From our archives: the 1999 photo memoir from Dunne, who died at age 83 on August 26.
Dominick Dunne, author of such best-selling novels as The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and An Inconvenient Woman, gets behind the camera, literally and figuratively, as he dishes the dirt on his Hollywood and society cronies in this deliciously tawdry volume.
The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper is aptly subtitled, since the author spends most of the pages talking about the fabulous people he has met throughout a long, if not always distinguished, career in the film and television industries. Dunne's photographs of the rich and famous are a major component of the book. The snapshots of family and friends are at least as entertaining as the text.
Dunne was born into a well-heeled family in Connecticut, went to the right schools, met the right people, married the right woman. He decided at a young age what he wanted to do with his life: I had always been star-struck, one of those kids who preferred movie magazines to baseball cards. His early days as a stage manager opened many doors. Life became a series of parties and get-togethers with the likes of Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, Roddy McDowell, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and countless others. And, to be fair, the social circles included not just the stars, but those around them hairstylists, chauffeurs, and secretaries are treated with respect and affection as well.
But Dunne writes not only of the good times. He imparts, with painful honesty, how he got caught up in the drug culture of the '60s. That, coupled with the breakup of his marriage, carried him down into a period of desperation. The bottom fell out when he was arrested for trying to smuggle marijuana across the Mexican border. Though he managed to avoid incarceration, he fell out of favor with those with whom he had found such fascination and entertainment. To paraphrase Dunne: There is no sin except failure. The ostracism sent him to the brink of suicide.
His money running out, Dunne fled to the seclusion of Oregon where he managed to turn his life around. Drawing on people and events from his past, he began his second career as a novelist and essayist. Dunne's experiences are certainly not representative of most folks' lives, but for those who love the behind-the-scenes stories, The Way We Lived Then would make an excellent selection.