As Benjamin Franklin allegedly said once, there are only a few certainties in this life: death, taxes and Faye Dunaway flying into a rage if you ask her about Mommie Dearest. Avoiding questions about the film is a common mandate handed to journalists prior to interviews with the veteran actress, but it appears that this might soon change with news that the Oscar-winner is writing a book about the tumultuous making of the camp classic.
Dunaway’s lingering anger over Mommie is somewhat understandable. The film adaptation of Christina Crawford’s bestselling exploitation novel about the horrors she faced at the hands of her adoptive mother, screen icon Joan Crawford, crashed and burned instantly upon its theatrical release in 1981. However, it just as quickly became to be regarded as a camp film with few rivals (only 1967’s Valley of the Dolls and 1995’s Showgirls are spoken about in the same hushed tones).
Despite a bravura turn by Dunaway (it was hailed by the perceptive critic Pauline Kael as a “startling, ferocious performance”), the star took the brunt of the harsh criticism, which should have been leveled at director Frank Perry for not creating a more balanced portrait that showed the humanity of Crawford, instead of a non-stop horror show of Dunaway wielding an axe, bathroom cleaning powder and, in the film’s most talked-about scene, wire hangers.
While many pundits have suggested that the commercial failure of the film caused the Oscar-winning actress to topple from Hollywood’s A List, Dunaway has said she paid a greater price by having her own persona confused with that of the movie’s depiction of the forever-raging Crawford. Before the 1981 film, Dunaway’s breathtaking beauty and remarkable acting ability had made her one of Tinseltown’s most sought-after and acclaimed actors. During her heyday, she starred in a number of landmark films including Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown and Network, for which she won an Academy Award for best actress. Since then, however, the actress has appeared in a number of lesser movies considered beneath a star of her stature, with only an occasional film of note, 1987’s Barfly for example. And stories of Dunaway’s temperament, whether true or not, are legion within the industry. But at age 74, perhaps the actress is in a calmer, more reflective mood and finally ready to address the career-changing film.
Publisher’s Lunch, a publishing industry newsletter, mentioned an upcoming memoir in a recent email:
Academy Award winning actress Faye Dunaway’s recollections, stories and behind the scenes account of the making of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films, Mommie Dearest, to Julia Cheiffetz at Dey Street Books, by Alan Nevins at Renaissance (World).
Keep your fingers crossed that this comes to fruition, because it wouldn’t be a complete surprise for Dunaway to scrap the project. Just think about how amazing the book signings will be.
Here’s Dunaway in a rare polite conversation about the film on Inside the Actor’s Studio…
and here’s a notorious message left by Dunaway on the answering machine of a producer working on a documentary about her career.
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Probably in need of a cash flow, hope it’s a success for her.
She should. It changed everything for her. And, there’s continuing (camp) interest in it.
A tell all about a tell all, how meta is that!
How is this LGBT news?.
“CLEAN UP THIS MESS!!!!!”
That’s the calmest rant ever.
@jayj150: Are you kidding? Watching the film is a rite-of-passage for many gay people. There have been countless drag interpretations of Faye as Joan and at least one drag musical version of the film. Both Crawford and Dunaway are major gay icons. I can go on…
June Allyson totally believed Christina and her story.
John Elliott Harris
That movie was awesome just for the crazy one-liners alone.
Some people have no respect. Jeez.
Gustaf Au Chocolat
This is wonderful. THIS IS WONDERFUL. YOU. You deliberately embarrassed me in front of a REPORTER.
What’s wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you know wire hangers EVER!!!
Faye is a nightmare.
Faye’s last movie project, an adaptation of Terrence McNally’s Masterclass (about Maria Callas), ran out of money mid-production and went into “hiatus”. She subsequently lost the rights because McNally lost faith in her ability to pull it back together. So she lost her chance at some kind of comeback and last hurrah, after years of demeaning guest roles, dull TV movies and trashy reality show appearances. But if she’s resorting to raking through the Mommie Dearest years she must be truly desperate.
