips, post-stroke and quarter-dead octogenarian Bette Davis is asked by a talk show host for her thoughts on Dunaway. Instead of taking a sip, Davis raises her black-gloved arm in mock toast. “I’ll raise my glass nev-ah to Miss Faye Dunaway. Nev-ah, nev-ah! She is the most in-considerate woman I have ev-ah worked with!”

3. Dunaway v. A Biographer’s Voicemail In 2011, a series of four rambling voicemail messages, left by Dunaway for a biographer with whom she was collaborating, were published on the Internet.

The following is an amalgamation of highlights from the six-minute rant:

VOICEMAIL OPERATOR: Call received 6:14 a.m., Thursday, February 27th. “Jack, this is Faye Dunaway…look, I’m really not interested in him…he’s a big, big liar…I don’t want to discuss it in the interview…the movie, which I was brilliant in and was not well-sold in this country…for Christ’s sake…and I’m NOT gonna approve it…I’m really upset now…that stupid interview with a man that I will not even waste my time discussing…so let’s not even go there; it’s very upsetting to me…I’m not interested…I want him cut out…everything to do with that Mommie Dearest…it’s an obsession…as you can hear, I’m really fed up…I want all that Lloyd Webber stuff out, he’s a terrible person and everybody knows that…because it’s such a stupid cult movie…and that’s not what I’m interested in…that’s not what my life is about, nor is it about fighting this guy in London who said all of these really off-the-wall things…and badly sold by Warner Brothers over here…they had no idea how to deal with a distinguished movie…I really don’t want to keep talking to you, I don’t like these pressure tactics…I don’t wanna go through a lawsuit but if I have to I will…and I resent Kevin getting you to call me when he very much knows my number…so I’m really fed up again now, somebody better call me and clarify this, but don’t you call me anymore…I’m really fed up!”

4. Dunaway v. Polanski Perhaps this feud was fueled by the fact that she was never young enough for director Roman Polanski, who privately nicknamed her “The Dreaded Dunaway” while working together on Chinatown.

According to film historian Peter Biskind, Polanski, who was accustomed to a decidedly dictatorial directing style back on the film sets in Poland, was butting heads with Dunaway already when he yanked a stray hair from her head because he thought it was catching the light and spoiling his shot. “That motherfucker plucked my hair!” Faye allegedly screeched, storming off the set. He also claims that Dunaway threw a cup of urine in Polanski’s face after she was refused a bathroom break.

Polanski described Dunaway as “a gigantic pain in the ass” and said that she “demonstrated certifiable proof of insanity.”

5. Faye v. the “guy in London” (see number 3) When interviewing Dunaway about her 2008 role as a “one-armed Memphis cop on the trail of a zombie,” Xan Brooks, associate editor at The Guardian, made the colossal mistake of inquiring about the rumored Polanski/urine debacle on the Chinatown set:

“It is as if an electric current has gone through her. ‘I won’t respond to that,’ she blurts. ‘That doesn’t even deserve the dignity of a response. I don’t know the details of that. It is absolutely ridiculous…This from The Guardian…I don’t believe it! It is insulting that you would even bring it up!’ Abruptly, the outrage seems to lift her from her seat. ‘I can’t go on with this…I think you’ve brought up something that is so distasteful.’ She can barely get the words out. ‘You know very well,’ she says. ‘I am a lady and you were completely insulting.’…She is incandescent with rage.”

And that’s exactly how we like our Faye Dunaway, incandescent with rage. And perhaps, with this recount, we’ll find ourselves next on the black list. Rage on, Faye. Rage as only you know how to do.