Monday, November 29, 2010

Dominick Dunne R.I.P.

I’d already decided what I’d say to Nick Dunne if I ever met him. “Brilliant resurrection sir…well edited reprise.” I would also have tumbled out less well assembled words to express condolences about the murder of his daughter.
Dunne passed away in August 2009 after losing his battle with bladder cancer. The news of his passing was eclipsed, not surprisingly, by that of Senator Ted Kennedy. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who misses Nick Dunne. I have a low threshold for sycophants and suck ups…a limited desire or ability to play the social game…and zero capacity to watch any of the voyeuristic, base reality merde that so populates television these days. But I always enjoyed a little sprinkle of Dunne’s gossipy tidbits purveyed usually, in Vanity Fair.
I also love a resurrection story and Phoenix rising personifies Dunne’s journey. A Bronze Medal recipient (Battle of the Bulge), he went from being right in the thick of Hollywood’s elite to living shamefully alone in an Oregon cottage, driving a Ford Grenada after selling, literally, every material passion he owned—including his dog. One of his sons had to send him enough money to fly back East for the funeral of a family member. 
I’ve had a low-point or two in the proverbial journey but there’s always, always someone who can trump your worst sob story.  Get a copy of The Way We Lived Then to see Dunne’s photo chronicled story.
“He wrote assholes so well in his novels because at one time he was one.” I believe it was his son Griffin who commented similar. And one of the things I loved about Dunne was that he readily admitted it and was grateful for the proverbial second chance…an opportunity to be father, grandfather, writer and crusader for justice sans the asshole affectation. 
But he didn’t cast aside his ante-crash and burn appetite for finery. Graydon Carter mentioned that Dunne always insisted on Claridges when in London and that his expense reports were turgid to say the least. And I say good on him for it.
I got acquainted with Dunne years ago during a summer-beach house reading jaunt. People Like Us coursed through the beach house and to a person, was read cover to cover. I’d just rolled off of Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and being the run on sentence dilettante that I am, enjoyed every Wolfian scrivened phrase. Dunne’s stuff was less well contrived but a hell of a lotta fun to read. I can assume that you literary snobs are thinking that the ADG Summer Wolfe-Dunne Comparative Literature class was at best, a decision regarding the tallest midget. So be it. I subsequently read everything Dunne wrote.
Dunne credited Tina Brown with providing him a ticket back to solvency and a platform from which to try his hand at novel writing. She realized that he was a trove of back stories and anecdotes from his Hollywood days and offered him his first shot at writing for Vanity Fair. And Graydon Carter continued the allegiance.
He wrote gossipy fluff in measured doses and he campaigned energetically for victims rights…fuelled by the experiences of his daughter’s farcical murder trial. Michael Skakel can thank Dunne to a fair degree, for his Moxley jail time.
So here’s to you Nick Dunne. I won’t speculate regarding who might replace you.

Onward. ADG, II 


Muffy Aldrich said...

A great tribute to someone I also miss, for all of reasons you state. His column was always the first thing I read in Vanity Fair. I savored every appearance I could find.

Anonymous said...

Say what you want about Dominick Dunne's writing (I have read pretty well everything by him), but he understood the upper class and had the ability to communicate what life is like in the privileged bubble like few other writers could. He was also unfailingly candid about their follies and flaws.

Kathie Truitt said...

Hmm..not much to say on this one. I didn't care for Mr. Dunne, nor the company he kept - Graydon Carter. I never gave Mr. Carter a passing thought until I picked up VF about three years ago - in the doctors office, no less - and there was a scathing editorial about my husband written by GC. Needless to say I wouldn't purchase a VF if it was the last magazine on earth. As far as Mr. Dunne I keep picturing him in 2001 flapping his jaw about Gary Condit being guilty of murdering Chandra Levy - he was 100% sure of it. Though I never met the man I know people who did know him personally and while I know it's not right, nor ladylike (sorry, Mama) to speak ill of the dead he really didn't have the respect of many around him. No one really trusts a gossip regardless of how they try to masquerade it.

Reggie Darling said...

Max, Why am I not surprised you and I share an appreciation for Dominick Dunne? I too have read all of his novels, and enjoyed the guilty pleasure of his show on the Court Channel. I may have missed a few of his pieces in Vanity Fair, but it wasn't for lack of trying. I used to see him on the street in midtown, the last time shortly before he died, as he had an apartment not far from my office, and also would see him at Swifty's, where he dined regularly. I think the last time I saw him at Swifty's he was having lunch with Bobby Short, so it was quite a while ago. I bought "The Way We Lived Then" this past spring and spent many hours pouring over it over the summer, sitting on my screened porch. What a life, what a guy. Definitely read "Too Much Money", his posthumously-published last novel, it is wickedly funny in places, and a good read. Not his best, as the critics carped, but a fitting final offering that reads like a thinly-veiled later-life autobiography, which is in fact what it is. Check out Stair Auction's website to see the sale of his estate that took place a couple of weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't he just the greatest. A few days ago I read the auction results from the sale of his personal belongings, furnishings, etc. There was a notation in the NYT coverage that many of the things he'd previously sold off to friends in order to stay afloat [which you mentioned] had been lovingly returned to him later. Vanity Fair online keeps a huge cache of his best work for our reading pleasure.

