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The University of Texas at Austin


Dominick Dunne's Papers Donated to the Briscoe Center for American History

December 19, 2011

Dominick Dunne

Dominick Dunne, 1985. Dominick Dunne Papers.


AUSTIN, Texas — The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired as a gift the professional and personal papers of Dominick Dunne, the acclaimed journalist and writer. Before his death in August 2009, Dunne directed that his papers should eventually be placed in the Briscoe Center's News Media History collection, one of the most comprehensive journalism history archives in existence.

Dunne was widely known for his contributions to Vanity Fair magazine and for his work on Court TV. In addition to his coverage of society and celebrities, Dunne chronicled high-profile criminal trials and was an outspoken advocate for victims' rights.

The Dominick Dunne papers span the entirety of his life, and include manuscript and article drafts, correspondence, trial research, photographs, personal papers and journals. An exhibit of selections from the Dunne papers will open at the Briscoe Center in April 2012. The 109 linear feet of materials in the Dunne Papers are accessible to researchers, but advance notice is required.

"We are honored to have the papers of such a notable news media commentator and writer," said Don E. Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. "In our discussions, which took place several months prior to his death, Dunne expressed his strong desire to have his papers take their place in our news media archive and that they be made available for teaching and research. I am delighted that Dunne's wish has now been fulfilled. I am especially grateful to his son Griffin for the crucial support he provided to get his father's papers into the Briscoe Center's archive."

"Dominick Dunne's unique journalistic voice and writing style add a new dimension to our collections," Carleton noted. "They are a rich resource for any study of contemporary media, as well as for the highly publicized court cases that Dunne covered as a critic and commentator."

Some of the most important materials in the Dunne papers include his detailed criminal trial research files, which cover such prominent cases as the Menendez brothers, O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, Claus von Bülow and Michael Skakel. Included are trial and legal records, correspondence, court documents, press clippings and transcripts. Notebooks and loose notes contain trial information, contact information, general notes and drafts.

The papers also cover criminal cases in which Dunne was personally involved, including the trial of his daughter Dominique's murderer. His firsthand experience of the criminal justice system inspired much of his subsequent writing. "I had never attended a trial until the trial of the man who strangled my daughter," Dunne later noted. "What I witnessed in that courtroom enraged and redirected me. … I could write about it. I could become an advocate for victims." With encouragement from Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, Dunne wrote "Justice," a candid and deeply personal article about the experience. Published in 1984, it launched Dunne's career as a Vanity Fair correspondent.

Dunne's voluminous correspondence files include letters, cards and invitations from political, literary and entertainment figures, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Reagan, Stephen Sondheim, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Tina Brown, Graydon Carter and Carly Simon.

Dunne's professional papers include manuscripts and drafts, articles and research for Dunne's writings. Also included are publicity clippings, reader mail, drafts of unpublished book projects and photographs of Dunne's family life, social gatherings, film sets and travels. The papers also include recordings of Dunne's numerous television appearances, including his popular show on Court TV, "Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice."

The Briscoe Center is home to the personal papers of such media industry pioneers as Walter Cronkite, Robert Trout, Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner, Andy Rooney, Joseph and Shirley Wershba, and Dan Rather. The News Media History holdings also comprise Newsweek magazine's research archives, the newspaper "morgues" of the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Journal American, and the archives of photojournalists Russell Lee, Eddie Adams, David Hume Kennerly, Wally McNamee, Flip Schulke, Dirck Halstead, PF Bentley and Diana Walker, among many others.

About Dominick Dunne

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 29, 1925, Dominick Dunne served in World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star at age 19. Dunne married Ellen Griffin in 1954, and they had three children, Griffin, Alexander and Dominique. Dominick and Ellen divorced in 1965.

Dunne began his career in New York City as a stage manager for The Howdy Doody Show. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, and worked as a television producer and entertainment executive, ultimately producing feature films. After overcoming his addition to alcohol and drugs in the 1970s, Dunne began a new career as a writer.

From 1984 to 2009, Dunne covered high profile trials for Vanity Fair, as well as writing celebrity profiles and articles on high society. In 2001, he started the monthly column "Dominick Dunne's Diary." Eight of his books became bestsellers, including The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, An Inconvenient Woman, People Like Us and A Season in Purgatory. Several of his books were made into television movies. Dunne passed away from bladder cancer on August 26, 2009.