The Inside Scoop
Throughout the years he lived and worked in Hollywood, Dominick Dunne was a confirmed shutterbug, snapping pictures of private parties, receptions, society weddings, and the everyday comings and goings of luminaries like Jane Fonda, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and many more. In The Way We Lived Then, he uses those photographs and his own recollections to offer an insider's view of a bygone era in Tinseltown. In this excerpt, Dunne recalls his early dealings with now powerful producer Aaron Spelling and the late Elizabeth Montgomery.
An Excerpt from The Way We Lived Then by Dominick Dunne
After Fox, I became a vice president of Four Star, the television studio owned by David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Dick Powell, three of the classiest guys ever to be in show business. Four Star in those days was the hottest of all the television production companies, with something like fourteen series on the air. Both Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood burst into their feature film stardom from series at Four Star. Aaron Spelling, who went on to fame and riches, was the hot young producer on the lot. Aaron grew up in poverty in a Texas ghetto, the son of a Russian immigrant tailor. Years later, in an article I wrote in Vanity Fair about his second wife, Candy, I said, "He wore hand-me-down clothes and was called Jewboy by the local bullies." I first knew him in the late fifties, when we worked together on Playhouse 90; Aaron was a sometime actor and fledgling writer, and I was the assistant to the producer. When we reconnected at Four Star, he was already on his way as a television writer and producer, creating such series as Zane Grey Theater and Burke's Law. The most acclaimed series was called The Rogues, which starred David Niven, Charles Boyer, Dick Powell, and Gig Young in rotating roles of charming con men. It was produced by the urbane Collier Young. As the others were sometimes off making pictures in London and Paris, Gig carried most of the episodes. Gig had married Elizabeth Montgomery after her divorce from Freddy Cammann. They were wildly happy for a long time. We saw a lot of each other as couples. Then something happened between them. We never knew what. Neither was the type to confide. Liz left their house in one direction and Gig in another, furious with each other, and went to other places. They divorced. Liz then married William Asher, a television producer, and starred in the series Bewitched, which made her a huge star. We never saw her again. For reasons unknown, she cut off all her friends and relations from before her third marriage and her hit series. Once I passed her on the sidewalk in Beverly Hills. She looked straight ahead. We never understood. Lenny was terribly hurt. Years later, when the producers were casting the miniseries of my novel An Inconvenient Woman, Elizabeth was interested in playing the part of Pauline Mendelson. I blackballed her, in revenge. Through the years I read about Elizabeth. She divorced Bill Asher, by whom she had three children, and married Robert Foxworth, an actor. During the O. J. Simpson trial, I read in the papers that she was dying of cancer. Whatever transpired that had broken up our friendship faded into unimportance. I could only remember what good friends we had been and what fun we once had had. I wrote her at Cedars-Sinai and said I remembered the early years and how wonderful it had been being her friend. Robert Foxworth told me that he had read it to her two days before she died and that she was happy to receive it. He asked me to give a eulogy at her funeral. He said, "You're the only one who knew her from that part of her life."
Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishing Co. Copyright © 1999 by Dominick Dunne.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Before becoming a bestselling novelist (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles) and Vanity Fair correspondent noted for skeptical dispatches from the O.J. Simpson and Menendez brothers murder trials, Dunne was a TV and movie producer in the 1960s. Less a memoir than a scrapbook, this slim volume consists largely of Dunne's often appealing celebrity snapshots. There's a young Warren Beatty at the piano, Elizabeth Taylor in white mink and a gimlet-eyed Princess Margaret, poised with a cigarette holder. The book's subtitle is well-taken. Plenty of names are dropped, though there's a paucity of fresh or compelling anecdotes. Dunne notes the "deep devotion" of Nancy and Ronald Reagan; in person, Elizabeth Taylor "is even more breathtaking than on the screen"; Natalie Wood, who "always looked like a million bucks," checks her makeup in the mirror-bright blade of a butter knife. There are exceptions to the pat anecdotes: a vicious Frank Sinatra, for instance, makes a memorable appearance. The book is further distinguished by the pages that focus on Dunne's own capitulation to drugs, alcohol and promiscuity; the irrevocable damage his tailspin wrought on his heroic wife (herself suffering from MS); and his slow but determined recovery. But it's odd that the Hollywood elite that betrayed Dunne at the nadir of his life should be so unreflectively celebrated here. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Dunne draws on his scrapbook accounts of the great Hollywood parties he's given. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Most people's scrapbooks invite a yawning, "Isn't that interesting" from others. But then, most people haven't lived the life of Dominick Dunne, who has included photographs, telegrams, and party invitations in this gossipy, casually written memoir chronicling his days in Hollywood during the '50's and '60's...Riveting.
