Griffin Dunne On The Life And Work Of His Father The actor and director shares memories and discusses the work of his late father, journalist and novelist Dominick Dunne, who became famous for covering the lives and trials of celebrities. He died in August at the age of 83.
NPR logo

Griffin Dunne On The Life And Work Of His Father

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Griffin Dunne On The Life And Work Of His Father

Griffin Dunne On The Life And Work Of His Father

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. I've been an admirer of the work of actor and director and producer Griffin Dunne, who's best known for his role in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours." But it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized Griffin Dunne was the son of Dominick Dunne, who is famous for writing about the famous.

He wrote novels about the rich and famous and covered real celebrities and high-profile murder trials for Vanity Fair, including the trials of O.J. Simpson and Phil Spector.

Murder trials became his obsession after his daughter, the actress Dominique Dunne, died after being strangled by her ex-boyfriend in 1982. She played the oldest daughter in the film "Poltergeist." Dominick Dunne died last August at the age of 83. Griffin Dunne gave a funny and moving eulogy for his father. We're going to take this opportunity to talk with Griffin Dunne about his father, whose final novel has just been published posthumously. It's called "Too Much Money."

Griffin Dunne, welcome to FRESH AIR. And I'm very sorry about your father and glad for the opportunity to talk with you about him.

Mr. GRIFFIN DUNNE (Actor, Director, Producer): Yeah, me too.

GROSS: Did you usually read your father's novels?

Mr. DUNNE: From the - you know, his first one, from - he has always, you know, printed it out and given me the, you know, the looseleaf pages of every single one, and you know, I have given him some real bum advice.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. DUNNE: Oh yeah, because, you know, his - as a reader, it's his - his journalism is something that's - you know, as a reader I'm just more sort of taken with, and his novels are, particularly "Two Mrs. Grenvilles" and some afterwards, I remember reading "People Like Us," and Tom Wolfe's book had just come out, and I said, Dad, oh my God, this is in the same terrain, and they're going to, you know, criticize you, and it's going to be - and you're taking on these people, and it's - everything I said couldn't have been more wrong. It was his biggest seller, and I worried him about nothing.

So nonetheless, he still gave me his books, and with always a reminder like, boy, you sure called it wrong on "People Like Us." What do you think of this one?

GROSS: One of the things that newspapers have picked up on in your father's novel "Too Much Money" is that the character in the novel admits that he's closeted and he's been celibate for almost 20 years, and he says: Can't die with a secret, I'm nervous about the kids, even though they're middle-aged now; not that they don't already know, I just never talk about it.

And earlier this year he described himself in an interview for the Times of London. He said: I call myself a closeted, bisexual celibate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: That's a great phrase.

GROSS: Yeah. So that was not a revelation to you?

Mr. DUNNE: No, it was not, but it certainly was never a conversation, a family conversation either. I mean, it was, you know, I would say closeted, celibate. He was as closeted in his heterosexuality, his bisexuality and - what am I missing there - celibacy. The conversation itself was closeted.

It wasn't the elephant in the room. It wasn't - quite honestly, you know, once you're - I think I guess it might have been - you know, all of us sort of were aware of it, but I think it - you know, you get to a certain age where you don't particularly want to have the conversation anyway.

It's never been - but I was very, I was very kind of touched, and I certainly have never seen him mention, you know, reference his sexuality before, and it kind of put a smile on my face because I thought it's so typical of him to come out and then leave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: So - and here I am, you know...

GROSS: Answering the question.

Mr. DUNNE: Being asked and answering the question. It's just perfect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, he says, you know, I'm nervous about the kids, even though they're middle-aged men now. Did he have reason to be nervous about revealing this as far as you were concerned?

Mr. DUNNE: No, of course not, no. You know, we always just sort of left it in his court, if he was going to talk about it or not, and you know, he's - you know, it's something that we - the siblings would talk about but never with him. I don't know. I don't feel a great loss in that aspect either way.

GROSS: So when you say you knew, was is because you could just tell or because...

Mr. DUNNE: I think, I think you kind of like get a vibe. He'd have - he had a great friend who was also a great friend of my sister's, and I noticed that the - you know, when my sister was killed that the friendship continued, that he just sort of went from being my sister's best friend to my father's best friend.

Years and years later, when dad was dying in Germany - well, he got an infection, I went to Germany to get him and bring him back to where he lived, you know, for another month or so - there was the friend who we hadn't seen. I don't think he'd mind me mentioning his name, but I haven't talked to him, so I won't. But obviously a - when I arrived in Germany, there was Norman. I'll just say his name. He'd be fine.

