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Elaine Dundy (1 August 1921 – 1 May 2008) was an Americanmarker novelist, biographer, journalist, actress and playwright. Her sister, Shirley Clarke, was a leading independent filmmaker and a professor of film at UCLAmarker.

Early life

Born Elaine Rita Brimberg in New York Citymarker, of Latvian maternal descent, her Polish father was an office furniture manufacturer and a violent bully. Dundy grew up in a Park Avenue home where she was educated by a governess, though she eventually attended high school, where her boyfriend Terry was the son of playwright Maxwell Anderson. Later, they met again and almost married. A habituée of New York nightclubs from the age of 15, she met the exiled Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, who wished to be taught how to jitterbug. Dundy also rode in taxis at dawn about this time, apparently topless, with her head through the roof. An honors graduate from Sweet Briar Collegemarker in Sweet Briar, Virginiamarker, she studied acting at the Jarvis Theatre School in Washington with future star actors Rod Steiger, Tony Curtis and others, and in a drama workshop was taught by Erwin Piscator.

Unfortunately her controlling father insisted she live at home while in New York, but she calculated that her monthly allowance would allow her to live in Paris for a short time. At the end of World War II, Dundy traveled to Europe, first to live in Paris, Francemarker, dubbing French films, before settling in London, Englandmarker, where she performed in a BBC radio play. In 1950, she met the theater critic Kenneth Tynan, and two weeks later, they began living together. They married on 25 January 1951, had a daughter Tracy (born 12 May 1952, Westminstermarker, Londonmarker), and became part of the theatrical and film elite of London and Hollywood, traveling about as friends of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Laurence Olivier and other prominent figures.

Radio and television

Among her roles as an actress, she appeared in "The Scream," a 1953 episode of the TV series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Presents, and a BBC-TV production of Dinner at Eight as a maid: "One of those small parts an actress can do absolutely nothing with except look as pretty as possible, act as naive as possible and stay out of the way of the knives." Dundy was also heard in different roles on Radio Luxembourg's Harry Lime dramas, directed by Orson Welles. In 1955, Dundy and Tynan appeared together on camera, hosting the "Madrid Bullfight" episode of Around the World with Orson Welles, the documentary series Welles directed for BBC Television. Curiously, her name was not displayed on screen, since the billing read "Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Tynan."


In 1958, Dundy published her first novel The Dud Avocado, loosely based on her experiences in Paris, which reached the top of the best seller lists. The author received a letter from an admirer:
Dear Mrs Tynan, I don't make the habit of writing to married women, especially if the husband is a dramatic critic, but I had to tell someone (and it might as well be you since you're the author) how much I enjoyed The Dud Avocado. It made me laugh, scream and guffaw (which incidentally is a great name for a law firm). If this was actually your life, I don't know how on earth you got through it. Sincerely, Groucho Marx.
When she became successful Tynan disapproved of Dundy writing, despite having forecast this success, because it distracted attention from himself, though Dundy herself had seen it as a means to save their marriage. Around this time Tynan started to insist on flagellating his wife, with the threat of his own suicide if she refused. Unsurprisingly, drugs, alcohol, and extramarital affairs by both parties, resulted in the marriage, originally happy, becoming fraught and the marriage was dissolved in 1964. In 1962, she was a writer for the BBC's satirical That Was the Week That Was. Dundy eventually cured herself of the addictions during the period 1968-76 and maintained her initial success as an author living mainly in New York. In addition to novels and short stories, Dundy wrote for The New York Times. She wrote books on the actor Peter Finch, the city of Ferriday, Louisianamarker and Elvis Presley, about whom she said, "Prior to 1977, I didn't know that Elvis was alive until he died."

Her books are respected for their independent views, attention to detail and thorough research. As part of her research for the Presley book, Dundy moved from her luxurious suites in London and New York to live for five months in Presley's birthplace of Tupelo, Mississippimarker. Elvis and Gladys was first published by Macmillan in 1985 (reissued in 2004 by the University Press of Mississippimarker). The Boston Globe hailed it as "nothing less than the best Elvis book yet." Kirkus Reviews described it as "the most fine-grained Elvis bio ever."

Later life

She maintained a home in London until 1986, and then moved to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Tracy, by then a costume designer and director married to Jim McBride. Dundy published her autobiography, Life Itself!, in 2001. Her 1964 novel, The Old Man and Me, was reissued in 2005 by the feminist publishing company Virago Press, and that same year, she wrote the introduction for Virago's reprint of Daphne du Maurier's 1932 novel, I'll Never Be Young Again.

In her final years, she was losing her vision due to macular degeneration. She died of a heart attack in Los Angelesmarker on 1 May 2008, aged 86.



  • The Dud Avocado (1958)
  • The Old Man and Me (1964)
  • The Injured Party (1974)


  • Finch, Bloody Finch: A Biography of Peter Finch (1980)
  • Elvis and Gladys (1985)
  • Ferriday, Louisiana (1991)
  • Life Itself! (2001) (autobiography)


  • My Place (1962)
  • Death in the Country


  1. Philip Purser Obituary, The Guardian, 8 May 2008.
  2. Obituary, The Times, 9 May 2008.
  3. Philip Hoare Obituary, The Independent, 10 May 2008.
  4. Obituary, Daily Telegraph, 7 May 2008.
  5. Elaine Dundy Life Itself, 2001, Virago, p346.
  6. New York Review Books Classics blog : A Different Stripe: "Elaine Dundy, 1921-2008"

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