JMW said...

It's so funny that you should post this topic, because I just finished his last novel, "Too Much Money" last Friday. It was a good read, as was a "Season in Purgatory." If you haven't listened to Terry Gross's interview with his son, Griffin, on "Fresh Air," see if you can download it. It was very good.

James said...

I like ADG Comp Lit. I enjoyed Mr Dunne's cable show. His demeanor and office were a great background for his crime stories.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post on Dominick Dunne...he is one of my favorite authors. Years ago I took People Like Us out of the Larchmont Public Library and taped inside the front cover was a NY Post Page Six article. It identified by name the people Dunne based his characters on within that novel. It was a great surprise. Thanks again for reminding us of Dominick Dunne.

Toad said...

I still enjoy watching reruns of his old television programs. Well Donne, sir.

Main Line Sportsman said...

I've read a ton of is that for illteration?...but never knew he was a decorated WWII soldier.

yoga teacher said...

Dang! I didn't know DD had had a television show. Might have had to get cable TV just to see what he was like off the page, because I sure enjoyed him on it. I admire anyone who can hit bottom and bounce back. And your post reminded to get out and read the copy of PEOPLE LIKE US I found when we were moving my mother out of her house last year. (Cover price: $4.95).

Anonymous said...

I loved that photo of him in the blazer and shorts (Cap D'Antibes?) when I saw it in VF. I generally don't share your fondness for slippers like that, but that pic could make me think twice.

CeceliaMc said...

I read People Like Us and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I had the impression that Dunne was guilty of the cheapest of cheap shots when it comes to chroniclers who are participants rather than mere observers: his appeal to our plebeian fascination of the upper crust, culminates with a knife in back of his friends.

Dunn handed us the ole trope "the rich are different from you and me, they mostly suck".

Of course in doing that Dunne leap frogs over many people who were kind to him.

I'm always suspicious of people who cast themselves as altruistic supporters of social justice, while simultaneously brandishing their patrician sensibility bona fides at every point.

In Dunne's case, however, what saved him from merely being a self-serving asshole, wasn't the professional collapse he experienced at one point. It was the grimmest and deepest sort of personal suffering.

Anonymous said...


"I'm always suspicious of people who cast themselves as altruistic supporters of social justice, while simultaneously brandishing their patrician sensibility bona fides at every point."

Brilliant !! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Snobbery is not a crime or even a sin, murder is. As a daughter and a victim of an attempted murder whose husband died in the same attack I have always respected and admired a man for whom extreme experiences caused ripples in his own life some of which turned into waves of compassion and understanding for the similarly afflicted. Dominick Dunne understood at a level very few can and was willing to use his ability to speak out and ask questions to an largely privileged and influential audience (white, middle-class Westerners) a unique situation that wouldn't have arisen had it not been for his other life experiences. So maybe he hurt a few feelings and ran up a few somewhat self indulgent expense bills along the way, we can't all be inscrutable and virtuous all the time. As the saying goes 'Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins' and consider yourself lucky that in this case, you can't.

Sky Princess said...

I adored Dominick Dunne and mourned his passing greatly. Thanks for the excellent post!

Kathie Truitt said...

Anonymous at 7:47 pm - first of all my heartfelt condolences for what you've been through and lost. My heart just breaks for you.

It may surprise you to know that I am someone who has been accused of attempted murder and did NOTHING wrong - I just happened to be one of many unlucky victims of a 'false victimization stalker'.

I am not a fan of Gary Condit by no means but Mr. Dunne went after him with full force before he had any facts. That mans life was completely ruined by false and fabricated accusations. He's never been able to rebuild.

Luckily for me I have been able to rebuild. While I have sold my story and now have a novel, and sold the movie rights as well. no amount of money will ever make up for what my family and I had to endure.

Falsely accusing someone is a crime. Gossip does more than 'hurt feelings' - it can and does ruin lives.

Once again, I am so sorry for all you've been through, but at the end of the day I am sure you wanted the person responsible to pay. And although I know it won't bring your husband back, I truly hope that justice has prevailed for you.

Kathie Truitt
Author, False Victim

CeceliaMc said...

I think Dunne's saving grace is the work he has done on behalf of victims, however, it occurs to me that Dunne seemed to have specialized in those victims of the shielded
'rich and powerful'.

That's interesting. Dunne's daughter wasn't murdered by a man from privileged circumstances, quite the contrary. Part the defense that bought the killer some leniency was that he was a poor boy, raised in dire circumstances, who had worked hard and made good.

Let me admit that my knowledge of Dunne's career is very limited, and perhaps he did weigh in on crimes committed by people of humble circumstances.

As it stands, I do wonder if Dunne (a man who hobnobbed with elite establishment society and then skewered its mores and morals) was well aware of how the image of a highbrow, taking on thugs from an economic underclass, might be perceived among the more progressive sophisticates who dominate literary and media spheres.

Lisa said...

