“I learned it from you, Mom.“
It has been 39 years since Frank Perry‘s cult classic Mommie Dearest was released and rocked Hollywood and audiences alike. The film, an adaptation of Christina Crawford‘s 1978 memoir about her abusive upbringing with her adoptive mother, was annihilated by critics, but fully embraced by queer fans. It also became a point of contention among everyone involved in its making, from Christina Crawford to the film’s difficult star, Faye Dunaway.
Dunaway couldn’t stand the movie:
“It was meant to be a window into a tortured soul. But it was made into camp. I feel uncomfortable with the persona that’s out there as a result of the Crawford picture. It was kind of a Kabuki performance.“
To land the role, Dunaway showed up at produced Frank Yablan‘s home dressed as Crawford head to toe.
Ironically, Crawford was a fan of Dunaway. Regardless of what the film’s cast and crew thought of Dunaway, the woman she embodied loved her. Crawford once said:
“Only Faye Dunaway has the talent, class, and courage to be a real star.“
Christina Crawford is played by Mara Hobel (young) and by Diana Scarwid (adult). The highly quotable screenplay is the work of Perry, Yablans, Robert Getchell, and Tracy Hotchner. The executive producers were Christina’s husband, David Koontz, and Terence O’Neill, Dunaway’s then-boyfriend and soon-to-be husband. The film was made by Paramount Pictures, the only one of the major studio for which Crawford had never appeared in a feature film.
The film was a commercial success, despite mixed reviews from film critics. Roger Ebert wrote:
“Dunaway does not chew scenery. She starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all.”
Dunaway’s over-the-top performance brought her a Best Actress nomination by The NY Film Critics and National Film Critics Association. She felt she was certain to get an Academy Award nomination. She tied with Bo Derek in Tarzan The Ape Man for Worst Actress at the Razzies that year.