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Enter Faye, Laughing

With her new sitcom, Faye Dunaway takes the first comic turn in her long dramatic career.

The young production interns and junior publicity reps and apprentice techs and assistant caterers who populate the set of the new CBS sitcom It Had to Be You were all of—what, 2?—in 1967, when Faye Dunaway blazed her way to big- screen fame as girl outlaw Bonnie Parker, shooting great, bloody chunks out of life with Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde. They were 9, maybe, when she seared the screen and unhinged Jack Nicholson in Chinatown; 11 when she grabbed an Oscar for her fierce, precise work as ruthless TV programmer Diana Christenson in Network. And the walkie-talkie-wielding staffers on the Warner Bros. soundstage were probably teens in 1981 when they first paid attention to one of America's great capital-A Actresses in Mommie Dearest.

Of course, at that point, Faye Dunaway was acting up a tornado as a raging, hanger-brandishing Joan Crawford, an all-stops-out performance resulting in a pretty daunting image of herself as a scary, demanding, imperious, melodramatic, difficult capital-A Actress.

And now she is surrounded by these young colleagues who call out, ''Hey, Faye!'' ''Morning, Faye!'' ''How ya doin', Faye?'' as they bustle around the set of It Had to Be You, CBS' standard-issue romantic comedy (Fridays, 8 p.m.). The show is about a high-powered, stylishly dressed, highly stressed, workaholic book publisher in Boston who falls for the manly, down-to-earth carpenter who comes to hang her office bookshelves-and who, because he is played by Robert Urich, is also an educated, nurturing widower raising three sons on his own. Sample riposte: He: ''You've got no stud on this wall.'' She: Do I need a stud? (building tide of laughter) He: ''You tell me.'' (cresting wave of laughter)

Dunaway, 52, is now costarring in a foursquare television sitcom, and she's performing nuts-and-bolts situation-comedy transactions that include standing on her head, hiccuping, and tossing bowls of flour. She's used to having quiet on the set, used to shooting scenes until she gets them just right, used to darkness in the wings and nobody in her sight lines as she works, and now she is riposting on a tight schedule with squadrons of unimpressed light and sound technicians unceremoniously galumphing around her, with a studio audience peering at her while they chew gum, and with a new script to learn next week.

''I really love this thing of comedy,'' says Faye Dunaway. ''I would really like to be a comedienne.''

''I'll tell you what surprises me—she's not a snob,'' says executive producer Anita Addison, who has shepherded It Had to Be You for a year and a half. Back then it was called For Love or Money (not to be confused with Michael J. Fox's film of the same title), was about a widower plumber who falls in love with an heiress, and was intended for Twiggy Lawson (Princesses) and Terence Knox (St. Elsewhere). ''(Dunaway) is not a television snob at all. You'd think, coming from features to television, that she would bring the airs. She's still a perfectionist, but she understands that the small screen is different. And she thinks it's no less or more valuable than the larger screen. Only different.''

In fact, Dunaway appears to think that the small screen is more valuable. Or at least it is at this juncture in an acting career that has shown signs of stumbling almost willfully in the past dozen years as she entered middle-aged actresshood, that harsh Hollywood playing field. Dunaway has done made-for-TV dramas—she was a small-screen Evita Perón on NBC in 1981, for instance, and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in The Disappearance of Aimee, and later this month she vamps glamorously through a Columbo TV movie. But one of the great American actresses of our time has never done comedy. And now, she says, she sees the sitcom form as something with the potential to reposition her persona for the next phase of her life—perhaps as a woman known for her cool beauty, her intensity, her romances, her fashion style, her idiosyncratic acting roles, her reputation for being difficult, as well as her ability to stand on her head and banter about studs.

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