MAMA MIA

Booze-Soaked Shoots, Hot Gay Sex, and Elizabeth Taylor’s Poop Problems: Behind the Scenes of Dominick Dunne’s Infamous Last Film

Taylor showed up late and drunk for her shoots. Richard Burton threatened the film’s beautiful gay star. And producer Dominick Dunne had a terrible secret.

In his middle age, the TV and film producer Dominick Dunne miraculously reinvented himself as a best-selling novelist and Vanity Fair writer. He was so popular in 2002, seven years before his death, that New York magazine called him “America’s most famous journalist.”

The 1970s, however, were a much different time. After being a midlevel TV executive in the previous decade, he produced three low-budget movies in the early 1970s: The Boys in the Band, The Panic in Needle Park, and Play It as It Lays.

Then he met agent Sue Mengers, already renowned for being the most powerful woman in Hollywood. It was she who handpicked him to produce what would be his fourth and last film, Ash Wednesday. In the beginning, the Paramount Pictures movie fulfilled Dunne’s every dream: it starred his idol Elizabeth Taylor. However, before shooting finished in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in May 1973, it was the star who told Dunne, “You know, this is your last film.” Yes, the production had gone that badly.

Elizabeth Taylor was only one-third of the starstruck producer’s problems on Ash Wednesday. The other two-thirds belonged to Sue Mengers and her boyfriend, Jean-Claude Tramont, who had written the Ash Wednesday script. By all accounts, it was a dreadful script and had only been greenlit by Paramount chief Robert Evans because of his close friendship with the agent.

Dunne first met Sue Mengers in Paris when casting his previous film, Play It as It Lays, based on the novel written by his sister-in-law Joan Didion. Dunne wanted to put the agent’s client Anthony Perkins in the role of BZ, a bisexual film producer who commits suicide by imbibing a handful of pills given to him by his good female friend. Although Didion always denied it, she based the BZ character on her bisexual film producer brother-in-law, according to Dominick Dunne.

In Paris, Dunne first met with Perkins then Mengers. It was a meeting that “interlocked us for a number of years,” he later revealed. They met at Café de Flore, and she introduced him to a Belgian man who spoke with a thick French accent. Where Mengers was overweight and blowsy, her boyfriend was tall, fit, and very attractive, and also unlike her, he was not well connected in Hollywood—except for his girlfriend. One thing disturbed Dunne about the couple. She called him Jean-Claude Tramont. Dunne blanched. He knew Mengers’s boyfriend from his days as a stage manager in live television at NBC in the 1950s when Tramont went by the name Jack Schwartz, was this Jewish guy who lived with his mother in the Bronx, and worked as a page boy at the door of the network’s Studio 3.

Seated across from each other at the historic Café de Flore, where Bataille and Desnos practically invented surrealism, Dunne knew what Tramont knew, and he dared not mention their common past. Finally, the agent’s boyfriend said, “It has been a long time.” Dunne glanced at Mengers and saw trouble. “It was not that she did not know that his name had been Jack Schwartz. She did. What she hated about the encounter was that I knew,” he later remarked.

That liability aside, Mengers recommended Dunne to Robert Evans to produce Ash Wednesday.

“An Elizabeth Taylor movie!” Dunne kept telling people. “That’s a big deal.” He decided to forget, as did Evans, that the actress hadn’t made a hit movie in more than four years, and as her box-office clout shrank, her outrageous and costly behavior on and off set exploded.

Unlike Dunne, director Larry Peerce harbored few illusions about making an Elizabeth Taylor movie, and he found Tramont’s basic story ludicrous: a middle-aged woman (Taylor) undergoes a facelift to win back her philandering husband (Henry Fonda). “Nick and I were involved in this nightmare,” Peerce recalled. “Nick was divorced; I was getting a divorce. We were two guys desperate for a job.”

Dunne and Peerce met Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, Richard Burton, on New Year’s Eve 1972. The world’s most famous couple was staying at the Grand Hotel in Rome and Burton was cleaning up dog poop on the carpet when the two men arrived. He offered his guests champagne and then poured himself a very large scotch on the rocks. “Which he downed as if it were club soda,” said Peerce. Even before Taylor made her belated appearance, Burton drank three more. “And he was not a man who could hold his liquor,” said Peerce. “He must have had a liver the size of a golf ball.”

Taylor finally appeared, “very regal, bedecked in lavish jewelry,” noted Peerce. “She told me at some point that she drank mostly what Richard drank. It soon became obvious that she could tolerate alcohol much better than he could.”

