The next morning Alex told me of an incident that had occurred in P.J. Clarke's after I left them. While Sweeney was in the men's room, a man at the bar recognized Dominique as the older sister in Poltergeist and called out one of her lines from the film: "What's happening?" Dominique screams that line when evil spirits start to take over her home and cause frightening things to happen. A film clip of that scene has been shown so often on television that the line was familiar to people all over the country. There was no flirtation; it was the case of a slightly tipsy fan delighted to be in the presence of an actress he had seen in a film. But when Sweeney returned to the table and saw the man talking to Dominique, he became enraged. He picked up the man and shook him. Alex said that Sweeney's reaction was out of all proportion to the innocent scene going on. Alex said he was scary.
The following day I arrived a few minutes late at Lutèce, where I was meeting Dominique and Sweeney for lunch. They had not yet arrived, so I sat at a table in the bar to wait for them. I finished one Perrier and ordered another, and was beginning to think there had been a misunderstanding about either the time or the place when they entered the restaurant. It was a hot summer day, and Dominique looked marvelous in a starched white organdy dress, very California-looking. I was immediately aware that she had been crying, and that there was tension between them.
The chef made a great fuss over Sweeney. There was kissing on both cheeks, and they spoke together in French. At the chef's suggestion we ate the spécialité of the day, whatever it was, but the lunch was not a success. I found Sweeney ill at ease, nervous, difficult to talk to. It occurred to me that Dominique might have difficulty extricating herself from such a person, but I did not pursue the thought.
On the Fourth of July the three of us dined at the River Café under the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a lovely night, and we were at a window table where we could watch the fireworks. Sweeney told me he intended to leave Ma Maison. He said he had backing from a consortium of French and Japanese businessmen and was going to open his own restaurant in Melrose Park, a highly desirable location in Los Angeles. Never once did he speak affectionately of his employer, Patrick Terrail, a member of the French restaurant family that owns the Tour d'Argent in Paris. In fact, I suspected there were bad feelings between them.
On that endless flight to Los Angeles I did not allow myself to consider the possibility of her death. She was making a pilot at Warner Bros. for an NBC miniseries called V, and I remember thinking that they would have to shoot around her until she was on her feet again. Five weeks earlier she had broken up with John Sweeney, and he had moved out of the house they shared in West Hollywood. Her explanation to me at the time was, "He's not in love with me, Dad. He's obsessed with me. It's driving me crazy."
Two other daughters preceding Dominique died in infancy from a lung disease once common in cesarean births known as hyaline membrane disease. Dominique was all three daughters in one to us, triply loved. She adored her older brothers and was always totally at ease in a sophisticated world without being sophisticated herself. She was a collector of stray animals; in her menagerie were a cat with a lobotomy and a large dog with stunted legs. She went to Westlake School in Los Angeles, then to Taft School in Connecticut, then to Fountain Valley School in Colorado. After that she spent a year in Florence, where she learned to speak Italian. Twice she and I took trips in Italy together. Extravagantly emotional, she was heartbroken when Lenny gave up the family home on Walden Drive because her worsening condition made it unmanageable. I was not surprised when Dominique announced her intention to become an actress. Griffin, who is an actor and a producer, later said jokingly that one day she decided to become an actress and the next week she was on a back lot making a movie, and that from then on she never stopped. It was very nearly true. She loved being an actress and was passionate about her career.
Copyright 2001 by Dominick Dunne Used by permission of Crown Publishing.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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