There was Norman, and I saw this incredibly close friendship. I think it had long since been celibate, I assume, but here he was, the only person that dad felt comfortable enough asking him to come to this clinic to look after him. It was a stem-cell clinic and you had to go with someone. They wouldn't allow you to be a patient unaccompanied.

So he called Norman, and Norman went there, and he was there looking after him, and I saw the - I saw this history. I saw how long, what affection, and you know, real history between these two men, and it was kind of for me like, for the week I was there it was like getting to know a brother I never - a stepbrother I had never met. You know, even though I'd known Norman off and on over the years, this was real quality time that the three of us were having, and you know, I was really - it's one of the real kind of touching, grateful memories I have of dad's last months.

GROSS: So you're saying at one point you think Norman and your father had been lovers?

Mr. DUNNE: Absolutely, oh yeah, sure.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Griffin Dunne. He's an actor, writer, producer, director, and his father is the late Dominick Dunne, who died in August, and posthumously published is Dominick Dunne's new novel "Too Much Money." So we're using this as an opportunity to talk to Griffin Dunne about his father.

You gave a beautiful eulogy for your father, which was actually published on The Daily Beast, and in that eulogy you talked about how your father used to go to funerals, years ago, years ago, used to go to funerals of mobsters and movie stars, and this was long before your father was famous.

Mr. DUNNE: Absolutely.

GROSS: Why would he go to those funerals, and how would he get in?

Mr. DUNNE: Well, he was of course fascinated from such an early age by celebrity, by notoriety, by crimes. You know, they had - you know, he was of the generation of, you know, as a little boy it must have been the Lindbergh kidnapping to - you know, then the Black Dahlia. And so crime and of course movie stars and fan magazines were a huge part of his life.

So when he moved to New York, it was really just by sheer geography that he lived a block or so away from Campbell Brothers Funeral Home, which is, you know, where - the place to be seen, open casket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: That you be buried. And of course, you know, everyone from Valentino to, I think Mar - not Marilyn, but you know, pretty - you get the idea, and of course the famous mobsters - that was the go-to place. And so when there is a viewing, particularly in those days, they didn't have you know, velvet ropes or guest lists. You could - they didn't presume you knew the person or didn't know the person. You could just wander in and go into their main viewing room and get in line and have a peek at Vinnie the Chin or, you know, there was one with - I think he went to - oh God, he went to so many of them.

They weren't all just movie stars too. Sometimes they were - Clifton Webb was one. You know, he was a great actor, died somewhat obscurely, and there was hardly anybody there. And the people that were there were very grateful that dad and his great friend, Mark Crawley(ph), were - even though they didn't know him, they were grateful for the company. So you know, it was the beginning of his fascination with - well, I think it was the beginning of him kind of finding his voice, whether he knew it or not, of how that would, how he could use all the kind of ridiculous voyeurism and actually find a voice as a writer.

GROSS: My guest is actor, director and producer Griffin Dunne. After a break, we'll talk more about his father, Dominick Dunne, who died in August of bladder cancer. His final novel has just been published. It's called "Too Much Money." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is actor, director, writer, producer Griffin Dunne, and we're talking about his father, Dominick Dunne, who wrote about celebrities and celebrity trials for Vanity Fair and wrote several novels, the latest of which was published posthumously. It's just been published. It's called "Too Much Money." Dominick Dunne died over the summer at the age of 83.

GROSS: Your father wrote about celebrities, he covered their trials, invited them to his parties, went to their parties. Being around celebrity was always important to him. Do you understand why it was?

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah, I mean, I understand that it was a part of him that, you know, was kind of - was really rooted in having a father who would not - his own father, who would not acknowledge him, who, you know, he was of four brothers and three sisters, and he was the outcast. He was the one that, you know, really did look at these fan magazines and, you know, was not interested in sports, and I think he had a real strong dream life of, you know, going to the movies and, you know, imagining himself there.

I think it's not a particularly untypical story of why so many people move to Hollywood or New York and become, you know, fame-obsessed in a way, and I think he's one of those stories of, like - his family couldn't give him the security and glamour. He always wanted to be somewhere else, and it was on that screen. It was, you know, with those people and going to those parties and smoking those cigarettes and, you know, drinking those drinks and being at the Stork Club or wherever it is.

He - I think he thought about that a lot, and those kind of - you know, those kind of, that kind of drive and imagination will eventually lead you right to the Stork Club.

