by David-Elijah Nahmod
Rutanya Alda has enjoyed a long and varied career. Her impressive list of acting credits includes appearing in works by filmmakers Brian DePalma and Michael Cimino. She counts Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn and Christopher Walken among her co-stars. She's appeared extensively on the stage, and teaches.
Alda has had a career many would envy. Yet she remains best known for her portrayal of Carol Ann, loyal housekeeper and companion to movie star Joan Crawford in the 1981 film adaptation of Christina Crawford's shocking memoir Mommie Dearest. On Sat., May 11, Alda will appear live on stage at the beautiful Castro Theatre when master showman Marc Huestis presents Mommie Dearest on the big screen.
It's a film Alda is proud to have been part of. "A lot of the people who worked on the film had worked with Joan Crawford," she recalled in a telephone interview with the B.A.R. "Everyone who worked with Joan loved her. She knew their names, she sent them birthday cards."
Faye Dunaway, who played Crawford in Mommie Dearest, wasn't so beloved, according to Alda. "People despised Faye," she said. "Joan got her way in a ladylike way. Faye was despised because she was so rude to people. Everyone was on pins and needles when she worked, and everyone relaxed when she didn't. I wish Faye had learned from Joan."
Dunaway now refuses to discuss the film. "If I were Faye, I would own the film," Alda said. "I think she's good in the film, she should talk about it."
Alda admires Dunaway's acting ability, pointing to the superb work she did in films like Bonnie and Clyde, Network, Chinatown, and Three Days of the Condor. She expressed her sorrow, however, that Dunaway has no humor in her life. She told the B.A.R. that Mommie Dearest almost didn't get made.
"Production was shut down for a week," she recalled. "Faye wanted a producer credit for her boyfriend Terry O'Neill, even though he had nothing to do with the film's production."
Alda had nothing but kind words for close friend Christina Crawford, whom she's in fairly regular contact with. Alda reports that Crawford today is a happy woman who's made peace with the past. Alda believes Christina's story, and feels that there was more than one Joan Crawford. Joan's behavior at home was completely unlike her interactions with her colleagues at MGM and Warner Bros.
"Helen Hayes, who was one of Joan's best friends, said she should have never been a mother," Alda observed. "When she was at home, she took the pressures of stardom out on the kids." Alda points out that Crawford's two younger daughters, who recall Joan as a loving mom, were adopted after the spotlight had faded. When living with less stress in her life, Joan was able to be more of a loving mother.
Alda told the B.A.R. that she kept a diary during the filming of Mommie Dearest. She's now editing it and hopes to see it published. She expressed her disappointment regarding a scene that was cut from the final film in which Carol Ann all but expresses her love for Crawford during their first meeting at the studio gate. "Get in," said Dunaway's Crawford, opening her car door.
We wondered if Carol Ann, who devoted her life to serving Crawford, might have been a lesbian. "My performance leaned in that direction," Alda said. "You'll have to read my diary for the full story."
The actress is also in the process of putting together a one-woman show. "It's about my eight-year journey to the USA from Latvia, where I was born," she said. "It's told from the point of view of a child."
Alda is now prepping for her appearance at the Castro, which she says she's greatly looking forward to. "I like Mommie Dearest, " she said. "I'm proud of it. I'm glad it's a cult classic."
Alda will be joined on the Castro stage by drag superstar Matthew Martin, who will appear as Crawford.
"I'm reviving the surreal production number 'Two Faced Woman' that Crawford did in the film Torch Song," Martin told the B.A.R. "Paying homage to Hollywood royalty at the Castro Theatre in Marc Huestis' shows is always a special interactive event. For a performer, it's like playing the Palace! Having Rutanya Alda share her personal experiences making Mommie Dearest will provide interesting insight into Faye Dunaway as Crawford."
Part of Alda's sharing will include reading excerpts from her Mommie Dearest Diaries. She will also be available for autographs.
Mommie Dearest, with special guest Rutanya Alda (Carol Ann), Sat., May 11, 7:30 p.m., Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., SF. Tickets ($15): http://www.ticketfly.com/event/244201. Info: (415) 863-0611