McDougal, Dennis 1947-
McDOUGAL, Dennis 1947-
PERSONAL: Born November 25, 1947, in Pasadena, CA; son of Carl Albert and Lola (Irvin) McDougal; married Diane Beubenek, June 13, 1970 (divorced, June, 1989); married Sharon Murphy, February 24, 1990; children: (first marriage) Jennifer Erin, Amy Suzanne, Kate Michelle. Ethnicity: "Irish American." Education: University of California—Los Angeles, B.A., 1972; received master's degree, 1973. Politics: Independent. Religion: "Deist." Hobbies and other interests: Running, tennis, guitar.
CAREER: Riverside Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, staff writer, 1973-77; Long Beach Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA, staff writer, 1977-83; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, staff writer, 1983-93; freelance writer, 1993—. Military service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1966-72.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, PEN West, Atlantic City Press Club, Greater Los Angeles Press Club, Orange County Press Club, Twin Counties Press Club, Pacific Coast Press Club.
AWARDS, HONORS: Journalism awards from Associated Press News Executives; Knight fellow, Stanford University, 1981-82; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, c. 1994, for In the Best of Families: The Anatomy of a True Tragedy; Anne M. Sperber Award, 2002.
Angel of Darkness: The True Story of Randy Kraft and the Most Heinous Murder Spree of the Century, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Pierce O'Donnell) Fatal Subtraction: The Inside Story of Buchwald v. Paramount, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.
In the Best of Families: The Anatomy of a True Tragedy, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Mother's Day, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1995.
The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood, Crown (New York, NY), 1998.
The Yosemite Murders, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty, Perseus Books (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Mary Murphy) Blood Cold: Fame, Sex, and Murder in Hollywood, Signet (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including TV Guide and Fame.
ADAPTATIONS: Some of McDougal's books have been adapted as audio books, including Fatal Subtraction: The Inside Story of Buchwald v. Paramount.
SIDELIGHTS: In Dennis McDougal's first book-length nonfiction work, Angel of Darkness: The True Story of Randy Kraft and the Most Heinous Murder Spree of the Century, the former Los Angeles Times reporter tells the story of a quiet computer programmer who abducted, drugged, abused, and killed sixty-seven male hitchhikers between 1971 and 1983. His victims were discovered, starting in 1971, along highways in California, Oregon, and Michigan. Randy Kraft's killing spree ended by chance on May 14, 1983, when he was stopped by the highway patrol for driving erratically; in the car the police found a dead body and incriminating photographs of drugged or dead naked men. The trial, which lasted more than five years and cost more than ten-million dollars, resulted in a death sentence for Kraft and his imprisonment in San Quentin. Despite the number of murders and the twelve-year span of killing, Kraft remains a relatively obscure figure to the American public. McDougal reveals that Kraft's family and friends, who pleaded on his behalf for a lesser sentence, were unaware of his appetite for murder.
Booklist reviewer Tracie Richardson commented that McDougal's talent is revealed not in his facility in depicting the pursuit and apprehension of Kraft, rather in portraying Kraft "as everyone thought of him . . . a likeable, hardworking, . . . superachiever." Richardson said that the book leads the reader to ponder how a "normal" man "could become society's worst nightmare." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised McDougal for "juggl[ing] his mass of material well," but found that "the huge cast and shifting points of view do confuse at times." A Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor expressed an interest in a more psychological approach in portraying Kraft; this critic said "the portrait . . . that emerges doesn't tell us much about his motivation."
Fatal Subtraction: The Inside Story of Buchwald v. Paramount, written by McDougal and Pierce O'Donnell (Buchwald's lawyer), chronicles the three-year legal dispute between columnist Art Buchwald and producer Alain Bernheim, and Paramount Pictures. In 1983 Paramount bought Buchwald's story "King for a Day," a satire featuring an African ruler who is dethroned while touring the United States. After writing a screenplay and heavily investing in the picture, Paramount scrapped the project and turned it over to Warner Bros. When Warner Bros. discovered that Paramount was producing a comedy with a similar storyline starring Eddie Murphy, the project was dropped. Paramount claimed that the resemblance between its new film and the one optioned to Warner Bros. was coincidental. The Warner Bros. version was never made and Paramount's film became Coming to America, the 1985 romantic comedy featuring Eddie Murphy. Murphy, who was given credit for authorship, denied ever having seen Buchwald's screen treatment despite documentation to the contrary. Consequently, Buchwald and Bernheim filed suit accusing Paramount of stealing the storyline and for breaking their contract, which stipulated a nineteen-percent share of the film's net profits.
The lawsuit raised questions about the accounting practices of Hollywood's studios. Traditionally, production studios have participated in a net-profits clause that allows a studio to deduct overall losses from other films from profits made on its blockbusters. In the net-profits scenario, movie stars get points in gross profits, but, through creative accounting, other contributors are denied rewards. Thus, while Coming to America collected more than 350-million dollars at the box office, Murphy collected twenty-one-million dollars, the studio collected over eighty-million dollars, and Paramount could claim that their net profit was minus eighteen-million dollars. Although Buchwald and Bernheim collected damages of only 900,000 dollars from a lawsuit costing two-and-a-half-million dollars, questionable accounting practices by Hollywood's studios were made public and the studios were not permitted to use "net profits" as a means to avoid sharing the wealth of box-office hits among the contributors as a result of the suit.
