My Mother and Faye Dunaway
How a single parent kept her glamor up (originally published in Vogue)
I was born in the shadow of Faye Dunaway’s cheekbones. Those cheekbones and I were introduced to the world the same summer — the cheekbones, via Dunaway’s break-out portrayal of Bonnie Parker in the 1967 Academy Award-nominated film Bonnie and Clyde, and I, through the auspices of my mother and the obstetrics ward of New York Hospital. Six years later, when Dunaway first appeared in the pages of Vogue, my mother, with her angular good looks and dirty blonde hair, seemed to have fallen into a disturbing parallel with Bonnie Parker. Like the nice-girl-turned-bank-robber Dunaway portrayed, my mother was on the run — from a collapsing mansion in Westchester, from a psychiatrist ex-husband whom she felt had used his profession to manipulate her, from the very conceit of the nuclear family. Like the most famous Dunaway heroines, my mother was stormy and impulsive and drawn to things that looked good from a distance. Maybe that’s why in 1973, the same year Richard Avedon shot Dunaway for Vogue, my newly divorced mother moved me and my older brother to Greenwich, Connecticut, the wealthiest town in America.
The technicalities of life confounded her. The engine of our Land Rover exploded (my mother knew nothing of oil changes), and when the new owner of our house came for the closing my mother blushed hard. She had lost the keys.
My mother was equal parts aristocrat and Bolshevik, raised by New York Philharmonic musicians, educated at the best private schools but also a paramour and friend of prominent American communists and a labor strike aide-de-camp during the height of the McCarthy era. She had tried to bury these extremes in the soft soil of family life but when her marriage came undone in the early 1970s, all the old inner conflicts resurfaced. Our big Westchester house became a suffocating trap for her and she slipped out whenever possible. Her more reliable twin sister often filled in during her absences, but that was of little comfort to a five-year-old. “You have to watch Mom,” I told my aunt at the time, “she’s tricky!”