The thing I remember most about Dominick Dunne is how down to earth he was -- despite an
East Coast, private-school background, he unerringly showed a plebeian appreciation for honesty and a democratic disdain for pomp and venality -- while marveling at the audacity of liars and frauds. He died in New York today after battling cancer for two years, a few months shy of his 84th birthday. I only met him toward the end of his life -- during Robert Blake's 2005 murder trial Dunne accidentally hit me with his umbrella inside a court elevator. He apologized as profusely as if he'd struck one of his socialite friends, who included Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale and Gloria Vanderbilt.
Dunne had moved West with the television industry from New York to Los Angeles in the 1950s, rising to become a producer and vice president of Four Star Productions, while producing such indy films as The Panic in Needle Park and Play It As It Lays. Drugs, alcohol and a wrenching divorce would burn him out, however, and in the 1970s Dunne self-exiled himself from Hollywood to reinvent himself in New York -- first as a social novelist and, later, as a trial reporter for Vanity Fair. But Los Angeles would never let him go -- his daughter Dominique was murdered here in 1982, and the resulting trial set him on a career of court reporting that sometimes assumed the aura of a victim's crusade. He visited Los Angeles often, to cover the trials of the Menedez Brothers, O.J. Simpson, Blake and, most recently, Phil Spector.
During the first Spector trial he was a humble, white-haired figure who could be seen
sitting on court corridor benches chatting to strangers and longtime
media colleagues alike. He was the most cordial, affable and, at times,
earthy colleague to sit next to during the long trial. Dunne was known
for his generosity and held court at the Chateau Marmont, where he'd
treat fellow trial reporters to dinner.
Dunne would often say he wasn't the most devout Catholic, but he seemed
very much a man who believed in redemption and marveled at his own
personal resurrection. Last year Dunne took my wife and me out to lunch
at Michael's in New York, and it was clear during our conversation that
he had never lost his sense of awe for knowing the celebrities and
powerbrokers that he did. Seated against the wall at his own table that
afternoon, Dunne could look out at a room that included Barbara
Walters, CBS president Les Moonves, CAA super-agents Bryan Lourd and
Kevin Huvane, and a birthday party for the financier Felix Rohatyn.
After lunch Dunne
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said he preferred walking back to his apartment some blocks away,
declining our offer of a cab. He was enjoying every minute of that
afternoon, as though he couldn't believe he was here. And now, today,
none of us can believe he's gone.