How Griffin Dunne’s Dad Dominick Channeled Grief Over Daughter’s Murder Into Famed Writing Career (Exclusive)

Dominick Dunne covered many high-profile cases for ‘Vanity Fair,’ including the trials of O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers and Phil Spector

<p>Andreas Branch/Patrick McMullan/Getty</p> Dominick Dunne in 2007

Andreas Branch/Patrick McMullan/Getty

Dominick Dunne in 2007

In the face of unspeakable tragedy, Griffin Dunne’s father, Dominick, found his footing in a new career — crime journalism.

Speaking with PEOPLE ahead of the publication of his new memoir, The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir, Griffin Dunne, 68, is looking back on his star-studded — and occasionally outrageous — life in Hollywood. The memoir, which details everything from the After Hours star’s treasured friendship with Carrie Fisher to his acclaimed career in film and TV, is largely a family memoir, and examines his father Dominick's journey toward becoming a writer.

Dominick was originally a Hollywood producer known for films like 1970’s Boys in the Band and 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park. While writing, Dunne recalled hardships that his father faced, such as his divorce from Dunne’s mother, Ellen, when Dunne was 10, his struggles with alcohol and his closeted sexuality.

<p>Bryan Bedder/Getty</p> Dominick Dunne in 2006

Bryan Bedder/Getty

Dominick Dunne in 2006

“Before I wrote the book, I reached a place of empathy and love and respect for his bravery,” Dunne says, adding that his father “had wanted to become a writer for most of his life.”

Related: Griffin Dunne Says Sister Dominique’s Murder Brought His Family Together, as He Recalls the Poltergeist Star He ‘Adored’ (Exclusive)

Dominick authored several novels, including 1982’s The Winners and 1985’s The Two Mrs. Greenvilles, which was turned into a TV miniseries in 1987. In 1982, Dominick's daughter, Poltergeist actress Dominique, was strangled and killed by an ex-boyfriend when she was 22. Dominick kept a diary throughout the murder trial at the request of former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Tina Brown, which he expanded into an in-depth article for the publication.

“He wrote this devastating piece about what a family goes through, who had no experience in the court judicial system; what we went through,” Dunne says. “It's a document that's like a handbook for what families should prepare for.”

In the decades to follow, Dominick would cover several high-profile cases for Vanity Fair. He was one of two reporters granted full access to the O.J. Simpson trials in 1995, and was in the courtroom to cover the infamous trials of the Menendez brothers in 1993 and Phil Spector in 2007. His son, however, says that though Dominick was a journalist, he was “not a terribly unbiased one.”

<p>Penguin Random House</p> 'The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir' by Griffin Dunne

Penguin Random House

'The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir' by Griffin Dunne

“If he wrote about Phil Spector, he talked about Lana Clarkson and not as a third-rate actress, as the media continue to describe her,” Dunne says. “Or during O.J., he sat with the Browns and Nicole's family … he always looked at it from the rights of the victim.”

Dominick also wasn’t the only writer in the Dunne family. His younger brother was novelist and journalist John Gregory Dunne, and his sister-in-law was essayist and critic Joan Didion. Dunne recalls the fraught relationship between Dominick and John, which began in childhood.

The brothers’ father beat Dominick yet had a “loving” relationship with John, Dunne says, and the two only reconciled their differences in 2002, when they met in a cardiologist's office after the brothers each had heart attacks.

“I relived what it was like to be in the middle,” Dunne says of looking back on their relationship. “Because I loved them both. And it was very toxic between these two men based on lifelong experiences that they saw differently.”

Despite the tension, Dunne says that turning to his family’s work helped him to write The Friday Afternoon Club — though, he also has some regrets as the publication date approaches.

Related: Griffin Dunne Mourns the Death of His Aunt Joan Didion, Remembers 'Her Self-Respect, Certain Toughness'

“It's a book I really am sorry the three of them aren't around to have read,” he says. “I think they would've liked it. I sort of channeled their honesty. I admired the way that they, all of them ... were no strangers to sharing the personal, which is what I tried to do.”

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The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir
is on sale on June 11 and is now available for preorder, wherever books are sold. 

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