|He started taking me to things which were natural to him. I went to the final run-through of South Pacific with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, which became one of the greatest hits in the history of Broadway, and I went to, in New Haven, the opening night of The King and I with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brenner, but that was all Steve. I said, "This is it. I gotta be in this kind of light."
Anyway, I got out of Williams. I acted a lot at Williams and I thought at one time of being an actor. I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse, and it was Sandy Meisner, then alive, the great acting teacher, who said to me, "You know, you're too small to be a leading man. If you're a character man, you won't make it until you're forty or something." And he said, "You're so ambitious, go behind the camera."
I was devastated, but, of course it was great advice and through
this fluke, this utter fluke of life, I was sent to NBC. TV was so new, we didn't even have a set. A man had written the first book about television, and they [the publishing company] wanted me to find out about the book for the jacket notes. A man called Pete Barnum [NBC Vice President] had written it, and I went in there to get the information. Barnum took a liking to me, and I'm with my little notepad saying, "Where were you born?" And he said, "How would you like to work in TV?"
I was making $35 a week in this little publishing business—a temporary job then—and I went to $75 a week at NBC. Well, it seemed like a fortune at the time. And I became the stage manager for The Howdy Doody Show.
was really thrilling because there was a whole bunch of us who started
at the same time [in TV], Arthur Penn—I mean people who became just
absolutely famous—John Frankenheimer. He was at Williams, too. They
all became well known. Bud Yorkin.
Anyway, after I'd been at Howdy Doody for about two years, Robert Montgomery, the MGM star, moved to New York and started a television show called Robert Montgomery Presents. I don't know how, but he asked me to be his stage manager. Every week the show—that's where I started meeting all of the Hollywood people—he'd bring in a different Hollywood star to try this new thing called television; live TV. We had a drama every week. I can't tell you how much I loved it. I loved, loved, loved every minute. And let me tell you who I knew as undiscovered people: Grace Kelly. I knew her before fame. I knew Paul Newman before fame. I knew Steve McQueen before—all these kids, we were all the same age, all doing the same, and I was the stage manager. I loved every minute of that.
It was in Studio 8H at NBC, and each week the show would open with me saying, "One minute, Mr. Montgomery." And he'd be up in the balcony and he'd say, "Thank you, Nick, and good evening ladies and gentlemen. Tonight's show.…" I was a celeb. And then the word got out that I was a great stage manager. I truly was, and from the beginning I had this ability...I understood movie stars. I don't know, I just understood them. And they felt safe with me guiding them through live TV, because once you started you couldn't stop. There was no stopping, and if a mistake happened…you know.
The word got out, and the next thing I knew, Humphrey Bogart asked for me on the one television appearance that he ever made. We did The Petrified Forest with Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Henry Fonda, and NBC put me up at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Beyond! Beyond! And Bogart was sort of a snob and he loved the idea that I was like a preppie.
JH: Well he was one, too. He went to Andover.
DD: Of course. So few people know that about
him. He went to Andover. He loved the gray flannels and he really
got a kick out of it, and so, he said something to me once, and
I said to him, "You know, Bogie" he let me call him "Bogie." Anyway,
he said, "We're having a party on Friday night. Please come." You
know that in those days there was a real social order and that somebody
at my level didn't go to parties like that. It was—of course, I thought
every night was going to be like this—it was every movie star you
ever heard of. Judy Garland sang, and Frank Sinatra sang, and Lana
Turner—his next door neighbor—comes in. Spencer Tracy was there.
David Niven was there.
By that time I was married, and I called my wife and I said, "Spencer Tracy and Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra," and I said, "I want to live here. I want to live here."
was after our second child was born that we moved. I waited until
he was born, and I moved and got the house and then Lenny came out about two months later with the boys—one of them was
an infant, and Griffin was one-and-a-half.
Peter Lawford and I, whom I knew from stage managing and TV, had become friends, and he was married to Pat Kennedy [President John F. Kennedy's sister]. He married Pat Kennedy on the same day I married Lenny, and our weddings were both next to each other in The New York Times. Remember in those days, they used to have the whole story about the wedding.
JH: Lenny came from Arizona. What brought her East?
She went to Farmington school [Miss Porter's in Farmington, Connecticut],
and then she went to Briarcliff. And then she was a model and she
lived at the Barbizon Hotel in New York. It was just for women. It
was perfect for that era. No men allowed upstairs. It was a fashionable
place for girls from good families.
JH: And you ran into her on a train platform in Hartford?
DD: That's where I met her. My roommate all
through Williams was a guy
called Howard Erskine, who's still my closest friend in life. We got an apartment together after college. He's
the godfather of one of my kids. I'm the godfather of his daughter,
you know, we were ushers in each other's wedding.
Well, he had met this girl called Lenny Ellen Griffin, and he was producing his first Broadway play and it was with Elizabeth Montgomery, Cliff Robertson and Arlene Francis. It was called Late Love, and it opened in Hartford. He has this girlfriend who lives in this hotel for women, and he wanted her to come up to Hartford for the opening, but her family was so strict that they wouldn't let her stay in a hotel in Hartford, and he said, "Can she stay with your mother?"
My mother had to write a letter to her parents—it was like that back then. Imagine how we are today. Anyway, Howard was in the rehearsal, so I just went as his friend of pick up his girlfriend, and she stepped off that train and I fell in love with her. It was the most amazing thing. It happened just like that.
JH: Did she feel the same way?
DD: We were engaged in three weeks.
JH: So she stepped off the train, then what?
DD: We went out...she kind of knew Hartford because she went to Farmington, and we went to my house, and my mother was leaving the house—I don't know where she was going—and I introduced them outside the front door. Lenny went in the house, and my mother said to me, "That's the girl you're going to marry." It was just amazing.
JH: And you had already fallen for her at the train platform. This was really kismet.
DD: It was amazing, and my roommate, whose girlfriend she was, was never angry about it in any way. He said, "Well, you know my family wouldn't have let me marry her if she was a Catholic." In those days, that was a big deal.
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