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Dominick Dunne, or, “My Cultural Education via Vanity Fair Magazine.”

2009/10/10

Wow, I looked through all my tags and I can’t believe I haven’t talked about Dominick Dunne.  There has been a lot said about him.  I guess he first came into my consciousness when he first started writing, because he started that part of his career fairly late in life.  I knew nothing at the time of his previous television & film career.  I read The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, a juicy novel based on a real Society murder.  Unfortunately this novel was made into a TV movie, which is all that needs to be said about that! 

I probably had been reading articles by Dunne in Vanity Fair Magazine before then.  I started reading Vanity Fair in about 1982 or 1983.  I loved the photographic portraiture best.  I fell in love with the great photographer, Annie Liebowitz.  The three of them– Dunn, Leibowitz and Vanity Fair were always my pop culture triumverate.  For years I kept all my copies of the magazine, because the cover always featured a sensational portrait by a great photographer.  Vanity Fair also introduced me to the incredible photography of Bruce Weber, the late Herb Ritts, and others.

Dunne had started writing about crime after the murder of his daughter, Dominique, by her ex-boyfriend, in 1982.  John Sweeney, the murderer, was a chef at Ma Maison.  It was the classic domestic violence nightmare.  Overly attentive, loving boyfriend quickly becomes controlling, jealous boyfriend (or husband-they are always trying to hurry things up-the wedding, the pregnancy, etc.).  When she tried to break it off with him he became violent, and shortly thereafter was able to murder her.  Sadly for her family, he only served about 2 1/2 years for the crime.  I could go on and on about domestic violence.  I have some experience counselling survivors at our local shelter and on the phone hotline, and have become fairly well educated on the subject.  That’s for another time.

Anyhow, the editor of Vanity Fair at the time, I think it was Tina Brown, who is British & started out at “The Tatler”, a British magazine/tabloid, was excellent.  She encouraged Dunne to keep a diary about the trial, which became either an article or a series of articles, and the Vanity Fair/Dominick Dunne marriage was born.  Whenever I got my Vanity Fair, the first thing I would do is look up whatever Dominick Dunne had written and read it.  I really believe this cemented my interest in the true crime genre for good, and I didn’t have to be ashamed of it anymore because it was in Vanity Fair!  Actually, I would peruse the photos, see who photographed the lead article, view them,  then read the Dunne article.  Dunne covered the Menendez & OJ murder trials extensively, eventually writing a book about the OJ trial.  One of the enduring images of the OJ trial is certainly Dominick Dunne’s shocked face, mouth hanging open when the verdict was read. 

He also covered the William Kennedy Smith rape trial, and wrote a novel based on the true story of a horrid crime in Greenwich, CT in 1978 or 1979.  A young girl had been murdered violently and the crime was never solved.  This murdered girl’s name was Martha Moxley, and Dunne would be instrumental in the prosecution and conviction of her neighbor, Michael Skakel, 25-30 years later.  This is also the case Mark Furhman wrote about in Murder in Greenwich.   This sparked a public feud between Dunne and Robert Kennedy, Jr., because Skakel is Ethel Kennedy’s nephew. 

I followed Dunne through the years in Vanity Fair, read books he wrote, and watched him on the Court TV show Power, Privilege and Justice.   A month or so ago, I was perusing documentaries (my favorite film genre) on Netflix and found a documentary about Dominick Dunne called, Dominick Dunne, After the Party.   I was shocked I hadn’t heard about it!  It was excellent, and provides a consecutive, thorough account if the events of his life.  I learned a lot about his life before he became a writer.  He died this summer.  His death was overshadowed by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, who died about the same time, which I thought would have made Dunne crazy because he did love his own celebrity.

Dominick, Annie and Vanity Fair gave this college dropout quite an education, and always prompted me to learn more about whatever subject broached.

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