John Gregory Dunne was born May 25, 1932 in Connecticut. He inherited a love of reading from his grandfather, an Irish immigrant who became a prosperous citizen of West Hartford, where Dunne was raised.
After graduating from Princeton in 1954, Dunne briefly volunteered for the army. He then moved to New York City, where he worked at an ad agency and as a staff writer for Time magazine. It was during this time in New York that he met his future wife, fellow writer Joan Didion.
Dunne and Didion married in 1964 and moved to California. They adopted a daughter, Quintana Roo. Dunne’s essay collection QUINTANA AND FRIENDS is named for her. Dunne and Didion were welcomed by Hollywood, and co-wrote four screenplays together, including an early draft of A STAR IS BORN.
Dunne’s first book, DELANO: THE STORY OF THE CALIFORNIA GRAPE STRIKE, was published in 1967. As The New York Times Book Review lauded, “Crackling dialogue, gritty characters, a fierce, unblinking stare at acts of brutality—these elements mark the novels of John Gregory Dunne.” Another significant element in Dunne’s writing, and what informed many of his books, is the city of Los Angeles, especially its dark side. His next major book, THE STUDIO, is an inside look at 20th Century Fox, a piece of reportage that is still hailed as one of the most shrewdly observed portraits of the movie business ever written. In DUTCH SHEA, JR, a provocative, tragic (though, typical of Dunne’s writing, simultaneously uproariously funny) novel, a criminal lawyer “working out of L.A.” must work through his guilt over his past following his divorce and the murder of his adopted daughter. Dunne’s TRUE CONFESSIONS is a novel inspired by the media’s obsession with the “Black Dahlia” murder.
In the late 1980s, Dunne and Didion returned to New York, but Dunne’s fascination with Los Angeles endured. He covered the trial of O.J. Simpson for The New York Review of Books, and wrote MONSTER: LIVING OFF THE BIG SCREEN about his work on early drafts of the Disney film UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. Dunne’s writing often questions the American fascination with fame, as depicted in his PLAYLAND, which the Washington Post called “[Dunne’s] version of ‘THE GREAT GATSBY,’” and in his THE RED WHITE AND BLUE, a complex, thrilling political narrative. Dunne also published CROONING, a collection of essays on politics, the movie business, California, and the trials of being a magazine writer.
His last book, NOTHING LOST, was published posthumously. Dunne died in 2003, after suffering a heart attack.