By Liz Smith, Tribune Media Services
9:30 AM EDT, September 30, 2013
"Like other observers of the scene, I've been absolutely fascinated by how public the rich have gone during the last seven years. With their full cooperation, we know almost everything there is to know about them: their net worth, their incomes, how much they pay for their apartments, how much their wives pay for their dresses, how much their decorators charge them for the curtains on their windows, how much their parties cost, how much their florists charge for a bouquet of widely-open roses.
"The days of the quiet rich seem to have vanished."
This is the late Dominick Dunne writing to me back in 1988.
I HAVE been working on my considerable papers, which cover 60 years of various this and that. These are all going to the Dolph Briscoe Center at the University of Texas. Mine will be in good company as the U of T has also the fabled papers of George M. Cohan, David O. Selznick, Robert De Niro, Woodward and Bernstein, Norman Mailer, Ann Richards and Gloria Swanson, to name just a few. And, I believe I'll be joining my old friend Dominick there also.
So, as I go along, trying just to re-read some of the old mail, I thought you might enjoy being reminded of Dominick.
HE WROTE me the opening quote when he was defending himself from what he called "the Mortimer's Crowd" back in the '80s. He was bringing out a book titled "People Like Us" and sent me the galleys.
Dominick: "What has been passed around over the last several weeks to Women's Wear Daily and some individuals, was surreptitiously obtained, or purloined and not a galley, as WWD claimed they had. Mr. John Fairchild and Mr. Michael Cody printed what they printed while I was still writing the book. I decided not to reply and get drawn into a fray until the book came out. Here is the actual book.
"It is in this arena -- how the rich really live -- that I have placed the action. It wasn't my intent to write revealing secrets of real people, and I don't think I have done that. Although that is what the speculation says. This is a book dealing with behavior.
"There are three central families. The first is the Old Guard Altemus-Van Degan family. The second is the nouveau riche billionaire with social ambitions, and his wife -- Elias and Ruby Renthall and there is the observer Gus Bailey and his former wife, the invalid Peach Bailey.
"This is a Literary Guild selection for June, has been sold for a TV miniseries and will be excerpted in the May Vanity Fair. At any rate, here it is."
I SEE that I wrote the following note on the back of Dominick's letter: "I read 'People Like Us' in a blind stupor. I found it hard to adjust to at first ... my mind kept shifting gears over all these characters with their demanding names. But finally in its total grasp, I was like a bird before a snake. I sense the author's pain here; the purging need to exorcise his own terrible ghosts. But for technique, this novel can't touch Dunne's superlative 'The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.' However, it has its moments. The movie for TV will be written by Nick Dunne's old friend, Mart Crowley."
HOW quickly we forget! Some of you out there with better memories will recall that it is easy to find in this book, Dominick himself, and his popular wife, Lenny, as real as real can be. But isn't this the novel that infuriated Jerome Zipkin?
Hope this little trek down memory lane is not too archaic. After all, it's July in America!
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
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