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

I think she's wonderful. And later when she left, you know, again I cried. And she wanted me to go to the New Yorker [with her], and you know as much as I loved her, I had this thing about Vanity Fair. I just thought Vanity Fair and I were made for each other. We are made for each other.

She later said to me, "You know, I was so hurt when you didn't come with me," she said, "but you were right." She always said my piece on the von Bulows—the von Bulow case—was the piece that set the style for Vanity Fair. And she said, "All that sort of unique way you have of telling the story, they would have taken that away from you at the New Yorker."

JH: They were already established; had a style.

DD: Yeah, style, and she said, "You started a new one."

JH: I was very amused to read that you went to the von Bulow house and sat on Sunny's bed and asked Claus' mistress if she was wearing Sunny's jewelry. Did you really do that?

DD: Yes, yes, I did.

JH: Was she surprised?

DD: That was at the New York apartment, 96 Fifth Avenue, and it was during the trial [of Claus von Bulow, who had been charged with attempting to murder his wife, Sunny, who was in a diabetic coma] and they gave a lunch party and...both sides...I went with Alla and Alexander, [Sunny's] son and daughter—I love them. The trial was in Providence, and I went over to Newport with them in the house where it had happened, Clarendon Court it was called.

[Back in New York] Claus' mistress (Andrea Reynolds) gave this luncheon, she and Claus on a weekend off from the trial that was so...the butlers with white gloves, it was all Sunny's dishes and Sunny's glassware and Sunny's...it was horrible. Horrible. And the next morning, he was back in the courtroom.

She [Reynolds] took me on at that luncheon because I had written that she was wearing Sunny's jewels. And she took me into Sunny's bedroom, and we were both of us lying on Sunny von Bulow's—here's [Sunny] in a coma—we're lying on her bed, and Andrea Reynolds is showing me all of her jewels, which she said were better than Sunny's. I mean I do things in these situations that no other writer gets into, and then I get in trouble. But anyway...I couldn't believe I was lying on Sunny von Bulow's bed, with the mistress, looking at jewelry.

JH: Did you know Claus or Sunny first? Or did you meet them together?

DD: Well, I didn't really. I knew Sunny when she was a deb. She was a friend of friends of mine. I knew her that way. Not close.

JH: That was an incredible trial.

DD: Yeah, but you know that's when I started reporting on trials in a whole different way. I mean, it wasn't just, "the judge ruled.…" It was the parties that were going on at the same time. It was the gossip of the courtroom. I created a whole new way of covering it, and it drives them [defense attorneys] crazy. The people who read it love it, but the others, such as Leslie Abrahamson at the Menendez [brothers' trial] hates me with such hate because I wrote about the behind-the-scenes action. But you know she got away with everything.

JH: The state wound up paying her, didn't they?

DD: Yeah. She was never written up badly because her husband was an editor at the LA Times. And then I came along and she hated me.

JH: Well you were pointing out the truth and some lawyers don't like the truth to have out about how they behave.

DD: No. [they don't].

JH: When you were at Canterbury [boarding school], you spent a good deal of time off-campus at the risk of being expelled. Tell us about that.

DD: I was obsessed with the Wayne Lonergan case, because it was my first sort of real scandal. I was later fascinated by scandal. There used to be the Daily Mirror, now long gone, and the Journal American, long gone, and I would go down to New Milford during sports. I would sneak off. I had to get my fix on that case. And then years later I wrote about the case after he died.

JH: Did that really get the ball rolling for you in this genre?

DD: I think so.

JH: You really defined a new niche.

DD: Yeah, I mean you can get [the straight reporting] in the newspaper.

JH: You did something completely unique, and to this day, look at the success of all of your books about these cases.

DD: But it made me something else. It made me kind of a celebrity. And then, of course, from the OJ trial on it was the constant television that just upped the thing. And that's when the college kids, who started following the OJ case, got interested in me, started buying my novels in paperback, and they all had to be re-released because I got a whole new audience for my novels through the OJ case.

JH: It would be very interesting if you wrote about the Enron case after getting the skinny behind the scenes. Any plans to do that?

DD: I never have understood the financial world. I understand the social world, and so when the rich and the powerful are in a criminal situation, that's right up my [alley]. The Woodward case became The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.

JH: You really could tell the story in a way that couldn't be told without attracting law suits. When you went to Williams [College], did you have a career path in mind? Were you thinking of writing, acting, anything in particular?

DD: Certainly not writing, because I didn't really start writing until I was 50. I wanted to be in show business, but I didn't quite know how.

Steve Sondheim was at Williams when I was there, and....Oh, I love to say I sang and danced in Steve Sondheim's first musical. It was called All that Glitters, which we did at Williams. This was long before Steve was famous. Now, he's a part of Americana. We're still pals, Steve and I. We live on the same street in New York.

Williams, during my time there, was a waspy, rich boys' college, and there were very few Jews there. There was a quota system, and the ones that I remember were Steve Sondheim and Edgar Bronfman. I mean they were very elite. It's amazing that that happened, isn't it?

Steve and I were always close at Williams. He was always talking about Uncle Okie. Uncle Okie was Oscar Hammerstein, and he was the first person to realize that Steve was going to be somebody. He was an enormous influence on Steve's life. Steve would say, "Gosh, Okie's upset because Gertrude Lawrence can't reach this note and they're gonna have to re-..." I just loved all that kind of talk. You know? It was backstage stuff and dishy, and so I owe a lot to Steve for taking me to all those things. I mean, it was about as far from Hartford, Connecticut as you could get.

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