Academy Award winner Faye Dunaway began her career in the early 1960s acting on Broadway, appearing in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons and Arthur Miller’s After the Fall. However, Dunaway made her first feature film appearance in the comedy-crime film The Happening in 1967. It was this same year that the star landed her breakthrough role, playing Bonnie Parker alongside Warren Beatty in Arthur Penn’s classic biographical crime drama Bonnie and Clyde.
The film launched Dunaway to stardom despite the controversy it garnered upon initial release, a discussion which stemmed from criticism of its supposed glorification of murder and intense violence. In describing her role as Bonnie, which earned the actress her first Academy Award nomination, Dunaway said: “It put me firmly in the ranks of actresses that would do work that was art” and also that “the movie established the quality of my work”.
Dunaway followed Bonnie and Clyde with Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968, another very successful hallmark in her career. Co-star Steve McQueen, who initially thought Dunaway was the wrong actress for the role of Vicki, later called her the best actress he had ever worked with. Unfortunately, the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a series of career setbacks for Dunaway, who starred in multiple unsuccessful films, including A Place for Lovers (1968), The Extraordinary Seamen (1969) and The Arrangement (1969).
Luckily for Dunaway, her starring role in Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir Chinatown launched her back into the limelight with lots of critical praise, including a Best Actress nomination from the Academy. Continuing with a legion of successful roles, it was Network, the 1976 black comedy-drama directed by Sidney Lumet, that earned Dunaway her first Oscar win for Best Actress.
In 1981, Dunaway took on the role of iconic actress Joan Crawford in the biographical drama Mommie Dearest, directed by Frank Perry. The film is based on the exposé and memoir of the same name, written by Crawford’s adoptive daughter Christina, who described Joan as extremely abusive and manipulative. Despite earning $19 million – a commercial success – critically it was shunned. Criticised for a strange script and over-the-top acting, the film has been labelled an “unintentional comedy”. Mommie Dearest even won Worst Picture at the 2nd Golden Raspberry Awards.
The critical failure of the film infuriated Dunaway, and since its release has very rarely chosen to speak about it in interviews. She even blames Mommie Dearest for causing a decline in her career, specifically in Hollywood, and regrets taking on the role. Since Mommie Dearest, Dunaway has still appeared in a long list of films, however, very few have been overly successful.
An extremely anger-fuelled Dunaway can be heard on a voicemail recording to a biographer expressing her contempt towards the film. She states that she is not interested in “dilly-dallying and tarrying over Mommie Dearest” and that she “does not even want to discuss it”. The hilariously frazzled Dunaway even scorns her husband Terry O’Neill in her rant, calling him a “big, big liar” and sternly states “don’t even go there”.
Throughout the almost-two-minute long voicemail, Dunaway frequently returns to the topic of Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp, asking the biographer why they have failed to include any information about the film she did with them, Don Juan DeMarco (1994), however, she seems to have forgotten the name of the film she was so “brilliant in”. Dunaway exasperatedly asks “why can’t you be obsessed about positive things?”.
The voicemail emphasises her frustration with the media’s obsession with highlighting the embarrassing and weaker moments of celebrity’s careers that they’d rather forget, and despite the unintentional humour in her inflection, you can’t help but feel sorry for Dunaway, who wants to move on from the major flop that was Mommie Dearest.
Listen to the clip, below.