Faye Dunaway won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1976 film Network at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. This is her at the Beverley Hills Hotel at 6.30 in the morning of 29th March 1977, the day after the ceremony. With a doleful, faraway look of world-weary ennui, in silk gown and heels, she is breakfasting alone on fruit juice and Earl Grey tea, slouched poolside in the hazy Southern Californian dawn light. The morning papers are strewn about her and the Oscar is not far out of reach. She has recently risen from bed, or maybe she never went to sleep at all. This classic shot manages to capture the allure and loneliness of celebrity.
It was taken by Terry O’Neill, one of the British young photographers who along with David Bailey and Terence Donovan captured the sixties. Faye Dunaway and Terry O’Neill married six years after this photograph was taken. The standard Oscar shot is of the winning actor holding the statuette in the press room afterwards, whilst revealing their polished teeth to the world. The real story for the actor, O’Neill said when asked about this photograph, is instead the moment of realisation the following day: waking up stunned and thrilled, knowing that every script will be sent their way, every good part offered to them and that the money is going from $100,000 to $10 million. O’Neill wanted to capture that moment of realisation.
One of the newspapers at her feet is the Los Angeles Times showing the headline Posthumous Oscar for Peter Finch. Her co-star Peter Finch also won the night before, for Best Actor (beating Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver). Finch could not accept the award in person as he had died two months before of a heart attack in the lobby of this very hotel. Faye Dunaway’s contemplative look may therefore not actually be the moment of realisation O’Neill romanticised, but instead have flowed from feelings laced with ideas of mortality.