Dundy, Elaine 1921–2008

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Dundy, Elaine 1921–2008

(Elaine Brimberg)


See index for CA sketch: Born August 2, 1921, in New York, NY; died of a heart attack, May 1, 2008, in Los Angeles, CA. Journalist, novelist, biographer, memoirist, and playwright. Dundy is best known through her semi-autobiographical novels and her memoir about her marriage to the highly successful and greatly troubled theater critic Kenneth Tynan. Her life was colorful, though, even before she met Tynan. Dundy left an unhappy home as soon as she could manage life on her own, exploring the nightlife of New York City with enthusiasm and abandon while still in her teens. After studying acting in college she headed for what she hoped would be a theatrical career in Paris or London, where she met Tynan and eventually married him. It was he who encouraged her to write and selected the title of her first novel, The Dud Avocado (1958), which was supposed to describe a character who was hard on the outside, and not yet ripe on the inside. Dundy fictionalized her own experiences in the novel, she claimed, when she wrote of naïve American Sally Jay Gorse and her adventures among the free-spirited souls who roamed the Left Bank of Paris in the heady 1950s. The novel met with mixed reviews but generated enough praise to encourage her further. The Old Man and Me (1964) is a similarly themed tale set in the bohemian Soho enclave of London. During her marriage to Tynan (1951 to 1964), Dundy moved through a world of celebrity, glamour, and publicity. Her friends included writers such as Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. She eventually abandoned her own modest attempt to become an actress and playwright, but through her husband retained close ties to the stage. Reality provided much inspiration for her pen, and Dundy began to write nonfiction, an occupation that she continued for the rest of her career. Dundy wrote a biography of the respected actor Peter Finch in 1980 and followed that, to the surprise of many, with an exploration of the bond between Elvis Presley and his mother, Gladys. Dundy's greatest success as a writer came many years later, when she published her memoir, Life Itself! (2001), which alternated between the gaily depicted stories of her life among the literary giants of her world and the darker episodes of psychological and sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her talented but tormented spouse. After the end of her marriage to Tynan, Dundy led a quieter life in New York and California, working mainly as a journalist, which led to her interest in Presley. Though her book Elvis and Gladys: The Genesis of the King (1985) struck some of her acquaintances and critics as oddly out of place in Dundy's portfolio, others have suggested that the change of pace from high society to small-town Louisiana brought her a new and welcome outlook on life.



Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Dundy, Elaine, Life Itself!, Virago Press (London, England), 2001.


Chicago Tribune, May 10, 2008, sec. 1, p. 21.

Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2008, p. B6.

Times (London, England), May 9, 2008, p. 73.

Washington Post, May 9, 2008, p. B7.