I just spent the last few weeks living in a world of wild parties and carefree sex courtesy of three books by Robert Hofler: Money, Murder and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts; Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock ’N’ Roll starring the Fabulous Allan Carr and Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange—How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos.
It all began with an excerpt from Dominick Dunne in The Daily Beast, which showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. The excerpt dealt with the filming of the Elizabeth Taylor film Ash Wednesday in Rome, when Liz was in the midst of her relationship with Richard Burton. In addition to her frequently being late for her call time (and drunk), the excerpt also detailed her conversation with her co-star, Helmut Berger, about being constipated. We're also told that Burton was jealous of the handsome (and gay) Berger, who at the time was having an affair with director Luchino Visconti.
Dunne was the producer of Ash Wednesday, but he's probably most famous for being a writer for Vanity Fair, as well as the author of several novels.
Dunne's specialty was true crime stories, and this was probably due the murder of his daughter, actress Dominique Dunne (Poltergeist), by her boyfriend and Dunne's subsequent disillusionment with the outcome of the murder trial. (Her boyfriend wound up spending only a few years in prison.) Dunne may have led a charmed life career-wise, but his personal life was beset by tragedy. In addition to his daughter's murder, his wealthy and beautiful wife eventually developed MS.
That all may sound like a downer (and it is), but there's plenty of excitement in this book as well. Dunne would go on to write about two of the most notorious murder trials of the 20th century: O.J. Simpson and the Menendez Brothers (the former, the subject of a recent TV series and the latter about to be.)
Before that, we see Dunne's rise from stage manager at NBC to movie producer, to his career at Vanity Fair and as a novelist. There's also some literary gossip about his strained relationship with his brother and sister-in-law, the writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion.
Oh yeah, and Dunne was also gay (despite having a wife and three children). There's one great story about Dunne inviting a hustler to his New York apartment and barely escaping with his life. That's probably the most extreme example of the struggles Dunne went through in coming to terms with his sexuality.
Then there's Allan Carr, who never made any bones about his sexuality, but struggled with his weight throughout his life. Carr is best known as the producer of the movies Grease and Can't Stop the Music (which featured The Village People and a pre-transition Bruce Jenner) and the Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles. Carr was perhaps equally well-known for his wild parties and some of the best sections of Allan Carr describe these parties, as well as his four homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu, New York, and Hawaii. (His Beverly Hills home had a disco in the basement!). I also enjoyed the many behind-the-scenes showbiz stories, like that of a 30-year-old Harvey Fierstein being invited in his down jacket held together with duct tape to Carr's St. Moritz Hotel penthouse to work on La Cage with Jerry Herman and Arthur Laurents.
Sexplosion deals with the sexual revolution in movies, theater, books and TV between 1968 and 1973, a period I think of as a golden age in American culture. Hofler shows us the evolution of such cultural (and sexual) landmarks as the films Midnight Cowboy, Carnal Knowledge, Women in Love, Last Tango in Paris, and Deep Throat; the plays The Boys in the Band, Oh! Calcutta! and Hair; the books Portnoy's Complaint, Couples, Myra Breckenridge and Fear of Flying and the TV shows All in the Family and An American Family. What's remarkable is how many of the artists involved in these projects were gay (Midnight Cowboy director John Schlesinger, The Boys in the Band playwright Mart Crowley, Women in Love screenwriter Larry Kramer, Hair creators Gerome Ragni and James Rado, Myra Breckenridge author Gore Vidal and American Family's Lance Loud.) What's also remarkable is how shocking such things as nudity (especially male nudity) and homosexuality were back then and how strange it now seems that people (including celebrities like Jackie Onassis) once watched pornography in movie theaters!
In spite of the now wide availability of pornography on the Internet (and, before that, on video), I'm struck by the feeling that being an adult from 1968 to 1973 was much more interesting and exciting than it is today.
Perhaps Hofler’s next books can tackle talent manager Sandy Gallin, record industry-turned-movie mogul David Geffen and former Paramount Pictures and Fox TV honcho Barry Diller. Velvet Mafia, anyone?