Elaine Dundy (August 1, 1921 – May 1, 2008) was an American novelist, biographer, journalist, actress and playwright.
She was born Elaine Rita Brimberg in New York City, of Polish and Latvian descent. Her Polish-born Jewish father, Samuel Brimberg, was an office furniture manufacturer and a violent bully. Her mother was the daughter of a multimillionaire Jewish manufacturer and inventor. Dundy grew up in a Park Avenue home where she was educated by a governess, though she eventually attended high school, where her boyfriend Terry was the son of playwright Maxwell Anderson. Later, they met again and almost married. A habituée of New York nightclubs from the age of 15, she met the exiled Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, who wished to be taught how to jitterbug. An honors graduate from Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Virginia, she studied acting at the Jarvis Theatre School in Washington with future star actors Rod Steiger, Tony Curtis and others, and in the Dramatic Workshop was taught by Erwin Piscator.
Dundy's controlling father insisted she live at home while in New York, but she calculated that her monthly allowance would allow her to live in Paris for a short time. At the end of World War II, she traveled to Europe, first to live in Paris, France, dubbing French films, before settling in London, where she performed in a BBC radio play. In 1950, she met the theater critic Kenneth Tynan, and two weeks later, they began living together. They married on January 25, 1951, had a daughter Tracy (born May 12, 1952, London), and became part of the theatrical and film elite of London and Hollywood. Dundy's sister, Shirley Clarke, was a leading independent filmmaker and a professor of film at UCLA.
Radio and television
Among her roles as an actress, she appeared in "The Scream," a 1953 episode of the TV series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Presents, and a BBC-TV production of Dinner at Eight as a maid: "One of those small parts an actress can do absolutely nothing with except look as pretty as possible, act as naive as possible and stay out of the way of the knives." Dundy was heard in different roles on Radio Luxembourg's Harry Lime dramas, directed by Orson Welles. In 1955, Dundy and Tynan appeared together on camera, hosting the "Madrid Bullfight" episode of Around the World With Orson Welles, the documentary series Welles made for Associated-Rediffusion, a contractor for Britain's ITV commercial network.
In 1958, Dundy published her first novel, The Dud Avocado, loosely based on her experiences in Paris. It reached the top of the bestseller lists. She received a letter from an admirer:
Dear Mrs Tynan, I don't make the habit of writing to married women, especially if the husband is a dramatic critic, but I had to tell someone (and it might as well be you since you're the author) how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream and guffaw (which incidentally is a great name for a law firm). If this was actually your life, I don't know how on earth you got through it. Sincerely, Groucho Marx.
Tynan disapproved of Dundy's writing vocation, despite having forecast success, because it distracted attention from himself, though Dundy herself had seen it as a means to save their marriage. Around this time Tynan started to insist on flagellating his wife, with the threat of his own suicide if she refused. Drugs, alcohol, and extramarital affairs by both parties resulted in the marriage becoming fraught, and it was dissolved in 1964. In 1962, she was a writer for the BBC's satirical That Was the Week That Was. Dundy eventually cured herself of addictions during the period 1968-76 and maintained her initial success as an author, while living mainly in New York. In addition to novels and short stories, Dundy wrote for The New York Times. She wrote books on the actor Peter Finch, the city of Ferriday, Louisiana, and Elvis Presley, about whom she said, "Prior to 1977, I didn't know that Elvis was alive until he died."
As part of her research for the Presley book, Dundy moved from her luxurious suites in London and New York to live for five months in Presley's birthplace of Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis and Gladys was first published by Macmillan in 1985 (reissued in 2004 by the University Press of Mississippi). The Boston Globe hailed it as "nothing less than the best Elvis book yet." Kirkus Reviews described it as "the most fine-grained Elvis bio ever."
She maintained a home in London until 1986, and then moved to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Tracy, by then a costume designer and director married to Jim McBride. Dundy published her autobiography, Life Itself!, in 2001. Her 1964 novel, The Old Man and Me, was reissued in 2005 by the feminist publishing company Virago Press, and that same year, she wrote the introduction for Virago's reprint of Daphne du Maurier's 1932 novel, I'll Never Be Young Again.
Dundy is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.
- The Dud Avocado (1958)
- The Old Man and Me (1964)
- The Injured Party (1974)
- Finch, Bloody Finch: A Biography of Peter Finch (1980)
- Elvis and Gladys (1985)
- Ferriday, Louisiana (1991)
- Life Itself! (2001) (autobiography)
- My Place (1962)
- Death in the Country
- Philip Purser Obituary, The Guardian, May 8, 2008.
- Obituary, The Times, May 9, 2008.
- Philip Hoare Obituary, The Independent, May 10, 2008.
- Joseph McBride What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006, p.232 note
- Obituary, Daily Telegraph, May 7, 2008.
- Elaine Dundy Life Itself, 2001, Virago, p346.
- New York Review Books Classics blog : A Different Stripe: "Elaine Dundy, 1921-2008"
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