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Snapshots Of Glamour Past

Most people look at the lives of the rich and famous and dream about becoming one of them.

At the age of 9, Dominick Dunne made his first trip to Hollywood and knew that one day he would make it his home, reports CBS This Morning's Thalia Assuras.


His latest book, The Way We Lived Then (Recollections of a Well-Known Name-Dropper), tells of Dunne's life, including the high points of his Hollywood life with movie stars and a great family, and the low points when he was cast from the "in" crowd and turned to drugs.

His solution was to sell all of his possessions (except for his scrapbooks and photo albums) and move to Oregon, where he did some writing and soul searching and started all over again. The author says he thinks that's the most interesting part of his latest book.

"Resurrection," he says. "The fact that I could take a terrible dive in life and come back with a better career and more put together than beforeÂ….I just restarted my life in a cabin at age 53."

"That's when I started to write," he explains. "I had never written before. I was a producer in Hollywood; I was a vice president of a studio in Hollywood. I got arrested in Hollywood for carrying marijuanaÂ….You know, I did the most stupid things you could do."


Dominick Dunne Photo
Jane Fonda relaxes at Roddy McDowall's house

Hollywood and famous people always held a fascination for Dunne. "Some kids know from the time they are 6 they will be ball players," he explains.

"I knew the world I wanted to be in, that I wanted to be involved in Hollywood in some way," he says. "I've always been attracted to those kind of people and that life."

He first visited Hollywood with his aunt. "I loved to go to the movies when I was a kid," he recalls. "I loved to read movie magazines....We were on the tour buses, looking at the movie stars' houses. At 9, I knew more than the tour guide in the bus."

His first job in show business - in the early 1950s - was as stage manager for Howdy Doody, a live TV program based in New York. Through that job that he calls a "great experience," he says, "I went into the dramatic shows."

"They started sending me to Hollywood when Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra and Ginger Rogers and those people appeared on TV the first time," he adds.

But, for some reason, Sinatra took a virulent dislike to Dunne and even made his wife cry one night when Dunne was not with her.

"I believed he thought my position didn't justif the circle we moved in," says Dunne. "He was a bully.Â…His dislike was for me, not for my wife, but he took things out on her. He once paid a waiter $50 to punch me for his amusement, so he could watch from his table."

"I can safely say that I hated him," Dunne continues. "A lot of people put up with [him] because he was such a star."

"Later in my life, when I went back to L.A. for dinners, after my second life as a writer had begun, after I covered the Menendez and O.J. trials, I would run into him," he recalls. "He was an old guy, but he understood that I would never have taken [that] from him again, that I would have let him have it right back."

Dunne became interested in the American justice system through personal tragedy. His daughter, Dominique, was murdered by a former boyfriend, who served two and a half years for the crime.

"I think my most important writing has come out of those trials," he notes. "I know from personal experience and from O.J., that people who kill can get away with it."


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Dominick Dunne: restarted his life at 53

Dunne himself was once arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for carrying marijuana. He was handcuffed and taken into custody before two of his children and a brother, an experience Dunne recalls as "beneath humiliation." In his book, the author admits that he became addicted to cocaine and marijuana.

"It screwed up my life," he says flatly. "To hit bottom is a tough thing to do. But if you hit bottom and you come through it, it's the most valuable life experience, when the circumstances of your life bring you to your knees and you have to depend totally on yourself to restart."

One of his good friends was Peter Lawford, who wed Pat Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's sister.

"The fact is, [Lawford] had married into this powerful American family that was just emerging into the presidential ranks and so forth," Dunne explains. "He was sort of treated like, 'Do this, boy! Do that, boy!' As the years go byÂ…that's not a good role."

Dunne says it is possible that Lawford's role included that of procurer of women and drugs.

"I don't know. Each time, it lessened him in his own eyes," he muses. "Ultimately [Lawford and his wife] divorced. He had a terrible, terrible lifeÂ….I want to say this about Peter, though: He was a great guy. He was a wonderful guy."


Dominick Dunne Photo
Natalie Wood relies on a knife as a cosmetic mirror.

"This is my favorite photograph I ever took of Natalie Wood," says Dunne. "This was a habit she had after dinner. She'd do her makeup again, and she'd use the blade of a knife as a mirror. I always loved that."

Wood, as well as Elizabeth Taylor, hold a special place in Dunne's heart and in his scrapbook.

Wood was a good friend of Dunne's then-wife Lenny and spent a lot of time in the Dunne home. "She was funny and really true as a friend," the author says. "She was good to people and always a star. She lived like a star."

He expresses "a profound admiration" for Taylor, citing her work to increase AIDS awareness. He adds, "I produced a movie with her in Italy. It was an extraordinary experience. None of us spoke Italian, so we saw each other three meals a day for six months."

Dunne's advice to young people drawn to the glamour of Hollywood: "Don't lose sight of who you are. I got caught up in the fakeryÂ….There are a lot of fake people in the business. But now I'm in command of myselfÂ….I was a feather in the breeze in those days, and now I know exactly what I am, where I am."

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