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DOMINICK DUNNE, A TOUGH MAN FOR TOUGH TIMES
HIS FIRST EXCLUSIVE LIFE STORY

Hank was a very tough guy; on the Choate football team and all that stuff. Actually, he had started at Yale. He'd been at Yale for about two months when he was drafted. And he said, "Nick, I was scared, too." It was so great to be able to unload [when we reunited].

Anyway, he said, "You know, I'm very successful." And I said, "Well, you know, I'm not exactly chopped liver." This was typical of him.

About a year and a half ago on Lexington Avenue, I see this guy walking along. There's this younger guy walking with him. I said, "Hank." He turns to his son and says, "Son, this is the man I told you about." I said to this kid, "Your father and I went through three years…" He said, "I know all about it, Mr. Dunne." Then Hank said, "You know, when I told my wife that I didn't know you were a writer," he said, "she was ready to kill me."

I said, "Hank, what we had as friends, that could never...we've had that experience of people who need each other, help each other." And I said, "I've always got that." He said, "You know, after you left that day [after our Waldorf meeting] I had a massive heart attack." He still wasn't in perfect condition because the son was helping him. Isn't that amazing? You know I think when you release that.… When [the movie] Saving Private Ryan came out, it turns out there were any number of people in that war who never could talk about it afterwards. And that movie released it for a lot of us.

JH: I could never get my father to talk about it.

DD: Interesting, isn't it?

JH: It's post-traumatic stress disorder; something those who experienced it don't want to remember. Too many people have focused on Vietnam as being the most horrific of all wars, but I think that's an unfair assessment, because war is war. War is hell and everybody who's been in one suffers the same.

DD: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

JH: But I think it's even tougher if you're a very sensitive person to begin with and you're thrust into that environment where you have to take a life or lose your own. That has to be terrifying. There's this heightened sense that you live with and when you finally get away from it, psychologically, it's, "I don't ever want to remember that again."

DD: No, you don't.

JH: Were you just sent over to Germany from boot camp?

DD: No, I went to England first. I didn't go over on D-Day. I went over on D plus 36. And we went over, and the first night we landed at Liverpool and we had a troop train that night that took us to whichever camp we stayed in until we crossed the channel.

We were buzz bombed on the train, and Hank and I—that's when they started with the Gold Dust Twins—we couldn't stop laughing. We laughed every time a bomb hit. It was all sheer nerves, but we were in hysterics. We were rolling on the floor of that troop train laughing. But we were scared, and nobody admits they're scared, but I always had a fear of authority figures.

When I was in Hollywood, I always had this fear of studio heads. Any male in charge brought back the father thing to me.

JH: So, was that a fear generated by superior officers in the service, or the way your father treated you? Was it authority or was it...?

DD: A male authority figure.

JH: How about female authority figures? Were you as intimidated by them?

DD: No. My success was fostered by women. Actually, my best friend when I was young was Betsy Dallas, a neighbor. She and I were just bosom buddies. She was never a girlfriend, you know, I mean, not my first crush. It was actually knowing each other from first grade. And I was very close to her. She went on to marry somebody called Griffin and had children.

JH: Tina Brown [ex-Editor of Vanity Fair] later became a best friend of sorts to you. She was a remarkable person. Your first article for that magazine was in her first issue of Vanity Fair was it not?

DD: Tina Brown was one of the first people who met me and saw something in me that I didn't know I possessed. And my book editor, Betty Prashker, she was the first one to ever say to me, "You should become a writer." It was women who got through to me and then ultimately men did, but I mean it was women whom I owe everything to.

I was in Tina’s first issue. I met her the night before the trial of the man who killed my daughter. Noted journalist Marie Brenner asked me to dinner that Sunday night, and she was living in Chelsea and there was this little English wren there; you know not a glamorous woman as she gradually became. I sat next to her at dinner.

There were ten of us and we were eating in the kitchen—a Tex-Mex dinner in the kitch—and I just got talking with her, and you know sometimes you just hit it off with someone. I didn’t know anything about her except she’d been at the Tattler, which was not like a big deal to me at the time.

And so the next morning, Marie Brenner called and said, "You know the woman you met last night?" I said, "Oh yes, she’s great." Marie said, "She wants to have lunch with you today." I said, "I’m leaving tonight for LA." And Marie said, "Do it!!" [Laughs] So I met her at La Goulou restaurant, and she said to me, "You shouldn’t be wasting your Hollywood stories at dinner parties. You should write them for the magazine." I said, "Well, Tina, I just started writing. I’ve got a novel." And she said, "It would take me ten years to train somebody who knows as many people as you know and who can tell stories the way you tell stories. Nobody spoke last night about what you’re going through." I couldn’t talk about it [the murder trail for the murder of my daughter, Dominique] then. She said, "We’ve all read about trials, but I’ve never read about a trial written by a participant. Keep notes and then come to see me when this is over."

Keeping the journal got me through it. My piece, Justice, came out and it was her first issue as editor, so we started out together, and the week before it came out, she took me out to lunch again, and this was at the Algonquin, and she said, "Next week, when this issue hits the stands, every magazine in New York will be after you, but you’re mine." And I actually said to Tina, "You got me."

I had had a long drought, serious, and... I mean it was she who lifted me out of it. That article was a huge success. She sent me right out and then she started saying to me, "You have to put yourself into this article. I want to hear Dominick." I was still not sure of myself. I’d lost my confidence, but she gave it back to me.

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