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On that first night in Rome, the four of them dined at La Toula, one of the Eternal City’s most expensive restaurants. The Burtons traveled there in a huge limousine, so large that Peerce didn’t have to stoop to enter it. Dunne expected to follow him when Burton blocked his way. Without explanation, he told Dunne to take a taxi or some other mode of transportation to La Toula. The two men’s relationship never recovered.

Having somehow alienated Burton, Dunne nearly did the same with Taylor when he suggested that they have dinner one night with Andy Warhol. She initially scoffed at the idea. “That man made millions off me!” exclaimed the star, referring to Warhol’s quadruple silk screens made of her in Cleopatra attire circa 1964. (Fifty years later, the quadtych would be valued at $20 million.) That slight rip-off aside, Taylor did agree to meet the king of pop art.

Warhol’s first mistake was showing up at the restaurant in Rome with his usual gang of hangers-on, transvestites, assorted freaks, and Paul Morrissey, the man responsible for actually writing, directing, and producing most of the Warhol movies. “You, over there!” Taylor ordered Warhol’s entourage, pointing to the opposite corner of the restaurant.

The Warhol/Taylor meeting became one of Dunne’s favorite anecdotes in years to come. He recalled how it began as a pleasant, chatty, alcohol-doused dinner before it turned ugly. After dessert, Taylor got up to go to the ladies’ room, and pushing herself off the red leather banquet she felt something hard under her sable coat. Warhol had surreptitiously placed a tape recorder there, and it was taping their every word.

“You’ve been recording me while I’m drunk?!” she cried.

Dunne felt “mortified and furious at Andy,” since he had arranged the dinner. Warhol’s pasty white skin turned Campbell’s soup red as he removed the tape from the recorder and meekly handed it to the star. Dunne and Taylor left in what he called “stormy silence.” Later, Paul Morrissey told Dunne that the problem with Ash Wednesday wasn’t the script. “If you called it Elizabeth Taylor’s Facelift, everyone would go to see it!” he advised.

Shooting began in March 1973, and when the Burtons finally arrived at the ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, Dunne flew from room to room at the Miramonti Majestic Grand Hotel to give everyone the news. “The Burtons are coming! The Burtons are coming!” he announced with childlike excitement. His room overlooked the front of the hotel and its driveway, and Dunne invited everyone to witness the spectacle of the Burtons’ arrival. They came chauffeured in a stretch limousine, a Mercedes-Benz, followed by a large truck that held thirty pieces of luggage and anything else they needed to camp out in a five-star hotel in the Italian Alps for a few weeks. There was also their usual entourage, which included a secretary, butler, chauffeur, hairdresser, maid, and two dogs. Dunne noted that the Burtons’ luggage appeared to be made out of carpet emblazoned with big roses.

It was a cozy company of actors handpicked by their producer. Dunne had seen Keith Baxter on Broadway in the hit thriller Sleuth and wanted the British stage actor to play the gay photographer David in Ash Wednesday. For the role of the gigolo Erich, Dunne indulged in typecasting, giving the part to the twenty-eight-year-old actor Helmut Berger, whose sixty-four-year-old lover had lobbied hard for his boyfriend. The legendary Italian director Luchino Visconti even went so far as to hold a private screening for Dunne, showing him his new film, Ludwig, in which Berger, again typecast, played the mad, decadent king of Bavaria. After the screening, Visconti and Dunne chatted, and among other topics the director launched into a complaint about today’s young actors “who have everything handed to them.”

Berger interrupted the old man. “You think it’s easy fucking you every night?” he asked. Dunne could not resist casting such an actor.

Keith Baxter didn’t think the European press exaggerated when they called Helmut Berger “the most beautiful man in the world.” Not that Berger let that description go to his head. He never played hard to get. “Helmut and I had an affair, which I soon regretted,” said Baxter, “because Helmut would stay out all night, hit the clubs, and then come banging on my door every morning at three o’clock. Dunne adored Helmut, but nothing came of it. Dunne was a very moral person, and he was very aware of his daughter and boys and Lenny.”

Dunne, in fact, was simply more discreet than moral, at least when it came to Helmut Berger. According to Dunne’s longtime partner, Norman Carby, Berger could count Keith Baxter and Dominick Dunne among his many off-the-set conquests during the production of Ash Wednesday. Whenever Baxter didn’t answer an early morning call from Visconti’s boyfriend, it was Dunne who benefited.

