According to Faye Dunaway, playing the role of Joan Crawford in the movie, “Mommie Dearest” was the biggest mistake she ever made. Although the Dunaway’s mailing address was Bascom, Florida, Faye was really born in Two Egg. Her father, John McDowell Dunaway, a military officer, was stationed in Europe during most of his career. Her mother, Grace April Smith, indulged her daughter’s ambition to become an actress by giving her lessons in singing and tap dancing. At FSU, Faye studied drama, then transferred to the University of Florida, later studied at the University of Boston’s School of Fine and Applied Arts. After graduation, she was offered a part in a stage play, A Man for All Seasons, written by a Harvard professor, whom she chose as her mentor and spiritual advisor.
Faye was deadly serious about becoming the best actress she could possibly be, but either was badly advised or made mistakes of her own by turning down offers to play the lead role in several outstanding movies. Even so, she struck gold when she played the role of Bonnie in the movie, “Bonnie and Clyde.” To capture that Depression Era look of being half starved, she lost thirty pounds, giving her cheeks a slightly, sunken look, and giving her already slender frame a willowy grace.
The critics heaped praise upon praise. Robert Evans said she had “everything, beauty, talent and neurosis. She is one of the great, strange ones.” She was called bewitching, a femme fatale, with elegant sensuality.
In all her roles, she preferred playing a strong woman, equally matched in intelligence to her contemporary male counterparts. She particularly loved playing Bonnie, saying: “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 know everything about wanting to get out, and the getting out doesn’t come easily. But with Bonny, there was real tragic irony. She got out to see that she was heading nowhere and that the end was death.”
Before winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in Bonnie and Clyde, Faye was awarded three nominations for best actress, including one for her performance in Network, an almost prophetic take on the television industry. For that role, even the New York Times, considered the toughest of all critics, praised her for doing the impossible. She had made the role of a woman of psychopathic ambition and lack of feeling somehow seem funny and touching.
Winning the Oscar for Bonnie and Clyde was the pinnacle of success for Faye, who said, “The emotional rush of getting this accolade, the highest one this industry can award just hit me like a bomb! It was the symbol of everything I ever thought I wanted as an actress.”
She was rumored to have had many lovers, but she married twice, first to Peter Wolf, the lead singer in a rock band, the married Terry O’Neill, a British photographer from 1984-1997. They had one son, Liam.
She won more awards that can be listed here, but she started out like a rocket, winning her first Academy Award acting with Jack Nicolson in Chinatown. For the same role, she also won the Golden Globe award for the best actress in a leading role as well as the same award from Bafta.
Perhaps her acting was too good! When she took the role of Joan Crawford in the movie, Mommy Dearest, she was so successful in making Crawford seem so monstrously evil that people began to shiver in horror when she walked by. Even the people who had worked on the set with Crawford said that Faye looked like Crawford just risen from the dead.
She became so identified with the horror of the character she played, that she became shunned. Some could not believe that the real Joan Crawford could have been that terrible, even though the part she played was true to the book. Now, the real Faye Dunaway now lives in a modest bungalow in a poorer section of Los Angeles behind high hedges and an iron gate. Her neighbors say they have no idea who she is.