That's me with him above in the fake Palace Station hotel room built in the basement of the courthouse in Las Vegas. It was never used in the trial because the judge decided it wasn't an accurate representation -- she took the jury to the actual room a mile away -- but it amused Dunne and me to no end that the prosecution had built such a silly thing.
As faithful readers of this blog know, I had the great fortune of being assigned to sit next to Dunne during the O.J. Simpson armed robbery trial last fall. It was one of those serendipitous accidents of fate that have so wonderfully dotted my life. That first trial morning, as I got myself awake, I finished reading Dunne's column in Vanity Fair looking back on his 25 years as a columnist there. The last sentence: "What a swell party it's been. Next, it's off to Las Vegas for O.J. Simpson's trial for armed robbery and kidnapping." I put that down, got dressed, went to the courthouse and an hour later sat down next to...Dunne!
What he wrote wasn't what you might expect. He didn't care about the day's news or even any quotes in the trial, as those of us covering for the next day or the night's news had to. He wrote names, descriptions, analogies. The rest of us were focused on the proceedings; he was fascinated that co-defendant C.J. Stewart's lawyer Brent Bryson had once killed a man in a bar fight. That was a Dunne twist.
Dunne's broader fame came from a few important celebrity trials, most specifically O.J. The First and the Claus Von Bulow trial. So when Sunny Von Bulow, the incapacitated heiress, died the same weekend as Simpson was sentenced in December, Dunne seemed a little thrown by what the fates might be telling him.
"That they both happened this way the same weekend must mean something," he told me. We didn't specify what, but it was clear the unspoken thought was that it was a way of tying up some loose ends as Dunne's health deteriorated. I had lost my grandmother to bladder cancer in 2003; I suspected he couldn't have long regardless of how he spoke of future plans.
And that's one of the shames here. Although he was 83 and had lived a full, rich life, he didn't finish what he had hoped to. He had a novel in progress and planned to write his complete memoir. I'm hopeful there are journals from which it can be constructed. There were so many wonderful stories. That is one book most of New York wants to read.
I bet Carter would even print an excerpt in VF.