I have a feeling you either liked or loathed Dominick Dunne. A regular towards the end of his life on the Larry King Show, a long-time contributor to Vanity Fair magazine and author of several best-selling novels, all related to actual crimes and involving real people under not-so-obvious fake names, Dunne always stood up for the victims of the crimes in the many major trials he wrote about. This was after his own daughter had been murdered by her boyfriend. In that case Court shenanigans and a biased judge saw the killer get off with just a six-year sentence.
His daughter? Whenever I saw him on tv I was convinced he was gay. And even after marriage and his three children, I was right. I now know for sure as a result of Robert Hofler's recent biography. In fact, Dunne was enjoying voluminous sexual trysts with many men even during his marriage. Not, of course, that that matters to anyone other than his immediate family.
This biography is no major piece of literature. Sometimes it heads - amusingly - towards the gutter, as when Hofler talks about Nancy Reagan and her way of getting regular employment as an actress.
“Dick Powell and his wife, June Allyson, were close friends of Nancy and Ronald Reagan in their actor days. Powell used to tell Dominick, “See if you can find a part for Nancy on Burke’s Law,” one of Four Star’s most popular series [Dunne had a senior position in this Production Company]. Powell did not have to recommend Nancy. Neither did Dominick. TV executives and casting directors all wanted to meet her, and not because she was a great or even an adequate actress. Privately, Dominick told friends that Mrs. Reagan was a popular request thanks to her expertise at performing fellatio upon request.”
Or this about casting the beautiful young German actor, Helmut Berger, in one of his movies.
“For the role of the gigolo Erich, Dominick indulged in typecasting, giving the part to the twenty-eight-year-old actor Helmut Berger, whose sixty-four-year-old lover had lobbied hard for his current inamorato. The Italian director Luchino Visconti even went so far as to hold a private screening for Dominick, showing him his new film, Ludwig, in which Berger, again typecast, played the mad, decadent king of Bavaria. After the screening, Visconti and Dominick chatted, and among other topics the legendary director launched into a complaint about today’s young actors ‘who have everything handed to them.’ Berger interrupted the old man. ‘You think it’s easy fucking you every night?’ he asked.”
Then there was the mattress party held in honour of the great and outrageously gay ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, the mattress reference being to a mattress arranged in every room so that Nureyev could enjoy a sexual tryst with whichever of the many escort boys invited took his fancy - without having to find a bedroom.
Dunne worked in Hollywood for the first half of his career, desperate to know and be liked by everyone. Climbing the social ladder was as important as anything. Initial success soon turned to a downward spiral of abject failure in a series of ventures, the last of which “Ash Wednesday” starred a very drunken Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor, he reports, could always outdrink Richard Burton by a country mile. After ending up penniless and with thoughts of suicide, he embarked on his writing career and became extremely wealthy as a result.
If you are looking for some easy and fun beach or plane reading that does have serious undertones, you might find much of this engrossing.
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