From the scrapbooks of the fashionable novelist and magazine writer, a surprisingly forthright memoir that chronicles in snapshots and words decades of earthly delight in Hollywood, months of contrition, and a penitent return to rewarding work. Dunne (A Season in Purgatory, 1993, etc.) is the author of successful romans à clef about Hollywood and "society"; he's also a regular contributor to Vanity Fair magazine, where his assignments included coverage of the Claus von Bülow and O. J. Simpson trials. That is the rewarding work. What came before was a privileged childhood, WWII service in which he both won a Bronze Star and had his PFC stripe ripped off, and Williams College, where he knew Stephen Sondheim. Dunne launched his theatrical career as a stage manager for TV's Howdy Doody. Good references and a fortuitous marriage led to a satisfactory career in TV and film production in Hollywood and access to the star-studded parties described and photographed here. Pictures of his children and wife predominate, along with candids of Hollywood celebrities including Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood (a favorite), the young Nancy and Ronald Reagan, and even the British royals Margaret and Snowden. Bizarre anecdotes (Frank Sinatra hired a waiter to punch Dunne out) are interspersed with the banal (Truman Capote was a great dancer). Dunne gradually turned into a self-confessed "asshole," drinking and doping, until his wife ejected him and he fled to a six-month retreat in a tourist cabin in Oregon. Along his way to recovery and journalistic celebrity, the mother of his children was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his beloved daughter was murdered. The dark threadthat underlies the mostly frivolous tales keeps this book on a par with his most successful novels.
Read an Excerpt
When I was nine years old and growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, a city that I knew from the age of four would not be the city of my life, my aunt Harriet, my mother's sister, a maiden lady as well as a former Catholic nun who quit the convent--a subject that fascinated my brothers, sisters, and me, although it was a subject that was never discussed by my parents--took me on a trip out west that summer. Our first stop was Los Angeles. For me, it was a breathtaking experience. I had always been starstruck, one of those kids who preferred movie star magazines to baseball cards. I believed everything I read in them. I believed that Paulette Goddard did something unspeakable to the director Anatole Litvak under the nightclub table at Mocambo. I believed that Louis B. Mayer, the all-powerful head of MGM, had taken Paul Bern's suicide note--"Forgive me for last night," he wrote to his bride, Jean Harlow, MGM's great star--out of Jean's hands and destroyed it before the police got to the scene. I believed that Lana Turner had been discovered by Mervyn LeRoy at the counter of Schwab's, the famous drugstore on the Sunset Strip.
On the tour bus that took us to the movie star homes, I sat right next to the guide so I wouldn't miss anything; actually I knew more about the stars than the guide did, although he knew all their addresses. For years afterward I could remember their streets and their houses. Shirley Temple lived on Rockingham in Brentwood, just a few houses away from where O. J. Simpson lived years later at the time of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman; Deanna Durbin lived on Amalfi Drive in a house where Steve Bochco, the television mogul, later lived.Clark Gable and Carole Lombard lived in a house on the flats of Beverly Hills, right up to the time she was killed in an air crash while on a bond-selling tour in the early days of World War II; Mary Pickford lived at Pickfair, behind ducal gates, but you couldn't see her house from the street. Jean Harlow, who was soon to die at the age of twenty-six at the peak of her MGM stardom, lived in a big white movie star house on Beverly Glen. I remembered stuff like that.
We went to the Brown Derby for lunch and had Cobb salad, which was a specialty of the house. The Brown Derby was built in the shape of a derby. I already knew that Louella Parsons and Barbara Stanwyck often lunched there, but they weren't there that day, much to my disappointment. We went to Schwab's, and I tried to imagine on which stool Lana Turner had been sitting when she was discovered by Mervyn LeRoy. Schwab's was full of starlets drinking coffee at the counter, buying makeup, and reading what I learned were the trade papers, the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety. It was perfect. We stayed at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, which was at that time the best place to be staying. One night we had dinner at the Coconut Grove, the famous nightclub at the Ambassador, where glamorous women wore evening dresses and gardenia corsages. Eddie Duchin's orchestra played, and Eddie, who was in a white dinner jacket and had a deep tan, looked like a million bucks leading the band. The next day in the Ambassador pool, Eddie Duchin spoke to me. He was the first celebrity I ever talked to, and I can still remember the whole conversation. He told me I should put suntan lotion on my freckling shoulders. I was tongue-tied. I could only mumble, "Thank you." Later I learned that his wife had died after childbirth. Eddie Duchin's son, Peter, grew up to be a famous bandleader himself, as well as a friend. Peter's second wife, Brooke Hayward, appears in this book during the time of her earlier marriage to the actor Dennis Hopper.
The rest of the trip out west with Aunt Harriet was a bit of an anticlimax for me after my five days in Hollywood. I had fallen in love with a place. I knew that Los Angeles was going to play an important part in my life. I also knew with the certainty of a child with a vision that the day would come when I would walk in the front doors of the houses I had peered at from the tour bus window.
Hartford was a terrible letdown after Los Angeles. My family's position in Hartford then was perplexing to me, and I used to think that all of my problems would be solved if only I could be an Episcopalian. We were the big-deal Irish Catholic family in a WASP city. My brother, the writer John Gregory Dunne, once wrote that we'd gone from steerage to suburbs in three generations, which was pretty accurate. A school was named after my grandfather, Dominick Burns, who made his fortune in the grocery business and later became a bank president. I always played down the grocery part of his life and played up the bank president part, but the bucks came from the grocery store. He never forgot that he had been born poor, and giving to the poor was a mainstay of his life. My mother and my aunt sometimes feared there'd be nothing left if he kept giving away so much, but it was a source of great pride in our family when he was made a papal knight by Pope Pius XII for his philanthropic work for the poor of Hartford. My father was a famous heart surgeon, who had received medical acclaim for an operation on a twelve-year-old boy whose heart he held in his hand while removing a bullet. The boy lived.