Hofler, Robert. “Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.
The Constant Reinvention of a Complicated, Combative, Self-aggrandizing, and Tormented Man
Dominick Dunne (1925-2001) spent his entire adult life in the public eye. However, author Robert Hofler in this biography shows us that he was a conflicted, enigmatic man who reinvented himself again and again. He was a television and film producer in the 1950s–1970s and socialized with Humphrey Bogart and Natalie Wood, he found success and crushing failure in a pitiless Hollywood. He was a “Vanity Fair” journalist who covered the lives of the rich and powerful, he stunned his readers with his detailed coverage of spectacular murder cases including O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, Michael Skakel, Phil Spector, and Claus von Bülow. He once had his own television show and he wrote five novels that were bestsellers that were all based on real life events. He was a friend to many in the entertainment and literary fields and to some of the most famous women in the world (Princess Diana, Nancy Reagan, Liz Smith, Barbara Walters, and Elizabeth Taylor).
Dunne published his memoirs and now we know that he did not include everything. He did not write about the rivalry he shared with his brother John Gregory Dunne (who was married to poet Joan Didion), his affairs with other men even while he was married or about the fights he had with the editors of “Vanity Fair”. Dunne’s career as a reported came during the trial of the man who murdered his daughter in 1983.
This biography begins with Dunne’s youth and covers every aspect of the man’s career. We learn of his struggles with his sexuality. His personal life takes up the first half of the book and then moves to the crime cases he covered as a reporter and there are a plethora of fascinating stories. Dunne seemed to live for scandal and his life was often filled with sadness. His father made fun of him and called him a sissy whipped him often and made him feel that he was a girl in the body of a boy.
Dunne’s eventful, turbulent, and often sorrowful life. Dunne never felt that he really belonged anywhere and we see that here again and again. However, we are not really looking at Dunne’s family life here. Hofler is more interested in the celebrities in Dunne’s life and that is why I am sure that there will be those who read this for the gossip in it. Of that we get plenty although I am not so sure that people will want to read about Elizabeth Taylor’s drinking habits again. On the other hand I am sure that many will find Rudolf Nureyev’s sexual proclivities quite exciting especially the time that he got twenty-four men to offer themselves to him at a party. I was surprises that Hofler used the term “closeted homosexual” to describe Dunne since his affairs with men were public knowledge. Yes, he was married (don’t you love when people say, “he is married” as an excuse for not being gay?) and fathered two sons but he failed at being a family man and his wife divorced him.
Hofler writes with great detail as he shows Dunn’s wit and charm and also his vulnerability. Beneath the glitz and glamour that comes with being a celebrity, there was a lot going on and not all of it was positive. Now that we are firmly living in a culture that is so celebrity conscious that I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this read (in which the only Kardashian to appear is Robert who I am pretty sure would not have approved for his former wife’s and his daughter’s behavior. [I had to get that dig in]). Entertainment and tragedy figure equally in the life of Dunne that seems, to me, to be the story of fame, the upper class, sexual identity and the struggle to be remembered. I am not sure that Dunne would have approved of everything here but I bet that he would have loved knowing that he was being read about. He was a man who could easily destroy himself one day and then reinvent himself the next day.