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.”
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.
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.
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