The Way He Lived

dominick-dunneFailure, if you can get through it, is a great experience to have had.” – Dominick Dunne

Today I got the news that Dominick Dunne died at age 83. I had only recently, within the past year, discovered Dunne’s collected writing about high-society crime, although I’d read various pieces in Vanity Fair off and on for years. I became so intrigued by him that I bought his memoir The Way We Lived Then, which is narrative but also a collection of incredible photos from his years in Hollywood, when he was married to his wife, Lenny. He was a compulsive photo-taker and scrap-booker (not in the way people scrapbook now, with all the doodads and foo-foos and cut-outs), in addition to an avid party-giver, and the book  is a moving document of a bygone era when life, for Dunne, was easy and he was living in Shangri-La.

I feel a sadness over Dunne’s passing that I never really felt for Michael Jackson, Ted Kennedy or even Farrah. And I know why. He was a writer but he wasn’t always a writer. First, he lost everything – his wife, his home, his job as a producer in Hollywood – and retreated, at the age of 50, to a cabin in Oregon for six months to recreate himself. He was a Phoenix, doing the best he could to cobble together a second life – freely admitting that he was imperfect, a fake, a heavy drinker, cocaine addict and someone who loved the spotlight a little bit too much – but boldly marching on into a new life. Would that Michael Jackson could have managed this kind of re-creation. I have a soft spot for anyone who pulls off a Second Act, maybe because it’s always in the back of my mind that someday I might have to do the same.

Dominick’s daughter, Dominique, was murdered in 1982 by a deranged boyfriend. You may remember her from the movie Poltergeist – she was just getting her start as an actress. After her death, things were never the same for him, as you can imagine, and he started out at Vanity Fair at the urging of Tina Brown, (read Brown’s recollections of Dunne on The Daily Beast) who wanted him to cover the trial of his daughter’s murderer for the magazine. Later, the OJ Simpson trial in the 1990s ignited a new fury in Dunne – a man murders his wife and the mother of his children on the front steps and then walks free. I have to say I’m glad he lived long enough to see OJ go to prison, even if it wasn’t for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Innocent people just don’t go looking for trouble the way OJ did.

If you’re interested in reading some of Dunne’s collected essays, I can recommend Fatal Charms and Other Tales of Today/The Mansions of Limbo. I haven’t read his novels yet, but first on my list would be An Inconvenient Woman.

There is a new documentary called After The Party out now on DVD. You can find the trailer here. The DVD is availablefrom the movie’s website or rent it from Netflix. I haven’t seen it , but I’ve been looking forward to it. For even more DD viewing, you can rent Court TV: Dominick Dunne’s Power Privilege and Justice, a series hosted by Dunne in which he “puts a magnifying glass to some of the most scandalous crimes committed by high society’s crème de la crème, delving into the darkest secrets of criminals who believe that their money and prestige put them above the law.” In a way, Dunne was like a crime-fighting superhero, intent on seeing wealthy criminals locked away.

He will be missed.