Into this maelstrom of male camaraderie walked Elizabeth Taylor, already well known in Hollywood for her close relationships with homosexuals like Roddy McDowall, Rock Hudson, and Montgomery Clift. She even brought her own entourage of male companions, as Peerce and Dunne soon discovered. Elizabeth’s first scene in the film took place in the town square outside a church. Dunne couldn’t stop telling people, “This is an Elizabeth Taylor movie!” Outside camera range, tourists and townspeople stood in the plaza to gawk at the movie star, still notorious from Cleopatra, made years earlier in Italy. In the church scene, Keith Baxter plays a fashion photographer shooting a model who opens her fur coat to reveal she’s wearing nothing but a bikini as churchgoers stare in shock on their way from Mass. One of those shocked spectators, unfortunately, was not a paid extra. He was a monsignor, and he brought the production to an abrupt halt. “Scandale!” he cried the second he saw the nearly naked model. Dunne tried to explain. “No, it isn’t that kind of a film.”

Since the monsignor required much persuading, Elizabeth Taylor took the opportunity to give herself a long break and invited Keith Baxter to her trailer.

“Do you like vodka?” Taylor asked her dark, handsome costar.

“We were there two and a half hours,” Baxter recalled, while their poor producer dealt with the irate priest. “We sat there drinking and talking, and Elizabeth talked about being terribly constipated. She didn’t know what to do.”

“Just stick your finger up your ass,” said her butler, Raymond Vignale.

“I’ve tried that,” said Elizabeth.

“It doesn’t work because you wear that big ring!” Vignale said. In addition to being chronically constipated, Taylor admitted that she and Burton hadn’t had sex in months, despite Vignale’s best efforts to provide them with pornography.

While his actors proceeded to get smashed on vodka, Dunne negotiated with the monsignor. He would later admit, “My drinking reached its zenith during [Ash Wednesday], but everyone was drunk on that movie, no one ever noticed, except possibly the village priest of Cortina d’Ampezzo.” After Dunne lied and told the priest that the model’s exposure was a mistake, he graciously said good-bye and promptly fell down the church steps. “We were all drunks, except Henry Fonda, and doing [cocaine],” said Dunne, sniffing and touching his nose to suggest the drug.

Jean-Claude Tramont tried to rewrite the script to Peerce and Dunne’s satisfaction but wasn’t up to the job. He also turned himself into something of a joke on set when he gave everybody gifts of T. S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” and signed them “with best wishes, Jean-Claude.”

Pretentiousness laced with lack of talent is never endearing, and to the amusement of his actors Dunne revealed that Tramont was also a complete phony. “I’d known him when he called himself Jack Schwartz and was an usher at NBC when I was doing live TV,” Dunne told them. Taylor also hated the script and thought less of the man who wrote it when her butler overheard Tramont launch into a scathing critique of the star’s taste in clothes. She told Dunne, “Get that asshole off the set!” He had two choices: alienate Sue Mengers, who got him the job, or alienate his star.

Dunne fired Tramont and immediately contacted a rewrite man recommended by his director. “And we got Bob Evans to okay it,” said Peerce. But ill fortune struck when the Writers Guild called a strike. “And that was the end of the rewrite.” They were stuck with the Tramont script. At least they had the satisfaction of having “run him off the mountain,” said Peerce.

It was that rare example where a producer and director wished their star had complained about the script earlier in the process. “I don’t think Elizabeth ever read Ash Wednesday [beforehand],” said Peerce. “She’d read a page and recite it back to you verbatim, total recall. I’d never seen anything like it. She knew the script was no good, but she never questioned it.” Until it was too late.

Besides firing Tramont, Dunne had to play sycophant to Elizabeth Taylor, performing little tasks to keep her happy—like dashing off telegrams to Paramount Pictures to tell them not to send her any more bouquets of carnations. She hated carnations. She thought carnations were bad luck. He suggested they send bouquets of roses on a daily basis instead.

It didn’t make any difference. Taylor never arrived on set on time, even though her contract stipulated a very leisurely work day, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. “But she never worked until after 4:00 p.m.,” said Peerce. Missing hours of production time due to an incensed priest was not a typical work day on the Ash Wednesday set. A typical day began with Taylor showing up two or three hours late. Her tardiness continued even when Henry Fonda arrived at Cortina d’Ampezzo. For their first scene together, she showed up later than usual. Her acting assignment that day didn’t require much—a walk across a dining room filled with dozens of extras. Among them were Dunne’s daughter, Dominique, who was visiting on spring break, and the Burtons’ adopted daughter, Maria, another spring break visitor.