I thought the film was excellent and that Miss Dunaway was brilliant! She was the essence and the glamour of Joan Crawford. I suspected that the plotline was heavily biased against Miss Crawford as the perspective was completely through her adopted daughter’s eyes and her need to get even. In the 70s, a girlfriend of mine called on a Saturday morning and asked if I would like to be an extra in a movie being filmed here (Denver). That had never been high on my bucket list and I sounded less than enthusiastic. But when she told me that Bette Davis was one of the stars, I immediately agreed. The film was a biopic of Aimee Semple McPherson, a wildly popular evangelist and tent-revivalist, who was also a beauty and somewhat mysterious. We were to dress in 20s style clothing and appear at an old church that fit the period. When we arrived, we were given a ticket for a free box lunch, our pay, and told to enter. We were dressed authentically but too many ahead of us for close seats in the forward pews.
Once seated, we learned that Faye Dunaway would be appearing as Miss Aimee. It was a warm day on the church cooled on by old oscillating fans mounted on the side walls that did little more than stir the warm air. And then, Miss Davis, portraying McPherson’s mother, saunters on from stage left and crosses to the pulpit. She greeted us with our roaring applause. She’s costumed in a fashionable wool suit with a fur shoulder piece and heels. She exits. And shortly returns to announce that Miss Dunaway is still in her trailer learning her lines. It was catty and met with great laughter and appreciation from the “old pro!” So she says, what may I do to entertain you? And someone, perhaps a plant but so appropriate, yelled, “Sing ‘I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy!'” We all applauded, chanting yes, yes, yes. (This was the unforgettable song in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” that she appeared in along with Joan Crawford.) She toss the fur stole over to one the highback pastor chairs and unbutton her suit jacket, revealing a white silk blouse, and belted the number to the top of the balcony. It was fantastic! And we gave her a standing ovation. Finally, Miss Dunaway appears and the scene is filmed. The storyline was authentic and Dunaway was perfect as was Davis. The made-for-TV movies was not in danger of winning an Oscar. Wonderful memory!
God, it took forever to find this.
@jayj150: That’s like asking how a male-on-male blow job is gay. If it’s not for you, skip it, but don’t pretend like you don’t get it. Unless you’re 11 years old, you get it.
Don’t fuck with me fellas! This ain’t my first time at the rodeo!
Im not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.
Brian J Curtis
The coat hanger scene!
Don’t you act for me!
To those of you speculating that she needs money there is a website called Celebrity Networth. Her estimated worth is 40 million. She’s a’ight I think LOL!
Someone should make a movie based upon Christina’s book, what she actually wrote.
There is a hilarious episode of Jonny McGovern’s podcast where Michael Serratto (director and former Big Gay Sketch Show member) talks about being her neighbor and their brief run-ins… long story short she sounds delightfully crazy and bitter. That aside, Mommy Dearest is such a good movie, I’m surprised it flopped when it was released. I used to watch that as a kid with my mom dying laughing. Good times
Beside the wire hanger scene, I’d say the “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo” scene!!!!
Kenneth S. Figeroid
It ruined her career. I think Joan”s ghost entered her body and then refused to leave.
“TINA. GET ME THE AXE”
I absolutely adore this movie and it is in my top 100 best movies ever made list.
No Wire Hangers EVER!
Tina, Bring Me The Axe!
“Because I’m not ONE OF YOUR FAAAAAANNNS!”
Cause im not one of your fans!!!
Peaches Christ. Martiny. Midnight Mass. Bridge Theater. The pre-film stage show was famous mother-daughter mud wrestling, in a kiddie pool: Cher & Chastity, Dorothy & Sophia, Carrie & Margaret White and of course Joan & Christina. That popped my “Mommie Dearest” cherry. Years later I went to another Peaches presentation of “Mommie” at the Castro Theater, with drinks, and it was just as wild.
“There’s a liquor store to the right.”
“You know where to find the boys AND the booze!”
…yeah, I’m actually very open to the idea of drag and other things that are considered gay culture. But this, I just don’t get. I saw the fabled “wire hanger” scene, and I don’t see anything remotely gay. All I saw is mental illness and child abuse.
