Book excerpt: “The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir” by Griffin Dunne



Penguin Press

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In Griffin Dunne’s new memoir, “The Friday Afternoon Club” (to be published June 11 by Penguin Press), the actor-producer-director who grew up in Hollywood in a literary family writes of a life of bold-faced celebrity, tragedy, and well-told stories.

Read an excerpt below, and don’t miss Kelefa Sanneh’s interview with Griffin Dunne on “CBS Sunday Morning” June 9!

“The Friday Afternoon Club” by Griffin Dunne

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The morning I was born, Dad was a wreck. Having gotten Mom safely to Doctors Hospital, he was told that she required an emergency C-section, and to sit in the waiting room until he was called. Five hours later, he’d gone through a pack of Luckies, and after making a nuisance of himself to every nurse who passed, he went to buy more smokes at a deli across the street. Walking back to the lobby, he saw the surgeon who was to perform the C-section about to step into a cab. He ran to him and practically grabbed the doctor by the lapels.

“What happened?”

“What do you mean, what happened?”

“My wife! Is she all right?”

“Which one is your wife?”

“Lenny Dunne, for God’s sake!”

“Oh, Mr. Dunne, my apologies, didn’t anyone tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“We did the C-section hours ago. She’s fine. Baby’s fine. Someone should have told you, but it’s been a crazy day. I’ve done three since.”

More relieved than pissed, Dad let the man get in his taxi. Before it pulled away from the curb, the doctor yelled out the window, “Oh, and don’t worry about the foot!”

On the long walk back to the maternity ward, Dad pictured me growing up in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg, but while my right foot did curl inward when I was a newborn, it turned itself out by the time I could walk.

From the moment I was born, my father told me I was always trying to get somewhere else. My first word was taxi. I had a toy suitcase that I’d carry around the living room and raise my hand to hail a cab, yelling, “Taxi, taxi,” as if late for an important meeting. Elizabeth Montgomery, who later played Samantha in Bewitched, was my first babysitter. She was a struggling actress with a small part in Late Love when she met my mother, and though Elizabeth was her employee, my mother and she became close friends. Elizabeth once told her, while changing my diapers, that I had a bigger dick than her husband. That marriage was, needless to say, short-lived.

There is a kinescope from an early episode of the Today show in which Arlene Francis, also from the cast of Late Love, interviews my mother, billed as the “typical New York housewife,” while a camera follows her on a routine day. (The daughter of a rancher who went to Miss Porter’s was hardly a relatable housewife, but somehow Dad got her the gig through his connections at NBC.) There wasn’t much content in the early days of morning talk shows, so this segment is a mundane, fifteen-minute blow-by-blow of the life of a young family. It begins with Dad heading to work like a character out of a John Cheever story, while Mom does household chores, runs errands, and takes me to Central Park to feed the ducks. At one point in the clip, she enters a shoe store on Lexington Avenue and leaves me in my pram on the sidewalk, as if we lived in Grover’s Corners.

When she tries to lay me down in my crib at the end of the day, I nuzzle into her neck, not wanting her to leave. Anyone tuning in that morning would have seen a little boy who loved his mother more than anything in the world. When the camera cuts back to Mom in the studio, having just watched the segment she narrated, she looks lost in the moment, as if still savoring my affection. Arlene Francis ends the interview by saying to her viewers, “We wish Lenny, Nick, and Griffin all the luck in the world as they begin their bright future.”

As it turned out, we were going to need it.

An excerpt from “The Friday Afternoon Club,” published by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Thomas Griffin Dunne.

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