I love Faye Dunaway. I loved her from the first movie I watched her in (Bonnie and Clyde) to the time I saw her in the flesh a few years ago at the Arc Light Theater on Sunset. Standing behind a small woman in the concession line before dipping into I Heart Huckabees, this woman began yelling at the employees. They were taking forever and she wanted her root beer now dammit! Not knowing who the person attempting to start a mutiny against the Arclight employees was and noticing the poor workers maniacally fixing a broken till, I said, “Come on. Calm down. They’re having some problems.”
And then, to my shock, the head that whips around to take a look at me is none other than Faye Dunaway. She says (with that unmistakable Dunaway boldness mixed with a giggle): “But we’re going to be late to our movie!”
Shocked that I had just unknowingly told one of my favorite stars to “calm down” and agreeing that being late for a movie is a huge pet peeve of mine, I was happy that she didn’t mind my slight admonishing. Instead, she became sweet (to us patrons anyway) and asked people what movies they were seeing—“I Heart Huckabees.” “Oh, I heard that’s good—I need to see that.” What was Ms. Dunaway going to be late for? “Shark Tale.” Giving me that nervous smile, and grabbing her soda, the diva in her shiny sweat gear and baseball cap bolted into the crappy animated adventure.
I almost wanted to cry.
The guy in line said: “Did you know who that was?”
Well yes, but not at first. Though she did have that something—even while standing behind her I noticed it. And when she turned to look at me it was absolutely electric. I don’t care how much older she is. I don’t care if she’s had work. I don’t care if her hair was scrunched into a not-too-concealing cap—This is a star.
Which is why I always found it disconcerting that the WB reality show, The Starlet, would call Faye Dunaway the ultimate of its title. The gorgeous, powerful star of (to name just a few) Bonnie and Clyde, The Thomas Crown Affair, Chinatown, Network, The Eyes of Laura Mars, Mommie Dearest and Barfly a starlet? I think not.
Just as the word “diva” has been distorted by the likes of Mariah Carey (though Whitney Houston has earned her, drug problems alone), "starlet" is Norma Jean before Marilyn, Lana Turner as a teenaged sweater girl, Alicia Silverstone in all those Aerosmith videos. Sure, Faye had to start somewhere—but she was always off the charts. She must have been born with that neurotic poise, that quality in Chinatown that made the scene in which she discusses the flaw in her eye so vulnerably unique. I always love her small moments—like when she wolfes down her hamburger in Bonnie and Clyde or when she grabs all those corn cobs in Barfly, or the horror movie flicker of pent up rage directly before she smacks the shit out of Christina Crawford over the wire hanger fiasco. And no one, not even Joan Crawford could say, “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt!” with such beautiful determination.
Watching the past The Starlet, I had a mixture of pride and sadness for Dunaway. This was just proof that the Paddy Chayefsky penned Network—the film Faye won her Academy Award for— was brilliantly prophetic. But I loved watching Dunaway, even if the show revealed less about any of the aspirant's talents (they all had very little) and more about Hollywood's harshness for interesting women. Interesting older women. Yes, I was sucked into the competition, even though none of the girl’s showed the charisma of a Faye. And yes, the life imitating art/ “acting” in “realty” vs. “acting” for “real” aspect was a wonderfully entertaining satire in itself. Many of these girls acted better when being “real.” But knowing that superstar Faye has so much more in her than being TV’s greatest Simon Cowell (she’s more Addison DeWitt really) makes me kinda mad.
Not mad at her mind you, just mad at the dirt.