Academy Award-winning actress Faye Dunaway returns in triumph to Los Angeles June 23, amidst a sold-out national tour. However, it's not another film role but her appearance on the stage there -- her first in 24 years -- playing temperamental opera diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Tony-winning Master Class.
This is a poignant moment for Dunaway in more ways than one. Her last brush with live theatre there ended before it began when Andrew Lloyd Webber abruptly fired her (in a public relations fiasco for him and huge headlines for her) as replacement for Glenn Close in the Los Angeles American premiere production of Sunset Boulevard for allegedly not singing well enough.
Dunaway sued and later reached an out of court settlement, reportedly in the millions. In her 1995 autobiography Looking for Gatsby: My Life, Dunaway didn't discuss the affair because of the terms of the settlement. Her last appearance onstage in Los Angeles was in a 1973 production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Ahmanson Theatre.
She'll perform Master Class at the intimate Doolittle Theatre in downtown Hollywood at the famous intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
Starring with Dunaway on tour are Kevin Paul Anderson, Gary Green, Suzan Hanson (in the role that won Audra MacDonald a Tony Award) and Melinda Klump. The engagement, which began previews June 17, officially runs through July 13, but Dennis Crowley, a press spokesman for the tour, said that the engagement could be extended two weeks. Business in the 12 cities that preceded Los Angeles was such that an extension is expected.
The tour began in October 1996 with an 8-week engagement in Boston at the Wilbur Theatre. There have been two- and three-week engagments in Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Detroit, Indianapolis, Seattle, Palm Beach, and one week in Dayton, OH.
Dunaway has set seven house records for plays at Seattle's Paramount, Chicago's Shubert, Philadelphia's Merriam, Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse, Palm Beach's Royal Poinciana, Dallas's Majestic, and Houston's Jones Hall.
Portland, OR, and 14 other stops are planned after Los Angeles. The tour ends in November 1997.
Dunaway made her film debut in 1967 and three films later that same year was nominated for an Academy Award for Bonnie and Clyde, the film that firmly established her as a much sought-after leading lady. She was Oscar-nominated again in 1974 for Chinatown and in 1976 for Network. It was for the latter that she finally took home the Oscar.
Joan Crawford once said, "Of all the actresses today, to me, only Faye Dunaway has the talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star." Bette Davis, who starred in the 1976 TV movie The Disapperance of Aimee with Dunaway had other choice things to say about the star's temperament -- sort of, the pot calling the kettle black.
It was Dunaway's temperament that netted her headlines on the present tour. Dunaway kept opening night audiences in four cities waiting an hour, went through three hairdresses, was noted for rearranging her hotel suites, and constantly changing limousines because she was dissatisfied with their color.
When Dunaway found out that New York Daily News reporter Michael Riedel was writing an expose on her antics, she took the rare step of calling him. She came to her defense, saying "I am the first one to say that I am demanding. But I only ask that people share my concern for being the best that we can possibly be. There is something in me that never lets me settle for less than the maximum."
She explained that there were curtain delays in Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Dayton to allow for checks of lighting cues which she noted were due to "technical foul-ups" and not to her wanting time to get into character. She said two hair stylists left the show because they didn't like being on the road and that she prefers black limos to "tacky" white ones and often just takes a taxi or drives herself in the rental car provided by the company for such things as "going to church."
Dunaway added that she was not a "crazy monster" who yells at those she works with. "If I did anything to upset anyone, maybe I was tired, or thought I looked terrible. But everything I do is done in the spirit of getting the best."
A source close to the tour who asked not to be identified said, "While Ms. Dunaway does have a temper, she is not off the wall. If she wants something done, you better do it or have a damn good excuse."
The source added, however, that Dunaway "is very smart and always two steps ahead of everyone else. If you can't keep up, you're in trouble."
Joan Crawford didn't live to see Dunaway portray her in Mommie Dearest, adapted from Christina Crawford's lurid and gossipy best-seller. Dunaway was widely touted to be in line for another AA nomination in 1981. But the actress and picture were totally shut out. Dunaway wasn't heard from again -- Academy-wise -- until 1985 and again in 1987 when she was a co-presenter of the award for Best Foreign Film. Her last film starring roles of note were 1987's Barfly, 1995's Don Juan DeMarco (with Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp) and the 1996 made for cable TV adaption of the play Twilight of the Golds. On TV, Dunaway stole the thunder from Lloyd Webber's much delayed film version of Evita by starring in the NBC 1981 two-part movie Evita Peron.
Her last appearance on Broadway was in 1982's short-lived The Curse Of An Aching Heart by William Alfred (directed by Gerald Gutierrez) at the Little Theatre, now the Helen Hayes. However, Dunaway is no stranger to theatre. She made her Broadway debut in the ensemble of the acclaimed American premere of A Man For All Seasons in 1961. She starred Off-Broadway in Alfred's 1965 Hogan's Goat, co-starring Ralph Waite, Cliff Gorman, and Bernard Hughes for the American Place Theatre. She became a charter member of the Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and debuted as a nurse in the ensemble of their initial production in 1964 of Arthur Miller's After the Fall at ANTA/Washington Square Theatre (now the site of New York University's Library).
In 1988, Dunaway starred on the West End in Circe and Bravo, directed by Harold Pinter.
Dunaway may return next season to the New York stage in Pinter's new play Ashes to Ashes, directed by Pinter himself, at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre. "Everything's in the talking stage and it's too early to speculate," spokesperson Erin Dunn told Playbill On-Line. The hour-long Ashes to Ashes premiered to mixed reviews last September at London's Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. Dunaway will co-produce and star in the film version of McNally's play. Currently starring Dixie Carter, the Broadway Master Class closes Saturday, June 28.