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[whitespace] 'The Way We Lived Then' Cafe Talk

Dominick Dunne's 'The Way We Lived Then' is a perfect addition to any (mirrored) coffee table

By Michael Stabile

One wonders if Dominick Dunne ever got all the '70s cocaine out of his system. His latest book--a scrapbook memoir/Rolodex--recounts the glory of his days in Hollywood and his circle of famous, infamous and Trivial Pursuit Baby Boomer Edition pink-pie friends. (Of course eventually, like a sub-par episode of Behind the Music, they all died or turned against him as he sank before rising for his spectacular return.)

But back to the cocaine, which, he recounts in typical blasé fashion, he occasionally was caught snorting or shooting. But wasn't everyone?, he seems to muse, tying themselves off with Turnbull & Asser ties in order to find a vein. The book, which is more than mildly amusing, might be summed up with the phrase "and then" repeated ad nauseam. I'll paraphrase a little, just for fun: And then there was this time that we were having this pic-nic at Roddy McDowall's--oh, we were always having pic-nics in the Malibu Colony that summer--and oh, Natalie Wood was there (before that dreadful drowning thing happened)--and do you know she was always the most beautiful one there?--but anyway, as I was saying, Judy Garland used to come--oh, she loved my children and they her--and just eat hot dogs with the rest of us and Jay Sebring--you must remember him, he was styling all the men's hair those days and was involved in a vicious romance with Sharon Tate who was oh- so-lovely before that dreadful Manson incident after she married Roman Polanski who was godfather to my absolute best friend at the time Tuesday Weld--but anyway he and I were there doing acid watching Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton have this tremendous fight, which reminds me of the time ...

Blah blah blah. I'm not joking.

You'd think he was gay. He's Truman Capote with two left feet and, possibly, without the tact (and, later, the invitations).

I've read many more interesting memoirs but never one so hilariously self-indulgent. I've read many of Dunne's other books, including, when it was in vogue to do so, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, and I've read most of his pieces for Vanity Fair, which are generally quite engaging. But The Way We Lived Then is an unconscious parody of everything else he (or Bob Colacello or anyone else in this vein) has written about all the hidden '60s--where Black and White Balls were more important than protests (but everyone was, of course, deeply concerned about The Situation In Vietnam).

The pictures are lousy, the sequence of events barely existent, and about the only things you learn are that Natalie Wood had a charming habit of using her dinner knife to fix her makeup and that even before Murder, She Wrote, everyone adored Angela Lansbury. But it's also as brilliant as a Verhoven/Eszterhas project and a book more worth stealing than anything by Abbie Hoffman. Don't buy it, but you must have it .

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From the November 8, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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