Don Dondero: Marilyn in Reno

The camera equipment of photographer Don Dondero will be auctioned at the Holabird Western Americana Office, Reno, on April 17, reports Reno Gazette-Journal. The Reno-based photographer chronicled much of Marilyn’s 1960 stay in the city, including her arrival; a press conference with the cast of The Misfits, and a birthday party for John Huston at the Mapes Hotel; a weekend break at the Cal-Neva Lodge; and her return to the city after a week’s rest in hospital.

Marilyn with Arthur Miller and Clark Gable at a press conference for ‘The Misfits’.
With director John Huston on his birthday, August 5.

You can view Dondero’s photos of Marilyn at Getty Images.

“In the second half of the 20th Century, if a photograph from Reno appeared in a national or international publication, it likely came from the camera of the late Don Dondero.

When he died in 2003 at age 83, the lifelong Nevadan was eulogized by then Gov. Kenny Guinn, who said, ‘Thanks to Don Dondero, future generations of Nevadans will have a glimpse of our state’s history.’

Born in Ely and raised in Carson City, Don Dondero took his first ‘celebrity’ photo at age 12 when he snapped a shot of President Herbert Hoover outside the state capital.

He graduated from Carson High School in 1937 and enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, becoming a pilot and flying bombers. In 1944, his plane was shot down over the Philippines as he bombed a Japanese merchant ship in Manila Bay. Dondero parachuted safely into the bay and was hidden in the jungle by Filipino guerrillas for 40 days until he could be rescued. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for sinking the enemy vessel.

After the war, Dondero returned to Carson City and married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Franks. He worked for the state of Nevada for several years before moving his growing family to Reno to open his own photography business.

Affable, talented, intelligent and dependable – he never missed a deadline – Dondero became Reno’s go-to photographer from the 1950s into the 1990s. His work appeared in publications around the globe. As longtime newspaperman Warren Lerude said, ‘Dondero owned the Reno dateline.’

Reno was the divorce capital of the world at the time and photos of celebrities in town to get ‘the cure’ were in high demand. In addition, the Mapes, Riverside and other downtown hotels were bringing in top-name entertainment. He photographed celebrities including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra and political leaders including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

‘He promoted Reno more through his photos than any one individual,’ said Harry Spencer, a former Mapes publicist and longtime friend of Dondero.”

Marilyn chats with Frank Sinatra after a concert at the Cal-Neva Lodge, August 13. (Arthur Miller at left)
Marilyn is welcomed back to Reno by producer Frank Taylor after a hospital stay. Photo by Don Dondero, August 20.

Leave a Reply