Who was De Veau Dunn?
Unless you are a close friend of mine from my time in L.A., or you were in the film community in the San Diego area, I doubt you know. A LOT of people were in De Veau’s world, but the likelihood they are reading this…not so much. He wasn’t included in the Oscars’ “In Memoriam” segment this year, though he died sometime last June. There wasn’t a lot of press regarding his passing. But frankly, I wouldn’t know, because I missed it.
He was a friend of mine, a talented and charismatic guy, and an inspirational leader and rock of support for anyone that came into his orbit. And though I considered him an important friend that had made a sincere difference in my life, I was unaware that he had passed for 8 months.
I just found out yesterday.
Because that happens, I guess. Having lived in Indiana, Florida, Los Angeles, New York, and now Dallas, and spending considerable time in the cities that host the film festivals that I am a part of, there are friends that I don’t have contact with for several months at a time. Some of them I will randomly reach out to via email, or I will call – but obviously not enough.
I had left him a couple messages around the holidays to check in, but he hadn’t returned them, so I did some more research yesterday, sent a Facebook email to two shared friends and they – shocked that I had not heard and did not know – told me that he was dead. Lymphoma. Had it for awhile, didn’t tell many people. He had a Facebook page but they took it down so it wouldn’t be hacked.
So, this is how I find out that my friend De Veau is no longer around. And before I go on, here are just two stories to illustrate how much that completely sucks:
De Veau story #1
I met De Veau at the Sutton, Barth & Vennari Commercial Talent Agency. I answered phones there and assisted agents in the on-camera department, while on sabbatical from my own acting career because I had grown disillusioned with things that happened during the pursuit of it, and De Veau was a new client that had started off like gangbusters, booking the first couple of things they sent him out on. We struck up a quick friendship because if you talked with De Veau for even ten minutes, you were pretty much his friend going forward. Years afterward, I would envy the fact that every single store or restaurant we went in, he knew at least two people there and they were thrilled to see him. I mean, how could he remember all of the damn names, right? Let alone what was going on with all of them. But he did.
Anyway, I was about to come out of self-imposed acting retirement by starting a sketch comedy troupe I was going to write for and perform with, called Squalor U., and I invited De Veau to be a part of it. He said he hadn’t really had any experience doing comedy like that and I said it was no problem, I’d show him everything he needed to know. Of course, I knew he was entertaining as hell – he’d be a natural.
And he was. The sketch troupe did several shows, was a decent success, he was great in them, and our friendship continued to grow. Sometime later, I was home and there is a knock at the door at a time of night when you usually are expecting to get a knock at your door unless something weird has happened. It was De Veau. And something weird – by Hollywood standards – HAD happened.
De Veau had been cast on The Ben Stiller Show on Fox. He was brought on for a small guest spot on an episode, but they were so taken with him that they not only asked him to come back for a second episode they literally asked him about his background – where he studied, or learned comedy. And De Veau told them, “Everything I know about comedy, I learned from John Wildman.” And then they (which I discovered later was Bob Odenkirk and another writer) said, “Who is he?” And, “Bring him here. We want to meet him.” Not that I had been in Hollywood that long, but no one had EVER done that sort of thing for me. (And frankly, since then, no one has really done something like that for me). The next day I was on the Fox lot, meeting Ben Stiller, hanging out with Andy Dick, and showing Bob Odenkirk some of my sketches. Odenkirk talked to me about what I had, got into his personal philosophy of sketch comedy, asked me to write some new stuff, said he was interested in seeing what else I could come up with, and my life was now about to change significantly because of De Veau. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled just a couple weeks later so the timing on that extraordinary break didn’t quite work out. The point though, and the great takaway was the instinct of generosity behind what De Veau did. He extended himself, gave credit to someone else, included someone and sought to bring them into a moment of success. In Hollywood, he did that. That was just who he was. And I never forgot it. I never will forget that.
