Celebrate Faye Dunaway's 81st with her Most Outrageous Moments

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 19, 2022

Faye Dunaway. Say what you will about the legendary actress, but one thing is certain: Whether she's making a film, giving an interview, doing a play, or throwing a salad on the floor of a rehearsal studio, things won't be dull.

Dunaway is unimpeachably talented. She burned up the big screen for at least two decades with a refined and beautiful intensity that set her apart from her peers and made her one of the greatest movie stars of our lifetime. But her career has also been fraught with drama — some of it self-induced, some not — and, as time went on, she earned a reputation for herself that was not all that different from the unhinged version of Joan Crawford that she played in "Mommie Dearest." A quick search online will yield scores of stories from people who all have something delicious to share about the actress.

In many ways, she's among the last of her kind, and she belongs to an era of Hollywood that is long behind us. A film critic once wrote that Dunaway was "as quick and vivid as a flame," and that's about the best descriptor that we've ever seen to describe her magic. And make no mistake about it, Faye Dunaway is magic.

Dunaway turns 81 this week, and to mark the occasion, we've put together some outrageous, iconic moments — good, bad, and outright hilarious — from her long, incredible career.

The 'Sunset Boulevard' Press Conference

In 1994, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of the Billy Wilder classic "Sunset Boulevard" was slated to open at the now-demolished Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles. The musical had been a massive success in London with Patti LuPone, but, for its American production, Webber chose Glenn Close. She opened the show with great acclaim in LA and was scheduled open the show on Broadway with the successful West Coast engagement continuing with a replacement.

Naturally, every actress of a certain age in town wanted to play Norma Desmond, but Webber chose Faye Dunaway to step into the sequined turban once Close left. The Oscar-winner beat out Diahann Carroll, Rita Moreno, Michelle Lee, Cybill Shepherd, and lord knows who else. But days before Dunaway's first scheduled performance, Webber announced that Dunaway would not take over the show as planned, and that the entire production would be closed as a result.

According to one actress who was in the rehearsal room with Dunaway, her voice needed work, but she was otherwise "thoroughly amazing." It's worth noting that this wasn't Webber's first time pulling the rug out from under his leading lady: LuPone was contracted to take the show to Broadway before being fired while the show was running in London. Webber closed the show, revamped it, then reopened with Betty Buckley as Norma. LuPone sued Webber and won over $1 million, and it's also rumored that she trashed her dressing room when she got the news. What did Faye Dunaway do? She held a delicious, now-iconic press conference, which added even more drama to the ordeal, all the while giving a master class in throwing shade. She later sued Webber as well, and they settled out of court, but the details were never made public.

La La Land!

At the 2017 Academy Awards, "Bonnie and Clyde" stars Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty reunited in honor of the film's 50th anniversary to present Best Picture, the last award of the evening. What happened next is now forever a part of Oscar history, and one that remains firmly etched in the minds of those who were watching live that year. An accountant from PricewaterhouseCoopers fell asleep at the wheel and ended up slipping Dunaway and Beatty the wrong envelope as they walked out onstage to present Best Picture. Dunaway incorrectly announced "La La Land" as the winner, and chaos ensued before "Moonlight" was declared the actual winner. Of course, Dunaway was not at fault, and the pair was brought out at the next year's ceremony for a do-over.

The Angry Voicemail

It's unclear who leaked the voicemail, when exactly it was left, and what exactly Dunaway was so upset over, but thank the internet gods that it exists. Displeased with negative aspects of her career that were apparently going to be featured in some kind of profile on Dunaway, she left the journalist an angry, unintentionally hilarious voicemail about everything from "Mommie Dearest" and "the Lloyd Webber stupidity" to Marlon Brando and Terry O'Neill. Enjoy.

Gorgeous for Gucci

In 2018, the year after the "La La Land" debacle, Faye Dunaway — then 77 years old — became the face of Gucci's 2018 campaign. She looked so incredible, in an array of outfits that included her in a Gucci tracksuit and a Yankees hat on a tennis court, that it caused a sensation online. The print campaign was over the top and stunning on its own, but a short film created for the campaign by Petra Collins is next level. Ridiculous, grand, and elegant, Dunaway clearly relishes every second. And so do we.

Scrubbing and Salad and Slapping...Oh, My!

In 2019, Dunaway was in Boston for the pre-Broadway tryout of "Tea at Five," a one-woman show about Katharine Hepburn that was to mark her triumphant return to Broadway. In the final days of the show's run, it was announced that Dunaway had been fired from the production for slapping a crew member and creating a "hostile" and "dangerous" backstage environment. In the weeks leading up to the slap that gave producers no choice but to fire Dunaway and close the production down, her increasingly bizarre behavior worried those involved with the production.

According to the New York Post, Dunaway threw things at crew members, demanded that theater staff get on their hands and knees and scrub her dressing room, and would refuse to allow anyone to look at her during rehearsals. And, yes, during a photo shoot for the show, someone handed her a salad and she threw it on the floor, saying that she was watching her weight and that it would be better on the floor. Like we said in the top, there's never a dull moment when Dunaway's involved!

"This is not the first time Dunaway has displayed erratic behavior in a show," the New York Post continued. "In the early 1990s she toured the country as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's 'Master Class.' She showed up an hour late for many performances. She had bellhops rearrange her furniture in her hotel suites in the middle of night because she didn't like the 'flow' of the room. Once, a theater in St. Louis sent her a white limousine, and she reportedly had a fit because she hates white. She demanded a rental car from the hotel to get to the theater. The limo company sent a black car instead, but it was too late — Dunaway was racing to the theater, trailed by both the white limo and the black one."

(Note: Few video artifacts exist about "Tea at Five" in Boston, but there was a preview video that featured playwright Matthew Lombardo, who addresses why Dunaway was such a good choice as Hepburn in his play.)

The Morning After

There are iconic photos of celebrities, and then there's Terry O'Neill's stunning photograph of Faye Dunaway the morning after she won her Best Actress Oscar for "Network" in 1977. Splayed out in silk and heels poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel with that day's headlines strewn on the floor and her Oscar sitting on the table with a pot of tea, it shows a dazed Dunaway the morning after the biggest night of her life. O'Neill — who would later marry Dunaway and have a child with her — has said that what he wanted to capture with this photograph was not the superficial glitz that often accompanies Oscar night, but rather the dazed confusion of someone whose life has just changed overnight, someone who has just reached "the top of the tree." To this day, it remains one of the great Hollywood photos of all time. And with it, Dunaway remains one of the great Hollywood actresses of all time. Long may she reign.