GROSS: You say he was an outcast in his own family when he was growing up. He said that his father used to call him a sissy and beat him.

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He's always said. My Uncle John, who's younger than him, doesn't have a memory of that, just to show you how different their relationships were, but he would - Dad would tell a story about - my grandfather was a doctor. He died before I was born, and he used to tell me the story of his father beating Nick with a belt and getting a phone call - you know, back in those days the phone was out in the hallway, and getting a phone call with the housekeeper saying Dr. Dunne, you're wanted on the phone, it's the hospital. And he's beating Dad, and he says hang on one sec. And he goes and takes the call, speaks to - uh-huh, no, give him two CCs - gives some medical advice, instructions, on the phone to the hospital, hangs up the phone and then picks up the belt and goes right back on beating him.

So it was like a - you know, that would have been a pretty traumatic thing for a kid, but it was - it just seemed to be his relationship, very particular with just him, you know, him and his father. And I've always thought that had something - so much to do with him picking his fights with - you know, taking on the bullies.

GROSS: So since your father wanted to be around famous people and be - you know, get to the Stork Club, when he actually was around famous people and made his living from writing about those famous people and became famous himself, did he feel differently about fame when he became the object of it?

Mr. DUNNE: Well, one, there wasn't a day in his life where he could not get over how famous he was. It just was like - that he was famous, that he was recognized, that he was recognized by a cab driver. He'd go - he'd literally -I mean, 20 years later he'd go: You're not going to believe that this cab driver knew who I was. Really? You're that amazed by that?

He goes, I just - I can't believe it. Not a day goes by, Griffin. I cannot believe that I'm famous. I can't believe it.

So it brought him - this is open enthusiasm, guileless, just joy. He loved it, and I used to keep a voicemail on my cell phone from a call. He used to leave incredibly long voicemails, and he called me from the chateau once, and he'd go: Griffin, you're not going to believe this. I just took an elevator up with Bono. Do you know that Bono knows who I am? I can't believe my life. I can't believe my life. I just love it. I can't believe it. Bono, he knows who I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: It just put such a smile on my face every time. I just used to listen to it, you know? And it would just crack me up.

GROSS: (Laughing) That's really great. So what did fame and celebrity mean to you growing up? Because you were surrounded by it, off and on, through your father.

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah, and you know, and it sort of carries on. I grew up in Los Angeles and in New York and I ended up in the entertainment business. But my relationship to celebrity when I was young, in terms of Dad, because before the, you know, I-can't-believe-how-great-my-life-is chapter, before then it was the - in the '60s, when I was growing up, where he was obsessed with getting the acceptance of celebrity and giving, you know, dinner parties just about every night, and his priorities were really to get - here, it was confounding to me, to this day still.

He was a television executive but would give parties for the greatest filmmakers and producers and actors of the '40s, '50s and '60s, and I mean, the people that were there, you know, as I became, you know, a film buff later on, I still can't get over the roster of directors and - that were in his house.

But at the time I was just a kid who, we would actually be bundled up in, you know, our bathrobe and pajamas and checked into a hotel, if it was going to be a particularly rowdy party.

GROSS: What do you mean by rowdy?

Mr. DUNNE: Well, you know, these - this was, you know, they partied. There was like, you know, there was drinking and dancing until dawn, and they'd go home and shower and then, you know, go to the studio the next day with a hangover. And so it was a - you know, we would have - their parties were real - real affairs, real, like lots of drinking and, you know, people - people really let loose.

You know, dad used to document these photos, and you'd see these incredible encounters that he would have. I don't know why - nobody seemed to bother that - were bothered that he had a camera, and he would take pictures of, like, fights and tears and then raucous, uproarious laughter, and it looked like a lot of fun.

And they would all get dressed up. I mean, in those days people put on tuxedos, you know, three nights a week and hired, you know, orchestras to play in their living room and stuff. So you know, it was a swinging time.

But he was such, at such a - at the mercy of these people he was entertaining. It was almost like if he couldn't - they weren't real unless, you know, they liked him and came to his house, and then, you know, when it all went wrong for him financially and his marriage falling apart, all those people who ate all the food and drank the booze, they turned out to not be his friends, and he was just - he was a great venue for a great party, and he had great taste, and they were, you know, beautifully decorated, these parties, but as far as having real relationships with these people, these legends, they were pretty shallow at the end of the day, and everyone left him, and he was totally broke.

GROSS: Now, I read that your father was the stage manager early in his career of "The Howdy Doody Show"?

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah.

