Joan Didion, who died today at age 87, and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, sustained a uniquely frosty but profitable relationship with Hollywood over the years. As novelists and screenwriters, they earned top-dollar for their screenplays, and often accepted rewrites, yet also critiqued the foibles of the studio system.
While socially tight with the Hollywood circuit and active purveyors of studio gossip, they also maintained important literary careers, were courted by publishers and regularly contributed to the New York Review of Books and other publications.
“They maintained a split personality as Hollywood people but also as New York insiders,” explained one of their agents.
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They were married in 1969, the year Dunne published a book titled The Studio, a sharp, satirical closeup of 20th Century Fox in the final days of the Zanuck regime. Dunne also wrote a book titled Monster: Living Off the Big Screen, relating how Dunne and Didion together wrote a disappointing romance starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. The film was titled Up Close and Personal, but the screenwriting process was depicted as painfully frustrating, if financially rewarding.
Another Didion-Dunne screenplay collaboration, True Confessions, was based on a Dunne novel, and became the basis for a 1997 movie starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall. The most successful Didion-Dunne collaboration, A Star Is Born in 1976, also was co-credited to Frank Pierson, the director.
Dunne’s older brother, Dominick Dunne, was a Hollywood socialite and producer who, after writing about his bout with alcoholism, became a crime writer for Vanity Fair. He died in 2009.