Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dominick Dunne

No one could drop names like the bisexual celebrity chronicler Dominick Dunne (1925-2009). For a quarter of a century he contributed regular columns to Vanity Fair magazine. The year after VF relaunched in 1983, Dunne began his career at the magazine with a gut-wrenching dispatch from the trial of his daughter’s killer. As VF’s resident diarist, he hobnobbed with legends of Hollywood and high society and chronicled the great scandals of the times. He contributed articles about Claus von Bülow, Imelda Marcos, the Lyle and Erik Menendez murder trial, Adnan Khashoggi, William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial, the death of multi-billionaire banker Edmond Safra, Brooke Astor’s neglect by her son, Phil Spector’s murder trial, the Princess Diana inquest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and even Monica Lewinsky. Dunne came to own this sort of gossipy reporting, and no one has emerged to take his place. He reported on the underbelly of the world of the rich and famous, but his reports were aimed at the literary and social elite. His monthly column provided an insider’s glimpse into high society, captivating VF’s readers. Justice, a collection of articles that had appeared in Vanity Fair, was published in 2001.
Shortly after Dunne died at age 83, his son Griffin outed him as a bisexual during an interview on Good Morning America, as he was promoting his father’s last book, Too Much Money. In the semi-autobiographical book Dunne wrote,  “I’m nervous about the kids, even though they are middle aged men now, not that they don’t already know. I just don’t talk about it. It’s been a life-long problem.” In Frank Langella’s just published tell-all, Dropped Names – Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them, Langella devotes a chapter to Dunne, who commiserates with the author about the agonies of being a closeted gay man.

Griffin said it was just like his dad to “finally come out and then leave. It was hardly a big deal either way.” His son said that when Dunne was getting stem cell treatments in Germany to fight his fatal cancer, a man named Norman was “looking after him,” and that they obviously had a “long loving relationship.”

Dominick with wife Ellen and their three surviving children (two others had died in infancy): Griffin, Dominique, and Alexander (photo from the early 1960s).

Dunne was married for 11 years and was the father of five children, only three of whom lived to adulthood. Born into a wealthy family in Hartford, Connecticut, at age 19 Dunne was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in World War II, for saving the life of a wounded comrade. His family, however, was outside full acceptance by the New England old money society. A Catholic family surrounded by wealthy Protestants, the Dunnes were also considered nouveau riche – two major strikes against them. Dunne’s grandfather, who ultimately became a tycoon, had worked as a butcher. Of his grandfather, Dominick wrote: “He was simply a remarkable man, my grandfather. He was knighted by the Pope for his philanthropic work, but he never forgot he had been born poor. Never!”

Dominick’s father, dismayed by his son’s artistic leanings, called him a sissy and beat him for it, once so viciously that his left ear swelled to three times its size and turned purple. Throughout adulthood, Dominick remained partially deaf in his left ear.

In 1965 his marriage to socialite Ellen Beatriz Griffin ended in divorce. He began his career in New York as stage manager of The Howdy Doody Show but moved his family to Hollywood in 1957, where he worked as a television executive producer. He subsequently produced feature films, including the gay-themed classic, The Boys in the Band (1970). Dunne threw grand parties attended by celebrities such as Dennis Hopper, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol became an unmanageable part of his life, and in 1974 he escaped to a cabin in Oregon (without a phone or television), where after six months he regained sobriety and began a career as a writer, at the age of 50. When he learned of his brother’s suicide, he moved back to New York City.

Eight of his books became best sellers, and it is for his career as a novelist and investigative journalist that he is best remembered. Several of his books were made into TV movies, and he became the master American chronicler of crime and celebrity.

On Halloween of 1982, Dunne was informed that his actress daughter, Dominique (best known for her portrayal of the teenage daughter in Poltergeist) had been found strangled. Her assailant was her ex-boyfriend, John Sweeney, a chef in Los Angeles. Dunne wrote about the murder trial in the newly relaunched magazine Vanity Fair. He was a regular contributor to VF for 25 years. On the basis of dollars per word, Dunne became the highest-paid magazine writer in America.

In August of 2009, Dunne lost a long battle with bladder cancer while in residence at his East Side apartment in NYC. He was survived by two sons, Alexander and Griffin, who has acted in films such as An American Werewolf in London and After Hours.

Dunne’s country house in Hadlyme, Connecticut, was featured in Architectural Digest in May, 1992. The colonial-style home on five acres included a garage apartment, which Dunne turned into an office and work space for writing. Although he lived alone, he had frequent house guests from all over the world and made close connections with local citizens.


  1. Every family has its' own story... just as dramatic.

  2. He was a wonderful writer, but I think it's terribly sad that he had to live a life closeted.

  3. Excellent caption/capture of his life... I think he was a seriously incredible man. Though married to a socialite, I like the man in him paved his own way. As a result, he became far more recognizable and famous than she was! For that, I highly applaud!!!

  4. As one of the residents that became close to him. He was the nicest person, so caring. My husband and I miss will never forget his kindness to us regular folks. It was a beautiful funeral always thinking of others even in the end.

  5. "The Way We Lived Then" is one of the most fascinating memoirs I've ever read. While I had read his pieces in Vanity Fair, I did not know his personal story. The episode in his memoir, which included Jean Claude Tramont, husband of Sue Mengers, referenced his initial acquaintance with Mr. Tramont during Dunne's early days as a Stage Manager in New York City. How I wish Mr. Dunne had lived to tell that story, if it was one he could tell.

  6. There's somebody in Dougherty's bio of Didion who was at Christopher Isherwood's house in Hollywood when the JGDunnes lived there, said that JGD couldn't quit cruising his crotch. Only time I heard that JGD might by gay, same person said 'Joan hates fags'. Sometimes it seems like that in Play It As It Lays and also 'show-tune' stereotypes in 'The Last Thing He Wanted. But I don't think he had gay affairs, and she basically 'wore the pants'.