One of Dominick Dunne’s own is selling his house
In the first line of the first chapter of his novel "Too Much Money," author Dominick Dunne introduces Lil Altemus, who, like many of his characters, is an "old guard New York society figure."
She's a good friend of journalist Gus Bailey - Dunne's alter ego - and eventually becomes a real estate agent.
"You're tough," Altemus' friend advises in the book. "You're snobby. You can be imperious, and you have good pearls that I once dropped in your pea soup. You'd be perfect."
After reading the book, Colette Harron of Essex sensed a connection. Knowing how Dunne liked to spin real people into characters - some subtly and some not - she called Dunne's assistant.
The assistant started laughing, telling her, "Well, it's you."
Well, partially. Not the high society woman who was born rich and married rich, but the woman who becomes a successful real estate agent later in life.
Harron, of Sotheby's International Realty, is now selling Dunne's house in Hadlyme, listed at $1.5 million. Born in Hartford, with summers spent in Old Saybrook, Dunne used the house as a retreat from New York City until he died in August.
More than a real estate agent, Harron was a real-life friend of Dunne's, also making a brief but opportune appearance in "Another City Not My Own," as the last person Gus Bailey talks to before he's found dead. (Dunne brings him back to life in his last book).
But though her name is now connected to local high-end homes - she also arranged the $6 million sale of Katharine Hepburn's estate in Old Saybrook - Harron also had a previous life among celebrities: in the world of fashion.
Known then as Colette Mimram, Harron emigrated to the United States from Morocco, working as a fashion stylist on photo shoots. She and her friend Stella Douglas heard about a store on the lower East Side, filled with beautiful leather clothes with fringes.
"They told us they couldn't afford to pay the rent," Harron recalls. So they opened their own store across the street at 321 East Ninth St., around the corner from the Fillmore East. It wasn't known by any name; only reputation.
The day before they opened, a white leather jacket, beaded and trimmed in long fringe, hung on the wall. It was the jacket Jimi Hendrix would wear at Woodstock.
"Then he became our best customer," recalls Harron, who can be found in photographs with Hendrix and is credited with helping develop Hendrix's image. "We were very close."
They found clothes in London, Paris and Morocco.
"Everything was one-of-a-kind," she says. "All the musicians would come ... and I wasn't into rock and roll or anything before then. Our lives really changed."
A friend of Harron's, David Patrick Columbia, who writes the New York Social Diary, recently posted a photo from that era of her and Stella with guitarist Johnny Winter. In the caption, Winter says, "Clothes have to do with my changing spirit. Stella and Colette know my changes and can dig my spirit."
But three years later, after Hendrix's death, the store was closed.
"Times were changing," Harron recalls. "The punk scene coming in, and disco ... We were about peace and love and understanding."
She kept her creative side alive, traveling with her husband, photographer Peter Harron, and photographing all the rock stars she knew. The two eventually settled in Connecticut, although they keep a place in New York.
For Harron, selling real estate "was something to do," but she says she loves the job, using her experience in dealing with people. Like clothes, she says, choosing a home can be deeply personal.
"You don't sell a house, you show a house," she says. "People are very smart. They know what they want. They know when they walk in through the door."
Though Dunne's house is marketed as "Dominick Dunne's Retreat," Harron learned from the Hepburn sale that the celebrity factor is rarely a large influence in who buys it.
Then working for the Mitchel Agency, Harron said she marketed Hepburn's local estate in New York, Los Angeles, Europe, and show business magazines. But the buyer turned out to be someone who already lived in the neighborhood.
Dunne's house is more modest than Hepburn's. Overlooking Whalebone Cove, in a setting Dunne uses in many of his books, the house is still full of books, the walls adorned with framed book covers, Vanity Fair covers and invitations to the White House.
"I don't think it matters who lived there," Harron says. "Maybe there's a little more interest at first, but (the buyer) is just someone who wants to be in the area and loves the house."
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