Friday, June 21, 2024

Books: "The Friday Afternoon Club" By Griffin Dunne


The Friday Afternoon Club

By Griffin Dunne

Penguin Press; hardcover, 400 pages; $30.00

Griffin Dunne has had a storied acting career dating to the 1970s, known for producing and starring in the classic film After Hours, and recently, he played the role of Nicky on the acclaimed show This Is Us. He also directed Practical Magic and the documentary The Center Will Not Hold, about his aunt, the legendary writer Joan Didion.

The Friday Afternoon Club is one of the most engrossing memoirs you will ever read, as Dunne recalls growing up in Hollywood amidst the stars of its Golden Era, then starting his acting career in New York in his early twenties with his best friend and soulmate Carrie Fisher, and suffering one of the most imaginable heartbreaks one can ever experience.

Though Dunn had strained relationships with his father, Dominick - a movie producer turned acclaimed writer, and his brother, Alex, he had an incredibly close relationship with his sister, Dominique, who also got into the acting business.

In 1981, while Griffin's film, Werewolf, was about to hit theaters, Dominique was working on her first movie, Poltergeist, which was produced by Steven Spielberg. One day, when Griffin met the set, he was astonished that Spielberg was aware of his movie, and that he had plans for Dominique to star in future projects of his. 

To Griffin, this would be the fulfillment of a dream they had to be the next Barrymores or Bridgeses, but instead he chose to focus more on producing films with his partner, Amy. 

Meanwhile, Dominique was in a volatile relationship with John Sweeney, a sous chef at Ma Maison, one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles. She split up with the abusive Sweeney in September 1982, and Griffin received a call from Sweeney asking if he could help them get back together, to which Griffin told him not to dare go near her.

In late October, while Griffin was working on a Broadway show that opened to mixed reviews, he was woken up by his father after a late night and was told that Dominique was on life support after Sweeney attacked her.

Griffin, his father, and brother all head to California to be with his mother, who had been informed of the attack by a detective at 3:00 in the morning. They spent the next five days at the family home and the hospital, and on November 4, 1982, they made the decision to take Dominique off life support.

Then, the book takes a turn into the trial of John Sweeney in the summer of 1983, and how the Dunne family decided they would attend the trail every day in support of his sister, something that was unusual to that point. 

There is no need to go into the details here of what happened, as the reader deserves to experience this gripping account, and the aftermath. It is one of the most dramatic accounts of a family's perspective of a trial, especially one that's in the public eye.

While this part is incredibly heavy, it is balanced by the eminently likable Dunne's stories capturing a certain era of New York nearly a century ago. One of those stories described how, after he met John Lennon for the second time, he interviewed for a job with Susan Stein Shiva to be her "social secretary," and one of his first tasks was to call Jackie Onassis and invite her to a dinner party. 

That was not Dunne's first job at the Dakota, the landmark West Side apartment complex. He also worked for an aging actress named Ruth Ford, who was lived with her much-younger lover, Dotson Rader, and they hosted dinners for the titans of the literary world, of which Dunne described quite entertainingly.

The Friday Afternoon Club is one of the most heartwarming books you will read that captures the full experience of family, one filled with ambition and big personalities, but finds its way together when needed most.

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