A reviewer for the Economist praised Buchwald's perspective and humor throughout the lengthy trial, but faulted McDougal for "fail[ing] to restrain Mr. O'Donnell." Janet Maslin of the New York Times Book Review commented that the book was "written in a disingenuous first-person voice" which "undermine[d] the essential seriousness of the story," but found Fatal Subtraction an absorbing expose of Hollywood's accounting practices. Library Journal critic Sally G. Waters called the book "fascinating" and applauded McDougal and O'Donnell for effectively portraying a diverse group of participants, "sympathetic plaintiffs, overworked attorneys, witnesses . . . and studio executives . . . either devious or greedy." A Kirkus Reviews critic found "the case's legal stages . . . spellbinding."
McDougal's third work of nonfiction, In the Best of Families: An Anatomy of a True Tragedy, was nominated for an Edgar Award. It describes tragic events in the life of Roy Miller, a successful California tax attorney who counted Ronald and Nancy Reagan among his clients. In the Best of Families contrasts the external success of the "perfect" Miller family with their inner turmoil. Roy was a senior partner at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, where he prepared the taxes of many powerful and influential people. His wife Marguerite was a homemaker who is portrayed as an inflexible and overbearing mother. Although they had great expectations for their two sons, Jeffrey and Michael, the boys' struggles with schizophrenia soon became the focus of Roy and Marguerite's energies.
As the book progresses, McDougal details Jeffrey's entanglement with Christian fundamentalism which resulted in hypnotic deprogramming therapy. When Jeffrey's treatment proved unsuccessful, he was hospitalized and later committed suicide. Adding to the family's tragedies, Michael, the younger son, also struggled with schizophrenia, and raped and killed his mother in 1983. This culminated in a trial in which he was found insane, convicted of his mother's murder, and committed to a psychiatric hospital. A Publishers Weekly critic called In the Best of Families "a compelling tale of the destruction of a family by mental illness."
McDougal is also the author of Mother's Day and The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood. Mother's Day relates the story of Terry Knorr Groves's resolute pursuit of justice in proving the guilt of her mother and brothers in the violent abuse and killing of her two sisters in 1984 and 1985. The Last Mogul details the life of Lew Wasserman, the influential head of the Motion Picture Corporation of America, and documents the extent of his clout in Hollywood, the White House, and organized crime.
McDougal once told CA: "Like Dorothy Parker, I hate to write but love to have written. While the actual process of giving birth to a book approximates extended root canal work with no anesthesia, the act of creation itself has been worth all of the trouble . . . so far. Murder, power, and Hollywood have intrigued me throughout my career, and I'm sure that my books reflect that."
More recently McDougal commented: "I write every day, beginning early in the morning, before the house comes alive and family, friends, or phone intrude on my focus. My influences range from Dashiell Hammet to Richard Russo to Bob Dylan to I. F. Stone. I write because I must. A Robert Louis Stevenson quotation that hangs over my fireplace sums up my motivation for writing. It reads: 'Every book is in an intimate sense a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Business Law Journal, November, 1993, pp. 535-552.
American Journalism Review, July, 2001, Carl Sessions Stepp, review of Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty, p. 70.
Armchair Detective, winter, 1992, p. 110.
Booklist, April 15, 1991, Tracie Richardson, review of Angel of Darkness: The True Story of Randy Kraft and the Most Heinous Murder Spree of the Century, p. 1607; May 15, 2001, Steve Weinberg, review of Privileged Son, p. 1710.
Boston Globe, February 12, 1999, Michael Blowen, review of The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood, p. E10.
Business Week, June 11, 2001, review of Privileged Son, p. 25.
California Law Business, November 23, 1998, Garry Abrams, review of The Last Mogul, pp. 12-13.
Chicago Sun-Times, January 10, 1999, Paige Smoron, review of The Last Mogul.
Columbia Journalism Review, May, 2001, James Boylan, review of Privileged Son, p. 86.
Economist, October 17, 1992, review of Fatal Subtraction: The Inside Story of Buchwald v. Paramount, pp. 102-103; February 13, 1999, review of The Last Mogul; June 2, 2001, review of Privileged Son, p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, August 28, 1992, p. 61.
Film Comment, November-December, 1992, p. 17.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1991, review of Angel of Darkness, p. 381; June 15, 1992; April 15, 1994, pp. 527-528.
Library Journal, April 15, 1991, review of Angel of Darkness, p. 106; August, 1992, Sally G. Waters, review of Fatal Subtraction, p. 130; November 1, 1992, Jay Rozgonyi, review of audio book adaptation of Fatal Subtraction, p. 134; June 1, 2001, Cheryl Van Til, review of Privileged Son, p. 176.
Los Angeles Magazine, December, 1981, pp. 244-249. Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2001, Kit Rachlis, review of Privileged Son, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 19, 1991, p. 6.
New Yorker, April 23, 2001, Hendrik Hertzberg, review of Privileged Son, pp. 187-193.
New York Times Book Review, August 16, 1992, Janet Maslin, review of Fatal Subtraction, pp. 12-13; April 25, 1994, p. 47; October 2, 1994, p. 32; October 26, 1998, p. 53; June 17, 2001, Greg Mitchell, review of Privileged Son, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1991, p. 61; June 8, 1992, p. 48; October 5, 1992, p. 29; April 25, 1994, review of In the Best of Families: An Anatomy of a True Tragedy, p. 47; April 30, 2001, review of Privileged Son, p. 65.
Rapport, no. 4, 1994, p. 37.
Sacramento Bee, July 1, 2001, Dixie Reid, review of Privileged Son, pp. 24-25.
San Francisco Examiner, December 30, 1998, Edvina Beitika, review of The Last Mogul.
Variety, August 3, 1992, p. 55.
Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2001, Tim W. Ferguson, review of Privileged Son, p. A18.
Washington Post, June 10, 2001, review of Privileged Son, p. T12.