Best-selling author and Vanity Fair correspondent Dominick Dunne to speak at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts


Dominick Dunne, best-selling author, Vanity Fair special correspondent and victims' rights advocate, will speak at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Dunne's talk is part of the Open VISIONS Forum, a program of University College, formerly the School of Continuing Education.

An unparalleled observer of the American court system and the criminal entanglements of the rich and famous, Mr. Dunne is the author of several best-selling novels and works of non-fiction, including "People Like Us," "The Way We Lived Then," "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles," and, most recently, "Justice: Crimes, Trials and Punishments." His savvy coverage of the high-profile trials of Claus von Bulow, the Menendez brothers, O.J. Simpson and, most recently, Michael Skakel have made him America's premiere court reporter.

Mr. Dunne's interest in justice and the nature of celebrity started at a young age. Born in 1926 to a prominent Hartford, Conn. heart surgeon and his wife, Mr. Dunne has a deep understanding of the trappings of wealth and power. While in boarding school in 1943, he developed a fascination with the sordid case of a socialite's murder, even risking expulsion to sneak off campus and read accounts of the trial in the New York papers.

After graduating from Williams College, he served in World War II, earning a Bronze Star at the age of 18 for saving the life of a wounded soldier in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he moved to New York City, landing a job as the floor manager for "The Howdy Doody Show." Mr. Dunne later moved to Los Angeles, where he directed the critically acclaimed "Playhouse 90" and became vice president at Four Star Pictures.

Mr. Dunne and his wife, the former Ellen "Lenny" Griffin, settled in Beverly Hills with their two sons, actor/director Griffin ("American Werewolf in London," "After Hours") and Alex, now a teacher and writer; and their daughter, Dominique, an actress who appeared in the film "Poltergeist."

As Mr. Dunne's star rose in Hollywood, so did the Dunnes' name on some of the most star-studded guest lists in town. The couple became known for lavish parties at their own mansion, where they hosted Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner and Truman Capote among others.

But Hollywood is a fickle place and, in 1979, smarting from the failure of some of his films and his pending divorce, Mr. Dunne left, pointing his car north to Oregon. There he rented a cabin for six months, wrote a book, sold everything he had and moved to Greenwich Village to start a career as a writer.

His first book, "The Users," a novel about life in Hollywood, did not fare well with reviewers. But his initial professional failure was soon overshadowed by one of the most devastating moments in his life: In October 1982 his ex-wife called to tell him Dominique was in a coma, having been strangled by her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney. She never regained consciousness and died in November, just weeks shy of her 23rd birthday.

Mr. Dunne vowed to return to L.A. for the trial. The night before he was to leave he attended a dinner party, where he happened to be seated next to a young Englishwoman named Tina Brown, the person who would turn his professional fortunes around.

Ms. Brown was about to take over as editor of Vanity Fair magazine and she was taken with Mr. Dunne's obvious storytelling talent. She asked him to keep a journal at the trial. Dunne agreed and was in the courtroom each day until Sweeney's manslaughter conviction, which lead to a sentence of 6.5 years. Sweeney was released after serving just 2.5 years.

"Justice: A Father's Account of the Trial of his Daughter's Killer," which deals with the Dunne family's experiences at the court proceedings, ran in the first issue of Vanity Fair edited by Ms. Brown. A poignant story, it showed Dunne's eye for potent detail and a moral authority that colors much of his later work.

In the next five years, Mr. Dunne wrote many Vanity Fair articles and completed "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles" and "People Like Us," two novels that deal with wealth and power. This time around, reviewers took notice.

"There's more to it than getting the labels and the street names right," New York Times reviewer Jill Robinson wrote of "People Like Us." "He shows he knows by the way he tells you how his people feel, the way they listen, the things they cover up and the things they don't."

In recent years, Mr. Dunne, who lives in New York City and Hadlyme, Conn., has blended his interest in celebrity with his strong belief in victims' rights and criminal justice. He has covered some of the most celebrated court cases of our time, including the 1975 slaying of Greenwich, Conn. teen Martha Moxley, a crime that is the basis of his fictional "A Season in Purgatory." When her former neighbor, Eunice Shriver's nephew Michael Skakel, was convicted of the crime earlier this year, Mr. Dunne was once again in the courtroom.

Mr. Dunne's most recent book, "Justice," opens with his account of his daughter's death and the trial that followed. It also includes essays on a half-dozen high-profile cases, highlighting the often bizarre cast of characters found in a courtroom.

On June 17, Mr. Dunne brought his trenchant eye for injustice back to television, debuting "Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege and Justice," a weekly documentary series on Court TV. Each episode considers a single high society crime, its investigation and resolution.

"In my everyday life over the last 50 years," Mr. Dunne writes in the introduction to "Justice," "it has been my curious lot to move among the rich and famous and powerful, always as an outsider, always listening, watching, remembering."

Tickets for Mr. Dunne's lecture are $18, with discounts available for seniors and students. A pre-lecture reception with Mr. Dunne is open by invitation to patrons. To become a patron, call (203) 254-4000, ext. 2688. For tickets and information, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396 or visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on August 10, 2002

Vol. 35, No. 26