GROSS: Did that mean a lot to you? Were...

Mr. DUNNE: Well, Howdy was before my time.

GROSS: It was before your time, okay.

Mr. DUNNE: But I certainly grew up knowing who he was, and he used to tell great stories, though, about what they would do before the show, on "The Howdy Doody Show," you know, with the crew, of all the incredibly filthy things they would make Howdy do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: They would just cry with laughter at, you know, the compromising positions they'd do right before - right up to the 10, nine, eight - before the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: So I have a different image of Howdy.

GROSS: That's really funny.


GROSS: You write that your father was a man of exquisite taste who produced art and directed his life, but the storyline lacked the substance that your mother craved. And they were married for how many years before she left him?

Mr. DUNNE: Actually, 10. Only 10. About, yeah.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. So when you say that his storyline lacked the substance that your mother craved, what do you mean?

Mr. DUNNE: Well, because he really, you know, he'd be the first to say this, you know, he became quite evolved out of this period. He was a very superficial guy. He really needed those parties and who said what about him and the acceptance. He would literally iron the invitations that he received to other people's parties and events into a scrapbook.

He wanted to live every moment as it was happening. Getting the acceptance of, you know, Selznick or someone like that was - that he went to this party; it's all he could talk about. And mom was like okay, what is there? And, you know, she didn't want to go - they went out like five nights a week. And I think mom just got sick of being dragged around. You know, she had health problems and, you know, dad was extremely driven.

He really thought this was really important. It was a high, high priority, I think, more than - I don't say this as a whiny kid, I think - but more than family. It was, you know, he really, he's the first to say, you know, about those days, he really lost his way.

He lost and it cost him his marriage. It was never a moment he doubted how much he loved my mother, and I think one of the great, great regrets of his life is that the marriage fell apart. And the marriage fell apart because of, you know, his character at this time. It wasn't substantial enough.

GROSS: Who did you stay with when they separated?

Mr. DUNNE: Oh, my mother.

GROSS: Your mother?

Mr. DUNNE: My mother. Yeah, and, you know, we had a funny - and not ha-ha funny, but reaction to when we were told about the divorce. Dad, you know, they'd obviously made the plan and we were all like oh, I guess I was like nine and seven and my sister was five, and - my brother was seven. And they obviously planned, you know, let's not be hysterical when we say this. And we were seated on a couch, and dad said your mother and I have decided, she wants to divorce me. And he totally changed the game plan. And I remember, as a kid, looking at my mom just rolling her eyes going oh god. And he was devastated, you know, crying of course, and, you know, and he really could never get her back. And it wasn't until mom became sick...

GROSS: She had MS.

Mr. DUNNE: She had MS. Yes, and was wheelchair bound. And well, really, you know, when I guess when my sister was killed is really when they got back in each other lives and they really banded together. And he was with her, you know, dad spent Christmases and Thanksgivings with us when my mother moved to Nogales, Arizona, and he became, you know, in our lives as a father, as a well, divorced, but as still the husband to my mom, you know, right up to the end from that moment he was by here side. And I think it took her a while to get use to, quite honestly.

But he was the one that could talk to her when she was really sick. You know, she was very, she was now, by that point, you know, in bed and the disease had given her a - it was difficult for her to talk. She could listen but it kind of left it being a one-sided conversation. Dad loved that. He could talk and reminisce with her and, you know, do you remember the Starks and how we went to that house? Well, you know they got rid of that house. Now they're moved over -and he would just go on and on and she just loved listening to him. It was really poignant to see them.

GROSS: After your mother left your father, he went through a period where he had kind of spiraled downwards and then I think he was like drinking and having problems. He...

Mr. DUNNE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and it got to the point where he had to sell everything. He even sold his dog.

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: And then he moved to New York and ended up living around the corner from you. You talk about this a little in the eulogy that you gave for him.

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah.

GROSS: He ended up living around the corner from you, in this, like, little Manhattan apartment that had a window that overlooked the airshaft, which was not exactly like the celebrity life he was dreaming of. But talk about what your relationship with him was like then.

Mr. DUNNE: Well, it was sort of my favorite period. I mean, it was a, you know, he did indeed sell all of his stuff, and Norman and my sister helped him, you know, tag it. It was literally a yard sale. And this is a man who loved his objects, and that's also what I meant in the eulogy about art directing his life. He knows the provenance of everything he owns, and so it must've been incredibly painful for him to sell these, you know, everything from fireplace banisters to, you know, incredible objects. And so then he moved to Oregon to write. He sort of, his car sort of broke down there.

