In a previous incarnation, writer Dominick Dunne was the toast of Hollywood--entertaining movie stars and socialites and invited by moguls to clambakes and black-tie dances. Long before he started churning out his romans à clef set in the private recesses of Hollywood and penthouses of New York City and his dispatches from notorious murder trials, he spent his days on movie sets, producing films like Ash Wednesday and working as an executive at various studios. In the off-hours, he and his wife Lenny ate dinner with Vincente Minnelli, Jack Benny, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Montgomery. They went to beach parties hosted by Jane Fonda and Roddy McDowall--and threw not a few bashes of their own, attended by, well, everyone and often photographed for Vogue magazine. Dunne seemed to carry his camera with him everywhere and "was always sticking [it] into someone's face." Kirk Douglas biting into an oversized hotdog, a scantily clad Paul Newman perusing a picnic table, Princess Margaret smoking, Mia Farrow dancing, and Natalie Wood hamming. Each weekend he carefully arranged his snapshots along with the week's invitations, telegrams, and news-clippings into a set of scrapbooks.
The Way We Lived Then closely resembles those scrapbooks, filled as it is with images culled from them. Dunne sews the scraps together with a loose memoir that moves from the mundane (how the house was decorated for a certain party, how the subjects of a given photo were feeling about one another at the time) to the grand (meditations on his marriage and his children). All of these famous friends, glittery parties, and cozy evenings did add up to a picture-perfect life for a time. But by the mid '60s, Dunne was drinking hard, insulting acquaintances in public, and being a perfectly terrible husband to the lovely Lenny. He was soon arrested carrying drugs into the country from Mexico, divorced, nearly poverty-stricken, and living in a cabin in Oregon. But he lived to tell about it, and though his story is something of a cautionary tale about the dangers of success and excess, punctuated as it is by his dreamy photos, one can't help but wonder if he'd happily go back to the way he lived then. --Jordana Moskowitz
From Publishers 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.)
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