No Wire Hangers!!!!
As if she’s gonna be honest in it. This woman is a nutter and by ALL accounts she’s unbelievably difficult on set.
People, the movie isn’t bad at all. I think that Faye Dunaway and her personality had a lot more to do with it being trashed than it being a bad movie. I watch it every time it comes on. Keep in mind also that when it was made a lot of people who knew and love Joan Crawford were still alive and no doubt started making phone calls. Shit happens in Hollywood.
Krista Natale oh good LORD
Coat hanger is a classic…im jaded for life
The Hollywood Royalty edition features commentary by John Waters. Brilliant.
Iain David Mcauley
Although the film and content are total rubbish, I love Mommie Dearest. The opening scene is fascinating.
@McShane: Thanks, McShane for that link. It was too funny.
I laughed through the whole movie back in 1981. I still watch it every 10 years or so and I still laugh hysterically. It was so over the top and I loved it. My favorite scene is when Joan is standing at the top of the stairs, delivering a soliloquy and her dress matches the drapes. Too much!
@McShane Terrific performance. Reminds me I need to remind my husband to get in touch with Mistress Formika while we’re in New York.
Ummm, guys, check the date…
Kerry Maloney Zania Zamarripa
Scott Goss my Christmas gift from you!
I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt!
Kathy Smith Lynn
NO MOREEEE WIRE HANGERS!!!!!!
Shes had so much botox and overdid the facelifts she could do a remake in her street makeup
Who said life was fair, Tina? I’m bigger and I’m faster, and I’ll ALWAYS beat you.
If she thinks “Mommie Dearest” damaged her career, then what the hell was she thinking when she allowed herself to be cast in “Supergirl” a few years later?
@Matthew Rettenmund: You said: ” That’s like asking how a male-on-male blow job is gay. If it’s not for you, skip it, but don’t pretend like you don’t get it. “.
That’s a horrendously Cis-normative, Cis-centric thing to say. Perhaps in your narrow world-view as a privileged white Cis-homo, penises and those who have them are exclusively male, but be sure there are plenty of women with penises, AND plenty of men without them. The problem with your statement is it erases and excludes non-operative transwomen AND transmen. There’s such a thing a female-on-female blowjob, because there’s such a thing a women with penises. Male-on-male oral sex does not necessarily involve penises, by definition. Please, educate yourself.
CAROL ANNE???!!!! I have asked you to keep the children quiet todaaaay! And for Christ sake get them out of the gardennnnn!
Please, lighten the Cis up.
I recommend the linked book. It’s an oldy – or is that ageist? – but a goody.
-Did you scrub the bathroom floor today? DID YOU?
-I’d rather you go bald to school than looking like a tramp.
-Christina: There’s a liquor store to the right.
-Joan Crawford: I should’ve know you’d know where to find the boys and the booze
-Why must EVERYTHING be a CONTEST?
-She negotiates everything like a goddamn Hollywood agent. Christina, eat your lunch. You are not getting up from this table until you have finished that meat.
-Don’t you EVER use that tone of voice with me, missy. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKING TO? I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do, you’re gonna MARCH yourself UPSTAIRS to your room and you will STAY THERE until I tell you to come out.
Coat hanger scene
@Bob LaBlah: “I watch it every time it comes on.”
Which is nightly, to judge by your posts.
The opening scene…..her whole routine when she wakes up before 5am. The coffee pot in the bathroom, her cleaning routine before even showering, a shower with 3 shower heads, that long walk past her HUGE CLOSETS….then downstairs to a car with a driver to whisk her off to a movie studio! Love it!
Rutanya Alda who played CarolAnne is already writing her book.
Oooo child the movie was good enough!
Charles I. Mumford
Dunaway researched the star thoroughly, and the power of her performance showed she was dedicated to it. This is just another slap in the face of Joan Crawford to use her name to save her own declining career in this stage of her own life.
She was brilliant in that movie. I think people just associated her forever with the movie. She WAS Joan Crawford too well.
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