No wonder Ms. Dunaway rues the day she signed on to play Joan Crawford in the big-screen adaptation of the Christina Crawford tell-all.
First, her performance in the 1981 epic sent shock waves through Hollywood--for all the wrong reasons. Probably believing she was giving a performance worthy of a second Academy Award (she had won Best Actress for Network in 1976), poor Faye must have blanched when she saw the finished product up there on the screen. Her high-camp, over-the-top Kabuki of a portrayal was universally panned by critics of “serious film” and gave drag queens material to copy for the next 30 years.
So strong was the impact of Mommie Dearest that Faye Dunaway lost her identity as a top female star in her own right. From then on, “Joan Crawford” seemed to overshadow and obliterate all of the beautiful actress’s former accomplishments, including memorable roles in A+, four-star films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Chinatown (1974).
Faye’s personality seemed to change, too. She couldn’t seem to shake off the exaggerated histrionics of the Joan character when playing other roles, such as Eva Peron in a TV miniseries. Like Elizabeth Taylor, who became the character of raucous broad Martha in 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and stayed Martha for the rest of her life, Faye morphed into an eerie reincarnation of long-ago star Crawford.
What’s worse, young people today have trouble differentiating these two fine actresses. Oh well--both their heydays were so long ago that it’s lucky we remember either one.
Here’s to Faye, and to Joan. You’re both unforgettable, and may you continue to shine brightly in our memories and on TV and the World Wide Web.
P.S. I happen to LOVE Mommie Dearest. It’s a movie to see over and over until you’ve memorized every line...