Character Witness: Faye Dunaway: Diana Christensen vs. Joan Crawford

Faye Dunaway

This is Character Witness: One actor, two film roles. You’re the judge & jury, telling us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, here’s a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Diana Christensen

While in the cultural lexicon Faye Dunaway’s part may have been overshadowed by Peter Finch’s renowned “mad as hell” tirade, never the less she made her impact felt in 1976’s satire, Network. Her performance as a soulless do-anything-for-ratings TV producer—and Paddy Chayefsky’s script—foretold both tabloid television Svengalis (Jerry Springer; Morton Downey, Jr.) and the calamities which would ensue (Geraldo’s racist melee; The Jenny Jones Show’s homophobic murder). Dunaway was warned that in taking the part she ran the risk of audiences confusing her with the ruthless fictional character. She took the role anyway and ended up with the Oscar for Best Actress that year.

The case for Joan Crawford

No Oscar nom here. Though she did win prestigious awards for her portrayal of the former Lucille LeSueur in Mommie Dearest, other critics savaged her performance as too over-the-top. Faye Dunaway was mortified that her intense essay of the troubled actress (as well as the film itself) was mocked as Rocky Horror-styled camp theater. The fears she had about her character in Network actually manifested here: audiences did confuse her with the Crawford persona. For years Dunaway would refuse to talk about this role. That didn’t stop everybody else though. Mommie Dearest remains a cult classic with a rabid following. And for better or worse, Dunaway’s Crawford is iconic.


Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!