‘This Is Us’ Actor Griffin Dunne Reflects on His Sister’s Murder & His Relationship With Carrie Fisher in New Memoir

Director Griffin Dunne at the New York premiere of
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This is Us and An American Werewolf in London actor Griffin Dunne (most recently seen in the HBO comedy The Girls on the Bus) has the rumor mills abuzz this week with the release of his new memoir The Friday Afternoon Club. With literary icon and queen of the memoir Joan Didion as his aunt and true crime author/Hollywood producer Dominick Dunne for a father, Griffin Dunne’s book is almost guaranteed to be noteworthy. If anything, one should read it for the details shared about the murder (and ensuing trial) of his sister Dominique, a rising starlet best known for her portrayal of teenage daughter Dana Freeling in Poltergeist who died at the age of 22 at the hands of a bitter ex-boyfriend. (Strangely, the other daughter in the film, played by Heather O’Rourke, also tragically died at a young age.)

POLTERGEIST, Dominique Dunne, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robins, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, 1982,

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Dominique on the left with the Poltergeist family, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robins, JoBeth Williams and Heather O’Rourke


Griffin Dunne shares some interesting tidbits about the murder trial, such as the division it caused between his father and his uncle John Gregory Dunne. He and his wife Joan Didion went off to Europe so their daughter would not be forced to testify. “The animosity between my father and his brother reached new heights with every passing day John stayed in Europe,” he wrote of the couple’s absconding abroad. John Gregory died in 2003 just days after their daughter Quintana fell sick, something Didion wrote about at great length in her acclaimed National Book Award-winning memoir on grief, The Year of Magical Thinking; Quintana died two years later, which inspired the 2011 memoir Blue Nights.

American writer Joan Didion, with husband, John Gregory Dunne, adopted daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne and john's nephew Anthony Dunne walk down the stairs near their Malibu beach home.

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Joan Didion, with husband, John Gregory Dunne, adopted daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne and john’s nephew Anthony Dunne


The entire family seems seeped in tragedy, but they have also clearly caught the literary bug, as Griffin’s father Dominick Dunne is an author as well, mostly writing in the true crime genre; a very popular 1984 Vanity Fair article on his daughter’s murder trial launched his career. Dominick’s brother John Gregory Dunne, husband of Joan Didion, was a writer as well, and he cowrote the screenplays for Panic in Needle Park starring Al Pacino and the Barbra Streisand version of A Star is Born, among many other works. The literary brothers were often at odds, often estranged; many articles and books have noted their dramatic relationship.

Director Griffin Dunne and his father, author Dominick Dunne, arriving at the New York premiere of "Lisa Picard is Famous" at Chelsea West Theatre in New York City on August 15, 2001.

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Griffin Dunne and his father, author Dominick


As much as they were embroiled in drama, tragedy, and literary feuds, the family was also deeply steeped in Hollywood. John and Dominick ran a film company together, and they had a third brother as well, actor Stephen Dunne, who died by suicide in 1977; Griffin’s daughter Hannah Dunne is an actress as well, best known for being a series regular on Mozart in the Jungle. Another thing Griffin Dunne notes in the memoir is his relationship with Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher. In addition to being friends, and her losing her virginity to him, they were also roommates for a while at the request of Debbie Reynolds, who didn’t want her daughter to live alone in New York City.

12th February 1972: American actress Debbie Reynolds with her daughter Carrie Fisher.

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Debbie Reynolds a young Carrie Fisher in 1972


Dunne remembered Fisher being initially somewhat dismissive of the role that would make her a superstar, writing, “She got this part in this movie, and she goes, ‘It’s ridiculous, but I gotta take it.’… it was like The Beatles came back to life or something. It’s a very particular thing when you have a best friend who becomes suddenly overnight unbelievably famous. It’s also very tough when you are that person who becomes unbelievably famous.”

That’s all just the tip of the iceberg! For more behind-the-scenes Hollywood intrigue, check out The Friday Afternoon Club, available for purchase now.