Imagine you had this certain acquaintance who invited you into his home. One night after dinner he shows you his old scrapbook. The two of you laugh, mourn and share some wonderful memories.
You may be unfamiliar with the photos, but that's ok. Your host is a very good storyteller. He describes past events like they happened yesterday. It makes no difference that you don't know the people in the photos of the scrapbook. By the time you have seen all the pages, you feel as though you have known your acquaintance all his life.
This is how I felt after reading The Way We Liven Then, by Dominick Dunne. The book is not like others he has written. Mr. Dunne is most famous for his fictional novels based on true high profile scandals. I've always admired the author, as he has the guts to write as close to the truth as he can without getting sued by the subjects in question. This makes for interesting reading, in my opinion.
However, The Way We Lived Then is not fiction. Rather, as my title states, it's simply recollections of a well-known name dropper, that person being Dominick Dunne.
The book starts with a picture of young Dominick Dunne posed with his other siblings. The first paragraphs describe his first trip to Hollywood as a young boy. He talks of the way Hollywood used to be, with big stars under contract and lots of publicity stunts.
Mr. Dunne writes, "Later in life I learned from Lana Turner herself that she had not been discovered in Schwab's by Mervyn LeRoy. It was only a publicist's story put out by the studio. By then I understood things like that, creating appearance. I was to become quite good at it myself".
Though he may have created appearances inside the industry, Mr. Dunne is very honest about his life in this book. He discusses his arrogance and extravagance in his early years as a producer. His behavior forced his wife to separate from him. Being away from his family plummeted him into drug use and depression. He was broke.
Mr. Dunne discusses how, at the lowest point in his life, his writing career began:
"It was time to move on. After twenty-four years, my Los Angeles experience had come to an end. Long ago I had longed for it. Now I longed to be away from it. I moved back to New York where I started out on Howdy Doody at NBC years before, with one suitcase and a typewriter, all I had left, to start my life over again as a writer."
Though I have focused on Mr. Dunne's life so far, please don't think this book is merely an autobiography. Mr. Dunne has included many pictures, and he tells great stories about them.
Granted, a lot of the pictures are from the 50's and 60's. To be honest, I didn't recognize many of the names and faces. However, the author's descriptions of the pictures filled me in on what I was missing.
Most of the pictures are of celebrities and family in social scenes. What I found so interesting was how relaxed these stars seemed in the photos. I am so used to the posed photos one sees in magazines. How interesting it was to see these candid shots of yesteryear's Hollywood elite.
One example that comes to mind is a series of shots of Natalie Wood that are featured in the book. At a party, she was hamming it up for the guests, pretending to be a showgirl. How funny to see such a refined woman act so silly and amusing. Mr. Dunne was able to capture a side of the late actress that no other professional photographer had ever achieved.
Well, I've covered the autobiographical part of the book. I've also covered the photos. I mustn't forget the delicious gossip that I have come to love in Mr. Dunne's books. To his credit, the author on deals in true stories. He also doesn't approach the stories from a National Enquirer standpoint.
For example, he candidly discusses his view of the Bloomingdale murder scandal. He didn't invent the story, he just discusses it in this book as well as An Inconvenient Woman, one of my favorites.
Mr. Dunne writes, "I was terribly criticized for writing An Inconvenient Woman. I had the same problem with the Woodward family when I wrote The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. My rationale in both cases was that if I didn't do it, someone else would have, and that writer might have been less judicious than I had been in presenting the story".
These words are written toward the end of the book. As soon as Mr. Dunne's writing career begins, this book ends, and for that I am disappointed. The final paragraph discusses his daughter's murder in 1982, the death of her killer, the death of Mrs. Dunne, and the current whereabouts and happenings of his two surviving children. After that, the book is finishedjust like a scrapbook.
I've also read several of Mr. Dunne's works of fiction. All are good, but I especially recommend two of his most recent. Both A Season in Purgatory and Another City, Not My Own are extremely interesting. The first story is based on the Skakel (Kennedy)/Moxley murder scandal. The second deals with the events behind the scenes of the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
If you are unfamiliar with the work of Mr. Dunne, The Way We Lived Then is an ideal starter book. It shows a glimpse of his life so you understand why he is the ultimate source of celebrity information.