On Fonda’s first day, Taylor walked on set shortly after noon. Rather than taking the time to greet her famous costar, she announced, “If there’s going to be anything grotty, I’d better have Richard here.”

Dunne couldn’t imagine what could be grotty (i.e., unpleasant) about her walking across a dining room. But, as usual with Elizabeth Taylor, he did as she told him. Dunne fetched Burton.

“Richard, what do you think?” the star asked her husband.

He looked around, saw nothing grotty, and told her, “Frankly, I agree with Larry and Nick.”

Burton and Taylor often used the cast and crew to wage war on each other. Upset by his own wife’s chronic lateness, Burton asked Henry Fonda to speak up and complain. “That’s not my job. I’ll have no part of it,” said Fonda. Other times, Burton defended his wife and lashed out at how Dunne and Peerce treated her. In a letter to the two men, he wrote that they were dealing with a “bombe plastique that could go off at any moment if they weren’t careful.

Dunne told his friend Joel Schumacher that he felt he had a “great connection with Elizabeth.” However, he also “felt the need to cater to her.”

Ultimately, it fell to the Ash Wednesday director to discipline. When Taylor showed up one day with her usual male entourage, Peerce waved them away. “You go!” Then he pointed at her. “You stay.” The star did not speak to the director for two full weeks. “That’s some way to make a movie,” said Peerce.

When Taylor wasn’t creating problems, it was Burton’s turn. He had a volatile temper, especially when drunk, which was often. During one early morning breakfast, Dunne burst into the actors’ caravan of trailers. He was frantic. “Where’s Helmut?” he asked. As usual, the actor was listening to the new hit single “Alone Again, Naturally,” which held some special significance for him. He played it endlessly. Keith Baxter continued reading Bleak House, and Henry Fonda went back to his hobby, painting miniatures.

“Helmut,” said Dunne, “you’ve got to come down! Immediately! We’re taking you to another hotel! Richard is on the way with a gun!”

Taylor’s daughter, Liza Todd, had made the mistake of developing a schoolgirl crush on Berger, and her adoptive father didn’t much like it. “Richard couldn’t bear the fact,” said Baxter.

Dunne threw Berger into a taxi and had him chauffeured down the mountain to the Hotel de la Poste. In one respect, having Berger stay at another hotel took some pressure off Dunne. In a brilliant cost-cutting measure, he had employed a number of down-on-their-luck Italian noblemen and ladies for the film’s party scenes, and in exchange for their on-camera appearances, they got to stay at the Miramonti free of charge. “Most of them didn’t have much money,” said Baxter. They did own great jewels and clothes, however, and were asked to wear their best finery for the movie’s party scenes. At night the nobility put their shoes in the hotel corridors, but Berger kept mixing them up as a practical joke. He even went so far as to hide a principessa’s high-heeled shoes in a coffee urn.

After Dunne succeeded in arranging Berger’s escape, Burton did indeed arrive at the caravan of trailers. He carried no gun, but he was angry and, of course, he was drunk at ten in the morning.

“Where is he?” Burton screamed. “That queer, Helmut!”

Baxter explained that Berger had departed to another hotel. “He’s queer. Doesn’t it make your flesh crawl?” asked Burton.

“I’m queer,” said Baxter.

“But you’re Welsh!”

“You couldn’t have Liza in safer hands,” said Baxter. “Helmut’s wonderful with her.”

Liza Todd’s affection for Berger also disappointed Dunne, but for an entirely different reason. His daughter and Liza were about the same age, and he hoped they would “become chums,” said Baxter. It would have helped to solidify his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor. “But the two girls didn’t become friends,” said Baxter.

When Burton wasn’t threatening Berger, he took to berating his wife. In one scene of the film, the actors sat down to play bridge, and they decided to improvise. Elizabeth got confused, asking, “Four of what? What am I supposed to be saying here?” She didn’t play bridge.

Burton, on the other hand, was an expert. “You stupid cow! Just show your big tits!” he yelled from behind the camera. During another altercation, Dunne watched as Burton called Taylor a “cunt” in front of her children.

Stupid cow or movie star, the actress caused the executives at Paramount Pictures to step up their complaints about the lack of footage coming from Italy. Dunne tried talking to his star about her tardiness. “Oh, what now?” she complained.