Throughout the years that followed there were other key moments and experiences that locked this guy in as a lifelong friend. Letting me stay at his place literally for weeks to nurse a nearly broken ankle back to health, me introducing De Veau and his crew (not surprisingly, he always had a “crew” of aspiring filmmakers assisting him and working with him on his projects) to Sundance (with him getting fledgling journalists on Main Street excited about taking my picture because they were getting in on the ground floor of someone about to break, he said), serving as his assistant director for a short film he was directing, to name a few.
De Veau story #2
My wife, Justina Walford, and I are making our first feature film, which would eventually become THE LADIES OF THE HOUSE, and in order to finish making the film, we were in the final stages of a Kickstarter campaign for the last part of the budget we needed to complete the thing. Of course, the conclusion of the campaign was happening during filming because if you can just add even one more degree of difficulty to everything, so much the better, right?
Well, I call De Veau, as I did many friends, desperate for help. And while many friends DID help, De Veau naturally went beyond, enlisted his friend and business partner Nick George to come in as co-Producers with a solid investment as well as reaching out to their considerable network of friends and acquaintances to contribute as well. This was eleventh hour, Hail Mary stuff, at a time when my own father and other members of my family passed on the request. But friends came through. All of which, I’ll remember, but none more than De Veau. Prior to filming one evening, I called De Veau after we got the word that we made it over the hump, we made our goal, we were going to get the money. It was one of many emotional moments everyone has when they make a film as they clear the countless hurdles it takes to get it done. As I talked to him, and thanked him, and marveled at the fact that we actually accomplished it, that so many people came through and contributed to the campaign and the film, De Veau nearly brought me to tears by offhandedly remarking that it was my “George Bailey moment” from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. He was right. I had friends that gave a damn, that believed in Justina and I, and what we were trying to do, and were willing to put money in the basket to save that old Savings and Loan. And in that scenario, De Veau was both Sam Wainright AND my brother, Harry Bailey, wrapped into one.
And now he is gone. You likely have never heard of him. If you look him up on IMDb, you’ll see the biography that I wrote for him five years ago. It’s a bio pushing how much promise he had, with The Ben Stiller Show appearances, a Tom Arnold series, and a ton of commercials in a short period of time. It talks about the two short films he directed which both won a lot of awards in film fests in the San Diego area (he wasn’t that savvy about the film fest circuit to take them farther). And that’s where it pretty much ends.
A couple of other projects followed that he obsessed over, one of which involved crap that Bank of America was getting away with, ripping off customers by insisting, in order to get a loan, they needed to submit their death certificate. I guess he could qualify for that loan now.
At the same time, industrious guy that he was, he had built a professional-level editing bay in his apartment, and was systematically acquiring lighting and sound equipment so he would not only never have to rent anything for his own films, he could supplement the business by renting to others AND helping friends get their films made. And speaking of friends, another one of mine, often spoke of the De Veau Dunn “cult.” This guy was a major-league cynic and could not square with himself why all of those people were constantly with De Veau, working on his projects, for free, or very little money. Didn’t make sense. They were eager and thrilled to be there. They would be pitching in to fix meals for the entire group while you were there for one reason or another. But not asking for a part in the film, or a credit, certainly not pay. That stuff would happen, no one needed to be convinced or promised. Everyone was in it together. And it freaked my other friend out. That’s just not how it was supposed to work in Hollywood or L.A. He didn’t trust it.
But that was the thing. All of those people trusted De Veau. At some point or multiple times, he came through for them without asking for anything in return, and when someone does that you want to pay that back several times over. More than that, you want more of that in your life. That was the essence of De Veau Dunn.
There was promise, there was coolness, there was something that we all aspire to be in one way or another.
And now there is not.
I’m feeling the loss I didn’t know I had for the past eight months. And now, once again, I’m filled with the responsibility living up to the belief that he had in me. I was proud that he thought I had something that was worth believing in – and it would kill me not to live up to that.
That’s who De Veau Dunn was.