On Thursday, September 10th, Dominick Dunne’s funeral took place at a Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Manhattan. Hundreds attended from the worlds of society and culture, including Richard Gere, Julianna Margulies, Liev Schreiber, and Diane von Furstenberg.
Joan Didion was, of course, also in attendance. She spoke of Dunne ultimately as family-orientated and brave, according to the Huffington Post:
A resource to advance the study of Joan Didion’s work with exclusive FREE online content! Read essays by Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Mallon, Michiko Kakutani and many more right now.
Dominick Dunne, the ultimate self-made American man, died today following a long battle with bladder cancer. He was 83.
Dunne rose to public consciousness in the movie business. He was a producer at the very end of the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema, though not a very prolific one. He was attracted to glamour; indeed, when he was a child, he had a picture of Michèle Morgan, a French actress, on his wall. His favorite movie was ‘Now, Voyager’, starring Betty Davis.
“The idea that a camp movie like Now, Voyager became my most important movie was because she became someone different from what she was. I found it so fascinating. She had that awful life — that mother, she was fat and unattractive. She came back, she was different. I thought about my own life, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this’.”
But paradoxically, he never quite felt at home when surrounded by the rich and famous. In the midst of hot-dog parties and Malibu sunsets, Dunne said he “never could figure out [his] place” in that social strata:
“I always felt I was there more on a pass than reality. I would produce this movie with Elizabeth Taylor (’Ash Wednesday’) and have a glamorous time in Europe. But I was never a producer in charge. I didn’t have the balls to go to the front office and say ‘I want this’.”
Nevertheless, it was a successful time, and not just for Dominick, but also for his brother John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion. In the early 1970s, they formed a film company called ‘Dunne-Didion-Dunne’. John and Joan wrote, while Dominick produced. In Vanity Fair, he would later write about the experience:
“Our first picture was The Panic in Needle Park, for Twentieth Century Fox, based on a Life-magazine article by James Mills about heroin junkies. I remember sitting in the projection room and watching the dailies for the first time. In the darkness, John and I looked at each other as if we couldn’t believe that two Hartford boys were making a big Hollywood-studio movie on location in New York City. [...] The picture was picked as an American entry to the Cannes Film Festival, and we all went over and had our first red-carpet experience. The film won the best-actress award for a young beginner named Kitty Winn. There were cheers and huzzahs and popping flashbulbs. It was a thrilling experience for all three of us. The following year John and Joan wrote the screenplay for Play It as It Lay which was based on Joan’s best-selling novel of the same name. [...] That was our last film together. John and I came away from that picture not liking each other as much as we had after the first. Then Joan and John made a mint on the movie A Star Is Born, starring Barbra Streisand, which was an enormous success, and in which they had a share of the profits. I remember being at the star-studded premiere in Westwood, when Streisand made one of the great movie entrances. And there were John and Joan, up there, having arrived, being photographed, getting celebrity treatment. Was I jealous? Yes.”
There followed a low-point in Dunne’s life when film-projects sputtered away, and his relationship with his wife, Lenny, had ended, perhaps for good:
“The problem with that marriage was me. She had really loved me. She was great . . . I f***ed that up.”
Dominick Dunne turned to drink and drugs. He was arrested for “carrying grass” when he got off a plane and John and Joan bailed him out. But this was only the beginning, as Dominick wrote:
‘The Year of Magical Thinking: The Play’ (TYoMT: P), a self-adapted staging of Joan Didion’s non-fiction book of the same name, was first performed by Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway in the summer of 2007. Though Didion did the writing; the director, David Hare, and Redgrave herself were intimately part of the production process. Recently, we have seen a steady supply of alternative productions, with each actress taking the work in a different direction, some more successfully than others. In May 2009, Analee Jefferies inhabited the role in a TheatreWorks production in Hartford Connecticut, earning strong reviews from The New York Times, who praised her “earthier, less reserved” approach.
Now another actress is preparing to play the part of ‘Didion’ – a writer coping with grief and waking up the audience to its unsubtle methods. The Intiman Theatre in Seattle is preparing for its run from August 21st until September 20th, with Judith Roberts as the sole performer. Roberts’ stage credits have a solid Shakespearian flavour, including Richard 111 at Classic Stage Company. Such experience should serve her well as she endeavours to communicate a character entirely in extremis. “In the midst of life we are in death,” Didion wrote, recalling the words Presbyterians say at the graveside. Done correctly, the play can stun an audience by articulating the simple burden of this reality.
