Dundy, Elaine 1927-
DUNDY, Elaine 1927-
PERSONAL: Born 1927, in New York, NY; married Kenneth Tynan (a critic), 1951 (divorced, 1964); children: one daughter. Education: Attended Sweet Briar College.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Virago Press, Brettenham House, Lancaster Place, London WC2E 7EN, England.
CAREER: Novelist and playwright. Worked variously as actress and for the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) in London, England. Director of Winter Workshop of Berkshire Festival.
The Dud Avocado (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1958.
My Place (three-act play; produced in London, England, 1962), Gollancz (London, England), 1962, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1963.
The Old Man and Me (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1964.
The Injured Party (novel), Michael Joseph (London, England), 1974.
Death in the Country [and] The Drowning (plays), produced in New York, NY, 1976.
Finch, Bloody Finch (biography), Holt (New York, NY), 1980.
Elvis and Gladys: The Genesis of the King, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1985.
Ferriday, Louisiana, Fine (New York, NY), 1990.
Life Itself! (memoirs), Virago Press (London, England), 2001.
Also author of screenplay, Life Sign, 1975. Contributor of short stories to Queen and Vogue.
ADAPTATIONS: The Dud Avocado was optioned for film in 2002 by New Line Cinema's ChickFlicks production company.
SIDELIGHTS: Elaine Dundy is a novelist, playwright, biographer, and autobiographer whose colorful life inspires her works and gives them their most notable strengths. In The Dud Avocado and The Old Man and Me, wrote Deborah Duckworth in Contemporary Novelists, "Elaine Dundy employs first-person, reflective narrators who self-consciously and self-indulgently record and evaluate their experiences in Paris and Soho. The narrators relate their stories in a candid, energetic, witty style, spiced with parenthetical revelations, word association games, and sensory impressions. Their language is often the jargon of the Beat-hipster; audacious, flippant, nervous, saucy. Their tone is the good-humored self-mockery of the cocktail party confession, the stage whisper, the open diary. The narrators are deliberate story-tellers, replaying moments from their pasts, exposing their naivete and limitations, and benefiting from hindsight."
Dundy's first novel, The Dud Avacado, concerns a young American girl, Sally Jay, and her experiences abroad. Thinking herself "hip," she becomes a part of the Paris avant-garde on the Left Bank and has an affair with an older man. But she soon finds her new life shallow and meaningless. Returning to the United States, Sally Jay takes a position as a librarian and subsequently marries. In a review of The Dud Avacado for Atlantic Monthly, Charles Rolo suggested that "Dundy's plotting is married by her effort to work up to a dark surprise, which turns out to be corny." He adds, however, that "her novel is enormous fun—sparklingly written, youthful in spirit, and exquisitely gay." Peter Salmon of the New Republic reached a similar assessment and compared the book to an artichoke: "A little prickly and a little tasteless on the outside, but good at heart." Terry Teachout, writing in the National Review, admitted that "the plot is helterskelter and the end trails off into vapor, but the narrator's utterly feminine voice redeems all."
The protagonist of Dundy's later novel, The Old Man and Me, is Betsy Lou, an assertive young woman who feels she has been cheated out of an inheritance. Because C. D. McKee, the recipient of the fortune, has no intention of relinquishing it, Betsy Lou tries deception and even murder to obtain what she feels is rightfully hers. Despite her actions and motives, he falls in love with her. At first repulsed by his advances, she finally comes to love him in return, but it is then too late because he no longer cares for her.
In her essay, Duckworth found "Dundy … an entertaining novelist who rehearses the familiar theme of initiation with adeptness and flair. However, her craftsmanship and energy do not always compensate for her characters' lack of psychological depth nor for her rather formulaic situations. Her novels do not provoke new or refined insights, but they do provide moments of engaging and refreshing humor."
Late in her career, Dundy made the switch from novels and plays to nonfiction. In 1980, she penned Finch Bloody Finch, a biography of acclaimed British actor Peter Finch. Elvis and Gladys, written in 1985, served as a definitive addition to the body of work that covers Elvis Presley's life and lineage. Dundy brings forth the claim that Elvis could be considered Jewish because the faith is matrilineal and his great-grandmother was a Jew.
Dundy followed Elvis and Gladys with a nonfiction history of a small town, Ferriday, Louisiana. Although Ferriday's population numbers around five thousand, it is distinguished by the number of celebrities it has spawned, such as evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, singer Jerry Lee Lewis, and World War II General Claire Chennault. In her later nonfiction books, Dundy capitalizes on her ability to coax people and places to yield their secrets and stories.
Life Itself!, Dundy's autobiography, garnered the most acclaim of her career after The Dud Avocado. The majority of the praise comes from Dundy's wide-open revelations of her life and marriage to British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. Lynn Barber of the Daily Telegraph called it a "breath of fresh air." Life Itself! leads the reader through Dundy's none-too-humble beginnings in the upper-class Central Park West area of New York. After college, Dundy moved to Paris and London to fill bit parts as an actress and quickly met and married Tynan. Their lives are punctuated with her drinking, a daughter, and his penchant for humiliating sex acts. In fact, Dundy credited Tynan's escalating violence for the dissolution of their marriage in 1964.
Critics and readers alike drink in the celebrities that populate the lives of Dundy and Tynan and Life Itself!, although with mixed reactions. Kate Kellaway, writing in the Observer, noticed that "no one in this book is a nobody. And when anyone is threatening to be even slightly unexceptional, Dundy will find something to boast about. It is extraordinary how wearing this is. After a while, one longs for the oxygen of ordinariness." Mark Bostridge thought in an Independent Sunday review that "at it's best, there are some snappy cameos of the well known." Barber concluded that "it's easy to mock Dundy's unabashed star-worship, but it pays dividends for the readers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Atlantic Monthly, August, 1958, Charles Rolo, review of The Dud Avacado.
Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), July 28, 2001, Keith Brace, "Sexual adventure and emotional melodrama," p. 52.
Book Week, March 29, 1964.
Chicago Sunday Tribune, August 3, 1958.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 16, 2001, Lynn Barber, "All this, and free theatre tickets too."
Independent Sunday (London, England), July 15, 2001, Mark Bostridge, "Fatal attraction: tales of men, marriage and the demon drink," p. 16.
National Review, December 23, 1996, p. 54.
New Republic, August 18, 1958, Peter Salmon, review of The Dud Avacado.
New York Review of Books, April 30, 1964.
New York Times, December 14, 1979.
Observer (London, England), June 10, 2001, Duncan Campbell, "You name them, she knew them: She hung out with Hemingway, married Ken Tynan, and Orson Welles told her to get divorced. And then there's the S&M," p. 6; June 24, 2001, Kate Kellaway, "She hungered for the company of talent—and a Mickey Mouse watch," p. 15.
Saturday Review, March 23, 1964.
Time, March 20, 1964.
Times Literary Supplement, March 19, 1964; February 15, 1979.
Elaine Dundy Web site, http://www.elainedundy.com/ (August 1, 2005).*