“Elizabeth, this can’t go on,” he told her. But, of course, it did. Elizabeth enjoyed boasting that she had kept the Queen of England waiting twenty minutes, Princess Margaret thirty minutes, and Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito an hour. “They can damn well wait for me a few minutes!”

When Taylor wasn’t late, it was something else. During production on Ash Wednesday, she came down with the measles, missing even more days of work. Obviously, MGM had protected the actress in her youth even from getting a childhood disease.

“Elizabeth was bright,” said Larry Peerce, “but her biggest problem was she was born and raised in the aegis of the big studio, the Louis B. Mayer father syndrome.”

Some father.

Elizabeth Taylor didn’t just dislike being on a movie set. She hated it. Off hours with vodka in hand, she enjoyed regaling the Ash Wednesday cast with horror stories from her childhood days at MGM. Like the time she was filming a Lassie movie with her friend Roddy McDowall and the producer used unbleached corn flakes to simulate snow. When they turned on the fans to blow the brittle pieces of corn, Roddy and Elizabeth flinched as the cereal hit them in the eyes. MGM took care of that problem by having the two children’s faces anesthetized with multiple shots of Novocain.

Dunne sympathized. “But you’ve got to understand, Elizabeth, this isn’t MGM,” he said. The old studio system, however, had controlled her life for so long that she never learned to cope with the vagaries of life like a normal person.

Elizabeth turned to alcohol, usually vodka or champagne, and it didn’t help that Dunne had made a deal with Dom Perignon to feature it prominently in the film in exchange for plenty of screen exposure. Larry Peerce recalled 700 bottles of the champagne being delivered to Cortina d’Ampezzo. When Elizabeth wasn’t chronically late, she was trying to get her costars chronically drunk.

Between takes for their big bedroom scene, she asked Helmut Berger, “Do you want a little champagne?” It was not even noon yet, and she continued to ply him with the complimentary Dom Perignon until he was drunk and Peerce had to stop the work day before lunch.

Taylor’s champagne days, however, were some of her more productive ones on the set. More problematic were her whisky or vodka days. On those days, she carried her own glasses—that is, Raymond Vignale carried her glasses. They were huge sixteen-ounce goblets. Her work day began with a cry to her butler, “I want a Bloody Mary, Raymond baby. I need a bloody!”

That was Raymond’s cue to fill one of her sixteen-ounce glasses with vodka, a weak splash of tomato juice, and one small ice cube. At one o’clock, it was time for lunch, which entailed three or four glasses of wine and required Giancarlo to redo her makeup. An assistant would arrive to break up the two-hour lunch: “Elizabeth, we’re ready.”

“Yes, I’m coming,” she replied, irritated, taking at least another half hour. Back on set at three o’clock, she then ordered, “Raymond baby, how about a Jack?”

Out came the jumbo glass, one ice cube, a little soda, and a lot of Jack Daniel’s. That’s when Dunne knew that Peerce had about half an hour to get something of Elizabeth Taylor on film.

“Our careers, Nick and mine, were disappearing as Elizabeth and Richard lived out this human tragedy,” said Peerce. The drinking on set was contagious. “Nick was drinking prodigiously at that time; we all were. Drinking was a way of life, but Nick could pile them on.”

Dunne continued to get phone calls and telegrams from Paramount, telling him, “Get that fat pig on set!”

Meanwhile, Elizabeth received cables from Paramount, telling her, “You look beautiful in the rushes!” And the studio kept sending her roses as other bills piled up, including ones for Richard Burton’s request that the studio provide a Thanksgiving turkey dinner for the entire company in the month of May at the expensive Miramonti. Paramount wasn’t happy and neither was the Miramonti staff, which had looked forward to departing in April for more lucrative summer jobs at the Lido in Venice.

Dunne ultimately stopped taking any telephone calls, not the best way for a producer to ingratiate himself with the studio. Cast and crew who wanted to reach him had to get on their hands and knees to whisper in his hotel room keyhole, “It’s me. I need to see you.”

It was Elizabeth Taylor, ironically, who gave Dunne the bad news. “You know, this is going to be your last film,” she told him.

The expenditures on Ash Wednesday and its low grosses were only part of the problem. Other producers have weathered worse defeats. What they didn’t have to contend with was a one-line joke “that was funny when I told it; it was not so funny when it was reprinted in the Hollywood Reporter,” said Dunne.

