I think of Faye Dunaway as an enchanted panther in a poem," says an actor who admires her. "She's tawny and elegant, and her eyes are like big mysterious emeralds. I want to stroke her but I want bars between us when I do. She looks hungry and dangerous. Whatever there is to want, she wants it all."

In 1974, Faye Dunaway got just about everything an actress could possibly want. Eight lean years after her first big success in Bonnie and Clyde, she came back in a huge hit, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, playing a mauled socialite with a dire intensity that may win her an Oscar nomination.

Suddenly in mad demand as the ranking femme fatale in a Hollywood full of blue-jeaned hoydens, Faye proceeded to bring off a casting grand slam. Between January and December she costarred with all four of the masculine Big Four: Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in Towering Inferno and (now on location) Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor. She also adorned Richard Lester's romp, The Three Musketeers plus an NBC version of Arthur Miller's After the Fall opposite Christopher Plummer. And last fall, she signed on to play opposite still another leading man, Peter Wolf of J. Geils Band, for as long as they both shall live. He is her first husband.

Faye made her comeback success the hard way. After Bonnie and Clyde, she took too many good parts in bad pictures and "gave too much" of herself to love affairs with gifted and famous men—among them Marcello Mastroianni. By 1971, her career a tsk in the gossip columns, she decided it was time to "save myself from myself" and started shopping for a hit like Chinatown.

About the same time, she met Peter—a brilliant young man, now 28, who goes crazy onstage but stays wonderfully sane at home. "It isn't easy," Faye admits, "to have two big careers running out of one household. We both have to guard our own time and I've got to guard against letting myself be completely defined as a wife. Oh, it's so much easier to be a despot than to decide things by committee! But I'm so glad we did it." Though more confident about acting than she is about living, Faye has one professional problem she cannot solve. During the last five years U.S. writers have produced very few good roles for women. "It's as though women are changing so fast the writers can't keep up with us," Faye supposes, adding wryly, "I'm all for women's lib, but does the price of freedom have to be unemployment?"