But when, and it was in there in this cabin that he forced himself to write. He had no phone. There was no way to reach him, and every, all the correspondence was by letters. And my letters that I would receive from him, by this time I had moved to New York and was starting out as an actor. The letters would, you know, start off at five pages, and then a week later they go to 10, and then sometimes there'd be 20 single-spaced letters - page letters. And I realized that he was using them as like a workshop to write, to find his voice.

And so when he came to New York, it was - he'd been by this time maybe a year or two sober, and he'd been attending meetings, you know, one a day and kind of fine-tuning his material in the rooms, actually. And so when he came to New York and lived around the corner from me in the Village, you know, we would have lunch, get together somewhere in the neighborhood.

And, you know, I was one of those kids who moved to New York and be in the Village and where James Dean was and, you know, I loved all these, you know, kind of the street figures and I kind of wanted to have a Damon Runyon-esque kind of relationship with the people on the streets, which never quite happened, but, you know, the boxer was like my kind of image - so I'd come in New York.

Well then, all of a sudden Dad moves here and we're sitting outside, you know, a cafe or something and all these street people I've always seen in the neighborhood would all go hey Nick. You know these Bukowski look-alikes and, you know, crossdressers in hair nets, they'd all come up and say hi to him. And I go, how do you know these people? And he'd go; I know them from the rooms. And he was a star attraction in the AA meetings. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: was like I just loved him.

GROSS: My guest is actor, director and producer, Griffin Dunne. After a break we'll talk more about his father Dominick Dunne who died in August. His final novel has just been published. It's called "Too Much Money."

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is actor, writer, producer, director Griffin Dunne. We're talking about his late father Dominick Dunne who wrote about celebrities and celebrity trials for Vanity Fair and wrote several novels, the latest of which was just published posthumously. It's called "Too Much Money."

A turning point in the life of your father and in the life of your whole family was the murder of your 22-year-old sister Dominique by her, I guess, ex-boyfriend who wanted to continue being her boyfriend. He strangled her to the point where she was basically brain dead, and then the family had to decide, you know, whether to pull the plug and they decided to go ahead and do that. And then there was a long trial. I don't know if it was long, but there was a trial afterwards. And it seems that like that was a complete turning point in your father's life, like personally, professionally, emotionally - in every imaginable way.

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it was. It was, you know, it was - he was told by Tina Brown, who he'd just met before leaving for California for the trial, which was a about a three and a half month trial. He...

GROSS: And this is Tina Brown right before she became the editor of Vanity Fair.

Mr. DUNNE: Exactly. I think she had just - maybe it was the same week. I mean literally she - and she had only just hired Marie Brenner and it couldn't have been newer. I don't think she'd published an issue yet. Anyway, she suggested to dad that he keep a journal of this experience and indeed he did. And ended up, you know, writing about the trial that just nobody could've conveyed it -the outrage and the injustice and just how - what a travesty that whole experience was than dad did. And he wrote this probably as, you know, as far as maybe you can put a critical thing on it, probably his greatest piece.

GROSS: The man who killed your sister was convicted of manslaughter and given only 20 - only two and a half years, which I know your father considered a grave injustice. He was really angry. And one of the things - describe what happened when the judge said at the end - you know.

Mr. DUNNE: Well, first of all, two and a half years - I'm really my - helping like, I am my father's son, because I've this like the kind of stuff I actually don't - but I feel compelled to sort of continue for him about this, and because this was such a tough time. But he - this two and a half years was really - it was arrived at because this judge, his name is Judge Katz and his career gratefully was ruined as a result of this, because of what Dad wrote about him.

But this man sent away the jury while people were testifying - women were testifying - about his previous history of violence against women, which by the way, my sister was completely unaware of. And they also, the jury did not witness this killer, Sweeney, go after - get up to leave during this testimony that he didn't like of one of the women he tried to strangle a year or two earlier, and stormed out and was wrestled in a rage to the floor.

So the jury missed all of that. So we saw him as he was. The jury, somehow it was portrayed like - you know, it was a different time too in justice and the attitude towards women's violence - women being victims of violence. And particularly in that time, you would portray the victim, that being the person that was killed, as being the perpetrator of their own crime. And so you'd basically trash the victim. You'd kill them twice.

And so, the way they talked about - the defense - the way they talked about my sister was just unspeakable. And then, they sent away the jury so they didn't even see what this guy was. So I don't know what the jury was thinking. I guess they thought oh, the rich girl deserved it or the poor guy with his prop Bible really believed in God and now he's repentant or, you know, whatever. But they gave this ridiculous sentence, this insult and - to Dominique's life.