After a disastrous autumn screening of the movie in Los Angeles, Dunne repeated one more time his story about Jean-Claude Tramont being Jack Schwartz from the Bronx. But in this latest retelling, he added a quip about the zaftig agent Sue Mengers, whom Tramont had recently married: “One day, if the true story of this film is ever told, it should be called When a Fat Girl Falls in Love,” said Dunne. Even that insult wasn’t enough, so he embellished the anecdote further. He said he was writing a book about the making of Ash Wednesday and calling it When a Fat Girl Falls in Love. He wasn’t writing such a book, but he thought it sounded funny. At the time.

On the eve of the film’s premiere, Marvene Jones retold Dunne’s story in the November 13, 1973, issue of the Hollywood Reporter. She reported his joke as if it were fact, telling her readers, “Dominick Dunne didn’t just produce Ash Wednesday and while away his leisure hours on location. He compiled a diary which he’s turning into a book titled When a Fat Girl Falls in Love, not so loosely based on Sue Mengers (she’s becoming overexposed) and her Ash Wednesday writer-husband, Jean-Claude Tramont. Ohhh what he wrote down! IFA will arrange the pulishing [sic] contract, and also for a film… Starring Cass Elliot?”

Paramount’s Robert Evans read the item. He phoned Dunne to inform him, “You’ll never work in this town again!” For his part, Evans did not remember the conversation but admitted, “It’s possible. Sue was a great friend of mine.”

In the years to come, whenever Dunne told the Fat Girl anecdote, he put Evans on the phone with his right-hand man at Paramount, Peter Bart—as if to add an audience to his insult and injury. “We never made calls together,” Bart said of his tenure at Paramount with Evans. “I was never on the phone with him.”

According to Bart, who later became Variety’s editor in chief, there were two potential box-office bombs in the works at Paramount in 1973. Ash Wednesday was one of them; the other was John Schlesinger’s film adaptation of The Day of the Locust. Ash Wednesday was Evans’s baby and Locust was Bart’s.

“I felt Ash Wednesday was a ridiculous exercise,” Bart recalled. “I never had a meeting on it. But Evans got his revenge. Bob stayed out of The Day of the Locust completely.”

Dominick Dunne, who went on to be a Vanity Fair contributor and author of several best-selling novels, never produced another feature film.

Although Dunne continued to disparage Jean-Claude Tramont whenever he told his Ash Wednesday story, Peter Bart knew another man.

“Jean-Claude shouldn’t have tried to be a director or screenwriter,” said Bart, “but he was a substantial and brilliant financial guy. Today you’d call him a financial adviser, and good at it. I think he made Sue Mengers a lot of money.” Also defending Tramont was Mengers’s biographer, Brian Kellow, who wrote in the book Can I Go Now? that Jean-Claude Tramont was, indeed, born in Belgium and given that name at birth. Kellow surmised that Tramont might have later changed his name to Jack Schwartz in order to assimilate when he and his mother moved to America.

Tramont died of cancer at age sixty-six in 1996, and while he may have enjoyed a substantial career beyond the film business, it’s also true that his girlfriend-turned-wife, Sue Mengers, did help to end Dominick’s career in Hollywood.

“Mengers probably planted the item in the Hollywood Reporter,” said Dominick’s friend Tony Kiser. Or it’s possible that Elizabeth Taylor had unwittingly thrown the knockout punch to Dominick’s career by repeating the Fat Girl anecdote to any number of hairdressers, stylists, and other movie sycophants who, in turn, told it to Marvene Jones. The Hollywood Reporter columnist made a frequent habit of quoting, if not shamelessly plugging, such sources in her fawning coverage of the movie star.

Dominick wasn’t Mengers’s only victim. “She destroyed Nick, she tried to destroy me,” said Larry Peerce, “and then she wanted to be my agent. She was a very complex human being. Such craziness with that woman.”

Adapted from Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts by Robert Hofler. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2017 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

Robert Hofler is the author of Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life In Several Acts (April 18, 2017; University of Wisconsin Press); Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange; How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos (2014); Party Animals (2010); The Movie That Changed My Life: 120 Celebrities Pick the Films that Made a Difference (for Better or Worse) (2009); and The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson (2005). Hofler has served as entertainment editor at Life, executive editor at Us, managing editor at Buzz, and a senior editor and theater reporter at Variety. He’s currently the lead theater critic at The Wrap. He lives in New York City.