Faye Dunaway live, never the prom queen

November 12, 1995|By Kathleen Brady | Kathleen Brady,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Looking for Gatsby: My Life," by Faye Dunaway with Betsy Sharkey. Simon & Schuster. Illustrated. 416 pages. $25 Faye Dunaway is a rare combination of silky glamour and rapacious dedication to art, but she was also blessed, at least in her youth, with luck. She was endowed with classic bone-deep beauty that her own intelligence and the ministrations of others cultivated into style, and she was accorded recognition from the high-throttle star machine that in the late '60s and early '70s picked her up and, as long as she sold tickets, packaged her as the American woman of the hour.

You might know that in her obscure youth Ms. Dunaway was never elected prom queen, even though she came close - no mean feat for a penniless Floridian who was often the new girl and an army brat. Now that her career is in something of a pause, Dorothy Faye Dunaway is telling her own life story in a worthwhile book that begins as a surprisingly evocative story of a hardscrabble Southern childhood where dust from unpaved roads settled on iron bedsteads and grandparents were a stable locus in a family where most of the choices made were wrong.

She got out, as she vowed to. During her apprentice years at the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center she had a romance with the edgy, ailing Lenny Bruce and hung on, but paid a lonely price. Then came stardom, critical recognition, and fashion spreads created by trendy photographers who used her help to get their chance at directing films.

It was heady to have Bonnie's beret become a fad and to have the taste and finances to commission the young Charles Gwathmey to design her first real apartment, but to her credit, Ms. Dunaway lingers longest over a detailed explication of how she created her roles like Bonnie Parker, the no-account Texas girl determined to reach a wider world; and unforgettably, perhaps unfortunately, the caricature of Joan Crawford as control freak and child beater.

"Looking for Gatsby" offers insight into masterful acting techniques and the creative process itself. Those who aspire to the stage or film, or who appreciate fine performances, will savor these pages. Anyone else will leaf quickly past.

In the final chapters, however, the book becomes a critique of her own artistic choices, industry crassness, and various career moves. She keeps her fences mended, with direct and slavish thanks to those who helped her, and she settles scores in her trenchant depictions of those who did not.

Faye Dunaway tells us she has become soft and vulnerable, that the young star taught herself in maturity to be a human being, but she does not show us signs. If a screenwriter tried to slip that past her, she would call for a rewrite, fast.

This actress has, with her co-author Betsy Sharkey, written an autobiography in three acts, for three different audiences, none of whom will like the whole thing. Her book is disjointed, in some disarray, reflecting the life in progress of a woman who has chosen the jolting, rutted road to artistic achievement and accepts full responsibility for the fact that she is traveling on.

Kathleen Brady has written three books, "Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball," "Ida Tarbell: Portrait of A Muckraker" and "Inside Out," a novel. She was a reporter for Time magazine and Women's Wear Daily and an editor for Harper's Bazaar.

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