The WASP in the Peanut Gallery

 dominick dunne

Dominick Dunne passed away two weeks ago.

You’ll recognize him if you ever flipped through the pages of Vanity Fair. He was the magazine’s one and only “diarist,” an ancient gentleman with Coke bottle glasses and a vacant stare that said, “I’m far too serious to acknowledge there’s a camera in my face.” With all the effort he put into selecting his immaculately tailored suits, he could hardly be bothered to come up with anything to write about. And yet his blithe, shallow, infuriating commentary on the most sensationalized courtroom trials of our time—O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, JonBenét Ramsey—was a mainstay at Vanity Fair for 25 years, and on TruTV, where he had his very own show, Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege, and Justice.

All due respect to a man who started reporting on criminal trials when his own daughter, an actress, was strangled in her driveway by an ex-lover. But how did that make Dunne a so-called expert on, say, the cultural freak show that surrounded Michael Jackson? Back when O.J. Simpson was on trial, we read a lot of Dunne’s columns, and we accidentally memorized entire passages of his writing, the way you memorize the scene of a mangled car wreck as you slowly drive by.

They went something like this.

Stopped in at the courthouse on my way to lunch with Tom and Nicole. Camera crews everywhere. Is Fred Goldman looking a bit paunchy these days? The judge said a bunch of words, blah blah. I think O.J. did it. He killed that poor man and that ghastly blonde woman in his own home. Snip, snap, crack. Blood everywhere. Butchered them. That’s just my take on it. But remember, I’m an expert. I know justice when I smell it.

O.J. hasn’t lost his sense of style, though. The defendant arrived in a black Mercedes coupe with a black leather interior, sporting a black Armani suit. For those of you who don’t know, O.J. Simpson is a black man. A big, black man. You notice these things when you’ve been in the business as long as I have. Later on I’m doing lunch with Bob and Harvey.

Sure, that’s a parody, but it’s not far from the truth.

We’re fascinated and repulsed by Dominick Dunne. In a long-running column in a high-profile magazine, he seemed to repeatedly mistake celebrity for virtue, scandal for drama. He self-righteously injected his misty-colored memories of Old Hollywood into tawdry spectacles from the tabloids. Reading his “diary,” you can’t help but notice how the arch, off-the-cuff language of the American WASP is only a trust fund away from the catty blogging of Perez Hilton. Dunne’s writing is like an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, if Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous had been filmed in an Alabama courthouse, and the celebrity defendants wore manacles and orange jumpsuits, and the host blatantly didn’t care if they lived or died, so long as he got to name-drop his favorite restaurant on 5th Avenue. It’s like someone put balls on Joan Rivers and appointed her an American hero.

Seriously, check out the articles linked above. Or his greatest hits. Dunne’s writing is something to behold.

It’s a shame that Dunne wasn’t around to report on his own death. But if he could have, he probably would have written something like this.

Dominick Dunne was buried today in a bespoke casket of endangered Normandy oak. It was exquisite. Camera crews everywhere. Sure, he could be a bit feisty at times. But without him, the world may have never learned that JonBenét Ramsey’s father was doing a crossword puzzle the whole time his daughter’s killer was on trial. And not even the good one, in New York Times, but the easy stuff, in USA Today. Dunne will be sorely missed by everyone who thinks Robin Leach is a peasant. After this he’s doing lunch with Bogie and Lauren.

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