And Dad - this judge said at his closing argument, as his closing before adjourning, he said I want to thank the jury on behalf of the court and the defense and the Dunne family, and Dad stood up in the courtroom and said, don't thank them on our behalf, we do not thank you. And information was suppressed. You did not see what took place here. You've made a grave mistake. And he was dragged out of that courtroom. And - proudest moment, you know, for all of us.

So - and it was then that he - that that article I think just all, I think, he probably just wrote it pretty quickly after that and sent it off to Tina and you know, that was - that became his voice.

GROSS: Were you in the courtroom every day of the trial too?

Mr. DUNNE: Yeah, yeah. It was, you know, they would, you know, my mother was in a wheelchair and they would say to - the defense would try to have my mother removed because she was in a wheelchair, because, you know, it might prejudice the jury. Yeah, they would have - those conversations took place for the jury. One time my brother was crying and the defense, in the middle of his cross-examination, happened to see that Alex was crying.

And he said Alex Dunne has tears in his eyes, your honor, he has to be ejected from the courtroom. That boy has tears in his eyes. You know, it was that kind of... You know, it was really tough. And, you know, my mother also did - came out of that experience transformed and angry, and articulate, and started her group called California Center for Victims of Homicide, which is a very powerful group here that speaks on behalf of the victims - and has been responsible for a lot of legislation.

GROSS: I want to end by asking something about your father's funeral. You wrote a beautiful eulogy for him, which, you know, was published on the Daily Beast. And I just wonder what it was like for you to give that eulogy, because you're grieving, your father has died. And at the same time, when you give a eulogy that's so well-written and that has to be said in front of what I imagine was a large gathering of a lot of very famous people - it's almost like having a speaking engagement while you're grieving. So, what was it like for you to have to rise to that particular occasion while mourning the loss of your father?

Mr. DUNNE: Well, first of all, my dad - this is sort of the running theme, too, of the funeral itself, which was an extraordinary event that my wife Anna and I sort of produced, for lack of a better word. My dad has been talking about his funeral for at least 10 years. He has been, whenever he got on planes, he would send me new revisions of who should speak and who he's ever fallen out with is off the list.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: And who the pallbearers should be, and the ushers, and it was like -and he'd have a sense of humor about it, somewhat, but he was dead serious. Sometimes he would have a rewrite that would happen in the middle of the night. He would be in London and the thing at Claridge's, there was a little fire that happened and he'd go, I'm just running out of the door right now, they're evacuating the hotel. If I don't make it out of here, I do not want so and so to be speaking at my funeral.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: And so it was a, you know, long time in the coming and totally unjustified. He wasn't even sick when he was starting to think about this stuff. And I think that climactic - the most incredible moment that I ever had at a funeral, or - but the proudest moment I ever had as a father was my daughter got up and - Hannah - and she always knew she was going to sing. She always knew that she wanted to sing a song and it was a song called "My Funny Valentine," and she wanted to explain to them that it was, you know, she had always received anonymous flowers from my secret admirer ever since she was little.

And she always knew it was from Poppy and then she wanted to break into the song a capella. And the moment that the church had heard she was going to sing a song and they said, no, it has to be a religious song. They don't allow secular songs. And I told my daughter and she said no way, I'm getting up there, I don't care. See, I wasn't - didn't raise her strict Catholic. So she goes, I don't care what they do. They are going to have to drag me off the stage, those priests ought to just drag me off. And I said honey, well, first of all, it's called an altar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUNNE: And I said, we're - you can do this. I'm listing you as a speaker and just start to introduce, you know, talk about the flowers and then play it as if you're overcome by emotion and you've got to sing. And you're last, so they can't drag you off. And I'm telling you, it was the most incredible moment. I mean, she has a great, great voice. But she just stood there and her voice just - my God, it was incredible. And boy, Poppy could have heard it no matter where he was.

GROSS: Griffin Dunne, thank you so much. It's really been great to talk with you. I really appreciate it a lot.

Mr. DUNNE: Thanks so much Terry, me too.

GROSS: Griffin Dunne is a writer, producer, actor and director, who's currently developing a TV series based on Meg Wolitzer's novel "The Position." His father Dominick Dunne died in August of bladder cancer at the age of 83. Dominick Dunne's final novel has just been published - it's called "Too Much Money." You can find a link to Griffin Dunne's eulogy for his father on our website,

This is FRESH AIR.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.