If you missed the original, you’ll get another chance to see Vanessa Redgrave this October when she reprises the role to raise money for UNICEF. Joan Didion and David Hare will be special guests at this performance in St. John The Divine, Manhattan. This event had been scheduled for April 2009, but was postponed following the sudden death of Natasha Richardson, Redgrave’s daughter. When asked by a reporter if Didion thought that Redgrave’s previous involvement with the work would help her with the grieving process, Didion replied, “I don’t think there’s any comfort… [Or if there is], it’s cold comfort.”
The Year of Magical Thinking, adapted by Joan Didion from her memoir, directed by Sarna Lapine and starring Judith Roberts. Performances will begin at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer Street at Seattle Center, on Friday, August 21 and continue through Sunday, September 20. The opening night performance is Wednesday, August 26 at 7:30 pm. For more, click here.
A benefit performance by Vanessa Redgrave of “The Year of Magical Thinking: The Play” in support of UNICEF on Monday, October 26th, 2009. Click here.
With customary cattiness, the media blog Gawker.com has zeroed in on Jill Abramson’s piece about her dog, “Chewing Towards Bethlehem“, in today’s NYT. The article forms part of Abramson’s “Puppy Diaries” column, in which she chronicles “the challenges and satisfactions of raising a puppy”. The title derives, of course, from that of Didion’s famous essay “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, which, in turn, is borrowed from Yeats’ “The Second Coming.”
Gawker invites the reader to compare and contrast same, to devastating effect:
People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing-persons reports, then moved on themselves.
We have a puppy gate that keeps Scout in the rear of our house.
And yet, as one who writes a lot of tragic Didion-related headlines, I understand Abramson’s predicament. The zeitgeist cannot be held accountable for it’s half-baked lexicon. I have read pieces free of anything but the most tenuous relation to the Didion that draw on “Slouching Towards X”; ” X Towards Bethlehem”; “After X”; “The Year of Magical Xing”. The other day I even came across a gem: “Marathon Absurd.” A piece about a marathon which did not start on time. This, in the eyes of the reporter, made it a fiasco of sufficient outrageousness to deserve, to demand, a snappy literary reference.
A quick glance back through previous News items on this site is an embarrassment of ridiculous riches. A few months ago, we covered a story about a revival of Yeats’ plays with the headline: “No Slouching: A Fresh Look At Yeats As Playwright.” Why? Well, in the picture, Yeats appears to be sitting up poker-straight. Reader, I’m sorry.
Post your favorite Didionesque headline beauties in the comment section below.
The New York Times published a shocking statistic two days ago: until this most recent issue of The Paris Review, summer edition; Joan Didion had been the only non-fiction writer included in that publication’s famed interview series, (which if you don’t know it is well worth looking up). The newest addition to this exclusive club is Gay Talese.
Mr. Talese addresses this gap, telling The Paris Review’s interlocutor, Katie Roiphe: “Nonfiction writers are second-class citizens, the Ellis Island of literature. We just can’t quite get in.”
Why do you think non-fiction authors have been excluded? Post your comment below.
In a commencement address at the University of California, Riverside, in 1975, Didion offered a general imperative that still illuminates her own disposition, even in the darkest times:
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package,” she said. ”I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”
Editor’s Note: We are looking for the complete text of this commencement address. If you can help, or know someone that might, please email cillian
Joan Didion received an honorary Doctorate of Letters today from Harvard University. The Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, the Noble prize-winning scientist Steven Woo, religious historian Wendy Doniger, legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, immunologist Anthony S. Fauci, anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, engineer Robert Langer, musician Wynton Marsalis, and political scientist Sidney Verba were also awarded with doctorates in their respective disciplines.
One attendee wrote on her twitter: “Immensely frail, in gold Pumas & tortoiseshell shades, Joan Didion got her honorary Harvard degree. Elaine Scarry helped her up the stairs.”
Didion Speaks: “It took me a long time to realize I was trying to come to terms with my failure to understand”
The reports are in on Joan Didion’s reading in Cleveland:
Writer Joan Didion, whose spare, piercing sensibility has colored American culture for 40 years, talked about her craft Tuesday evening at the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland.
In her 1968 book of essays called “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” Joan Didion wrote: “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does.”