Thursday, October 13, 2005

Domino Harvey was my cousin. I did not know Domino — mythologized as a dangerous and seductive thrill-seeking bounty hunter in the new film “Domino” (reviewed below) — when she was growing up in England. I first communicated with her in 1997, when she was 28 years old. At the time, she lived in Los Angeles, and I lived (and still do) in the Washington area.

Her father, the famous screen and stage star Laurence (Larry) Harvey, was my father’s younger brother (our original family name was Skikne). Uncle Larry died in London in November 1973 of stomach cancer at age 45 when Domino, his only child, was 4.

Although my father and Larry had been estranged for many years, I grew up hearing about him and seeing (and collecting) virtually all of his films.

I met Larry in August 1970, in Chichester, England, where he was performing in the play “Arms and the Man.” When we met backstage, I was introduced to Paulene Stone, his longtime mistress. (He was married at the time to his second wife, Joan Cohn, an American, who was the widow of Hollywood legend Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures.)

Later, I found out that my uncle and Paulene had a daughter, named Domino. Paulene and Larry were married in 1972. At Larry’s funeral in London in early December 1973, I remember Paulene, a former top British fashion model, looking glamorous and aloof, exactly as portrayed by Jacqueline Bisset in the “Domino” movie.

In 1997 Domino contacted my parents, who were living in Rockville, in an attempt to reach out to her father’s family. She had earlier visited my cousin (whose father was the eldest of the three brothers) on his kibbutz in Israel.

My parents recall that in their telephone conversation with Domino, she seemed thoughtful and sensitive. Domino said that she wanted to know us all and to visit us in Washington. She said that she was interested in art and wanted to become an artist.

Later, she sent a card with her photo surrounded by painted flowers and text, which at the time I thought was a little incoherent. The photo, however, showed a beautiful blond woman who looked very much like her handsome father.

The postcard included Domino’s e-mail address, so I started what turned out to be a brief correspondence with her. In her first e-mail, she told me that she had been a volunteer firefighter in San Diego and a bounty hunter’s assistant in Los Angeles. In another e-mail she mentioned that her mother had told her of our fathers’ estrangement, and I replied that they were both competitive, stubborn men and that it was a great pity that they had never resolved their differences.

In what turned out to be the last e-mail between us, I mentioned that my mother, Anne Sinai, who had known Larry very well, was writing a biography of her father (the book, “Reach for the Top,” was published by Scarecrow Press in 2003). Domino did not reply to this e-mail, and that was my family’s last communication with her. Since then, I’ve learned that Domino’s drug addiction may have intensified at around this time and that she was admitted not long after into a treatment center in Hawaii.

What Domino may never have known throughout her lifetime is that her father was very proud of her and had planned to take her to Israel to meet her grandparents, but that his illness toward the end of his life prevented it. When I heard at the end of June of this year that Domino had died at age 35, the news of her death saddened me deeply. (According to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, the cause of her death on June 27 was an accidental overdose of a powerful painkiller called Fentanyl. She was under house arrest at the time in her West Hollywood cottage and facing federal drug distribution charges in Mississippi.)

I had hoped that the “Domino” movie would clear up some of the mysteries about the real Domino. It did so, in a way. The film, which I found very exciting, captured the chaos that seemed to be Domino’s life. Her flight from extravagant privilege, her descent into a violent underworld and a very risky profession — bounty hunting — is all true, although she had ceased being a bounty hunter by the mid-1990s.

In the movie, Keira Knightly portrays Domino as a female action hero — tough, sexy, self-possessed and risk-taking. But in reality Domino — although she appeared to exhibit aspects of all those things — seemed more like a lost child. Her constant searching for new paths in her life was exacerbated by her drug addiction, which she had unsuccessfully tried off and on over the years to overcome, and which had dissipated her physically. This is starkly shown in the movie, when a still photo of an emaciated, “real” Domino is flashed on screen after the closing credits.

At one point in the movie, a reality television producer, shrewdly portrayed by Christopher Walken, says of Domino, “this girl is going to be a star.” Tragically, while her father did become an international movie star, and a mythical bounty hunting Domino is being immortalized in film, the real Domino didn’t live quite long enough to see it.

And if she had, she would have realized that what ended up on the screen wasn’t quite herself.

Joshua Sinai is a Washington-based writer on international security issues.

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