Loved Dominick Dunne and his writing. "People Like Us" was my introduction to Mr Dunne (unlike you, I never advanced to the stage of 'Nick Dunne')and was hooked. His reporting on the OJ Simpson became more meaningful to me when I realized that his daughter had been murdered. Huge loss. The real estate photos of his home are in my files because they seemed so personal and not 'decorated'. Really liked that.

quintessence said...

I am not ashamed to admit that I also loved reading Dunne. He was, in my mind, the thinking person's gossip writer and as one of your other commenters mentioned, really had a handle what life was like in those circles.

ADG said...

WOW…never knew that Dunne would ignite such interesting and passionate positions. Reminds me of ME!!!!

Muffy/Preppy Pauper…indeed.

Kathie Truitt…sorry about your experiences. But you know my position on Condit. Dunne didn’t ruin the guy. Dunne made mistakes re Condit and paid for it. Literally. Condit deserves all of his current circumstance. I’ll repeat verbatim what I said about Condit before….”As the father of a daughter, I find him repugnant.” But I’m wrapping my feedback to you Kathie, in love and respect.

Reggie Darling ... Ahh…the days of Gotham inhabited with Bobby Short and the like. It’s slipped away for sure. Except of course, the elegant legacy of places haunted by the famous…like maybe P.J. Clarkes for a burger. I wanted to bid on some of the auction stuff but didn’t get around to it. His Jag sold for nothing. And People Like Us…the summer that my gang all read it was a blast. We ended up naming each other characters in the book. I’m still pissed about being saddled with the Ezzie Fenwick character. And I loved meeting up again with Ruby and Elias in his final book. Too Much Money was a bit wobbly but Dunne knew he was dying as he penned it.

Flo …thanks for reminding me about the Dunne archives.

JMW…I’ll have to track down the Gross interview.

Brigid…and Dunne didn’t do the hatchet job on acquaintances like Truman Capote did.

Main Line Sportsman…iliteration…you’re just showing off!

CeceliaMc...settle down sister.

Anonymous said...

"Dunne (a man who hobnobbed with elite establishment society and then skewered its mores and morals)"

In the FWIW category and on the contrary, Mr. Dunne suffered deep resentments toward the East Coast "elite establishment society," he was never permitted access to the high wasp realm by virtue of the then-stigma of his Irish Catholic heritage. It's hard to believe, but for all DD's East coast formative years of educational and financial privilege, the high wasp social lock out marked his personality forever, and fueled his craft. He and his brother both found easy access to Hollywood "society" on the West coast where they both florished amongst those in the film industry, an industry of outsiders of all sorts, religious and otherwise.

CeceliaMc said...

"CeceliaMc...settle down sister. "


Dunne's blazer, short trousers, and slippers ensemble had all the tradition-with-an-edge flair of his own self-reinvention.


CeceliaMc said...

ADG, there is no doubt that Gary Condit is scum for withholding information about Levy in order to protect himself, but I don't think even THAT merits dispensing with due process in being accused of murder on national television. Even if it's only Court TV...

There's no doubt that we can lay this sort of excess at the feet of a 24 hour cable news cycle (much like we blame it for every societal excess, nowadays), but the Condit-Levy story did dovetail very nicely into Dunne's professional raison d'etre, in a way that the purported facts of the case, now, do not.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Besides, the man had style in more than vaguely disguised fiction. Here's to him.

ADG said...

CONDIT...nowhere NEAR the false victim that you were Kathie. He deserves not, any more due process than he received. Dunne overstepped the line and was sued and was correct in settling the suit because he was guilty of overzealous public accusations and he paid the price. DUE PROCESS is for citizens arrested for a crime. CONDIT wasn't arrested for anything so due process is an irrelevant consideration. CONDIT is a misogynistic turd. I'm more flawed than most people walking the earth today. But I didn't fuck around on my wife when I was married and lie to starry eyed hangers-on about a future together while I was boning them.

Ok, I guess you can tell that my dander is up just a wee bit on this one.

CeceliaMc said...

I'm afraid not. "Due process" isn't some term that fell from the sky sans an underpinning concept.

The principle behind the term applies to any sense of common decency, rather than solely to the proceedings in some court room.

CeceliaMc said...

"I'm more flawed than most people walking the earth today. But I didn't fuck around on my wife when I was married and lie to starry eyed hangers-on about a future together while I was boning them."

In the olden days when I was girl, we wouldn't have suggested that such actions rendered men worthy of any accusation.

We merely called them cads.

Anonymous said...

And a few days ago you thought Yo' Fo' held the shit stirring baton..........
This blog is suddenly very interesting....and participatory.
How many comments have been blocked this go-'round?

ADG said...

Whew...finally home from the West Coast. Anon...Don't count on this become a participatory platform for discourse on social/political/ethical/moral issues. It's a rare occurrence. I've blocked only a dozen or so comments since I began this blog thang. It's all a matter of how the mood strikes me. And all Yo' Fo' does is speak his mind forthrightly. But it does seem to stir the dooky from time to time.

The Leopard said...

After surviving a difficult father, a war, Hollywood and self immolation to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix to give us such entertaining writing is truly inspiring. He hooked me with The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and I never looked back, he is truly missed.