I informed him that the agency already had a full complement of photographers that we were currently using. He said he understood that there were many established photo guys in Reno but that he was just starting out as a professional photographer. He offered to shoot cameos of the agency at no charge so that we could judge his work.
He then proceeded to snap the photos in jig time (a trademark of his ability). When he returned the next day with the developed pictures, I commented to him that they were exceedingly sharp and well lit. He thanked me and gave me his card and said if I had any assignments that I thought he could handle to please give him a call.
Shortly thereafter, I had an assignment and gave Don a ring. He performed flawlessly. Again, I was impressed with the speed with which he snapped his photos.
It wasn’t long after that I returned to the Mapes Hotel to handle its advertising and publicity. The Mapes had an on-sight photographer named Irving Gross, who had his darkroom in the building. His assistant was the famous Gitta, who would hit the various night spots in Reno to snap photos of people dining or at shows, rush back to Gross, who would quickly develop the pictures, and send Gitta back to peddle them. Since this was practically an all-night procedure, Irving was seldom available during the day for publicity or news shots. Consequently, when I opened my agency at the Mapes, I found that Don was available during the daylight working hours as well as for the many events in the Skyroom at night.
It was in 1960, during the Winter Olympics at Squaw, that I first used Don on a practically daily basis. Shortly after the Olympics, we had another major publicity event when the motion picture company came to Reno to film “The Misfits.” Once again Don was on daily call and it was during this time that he shot all of his iconic pictures of Marilyn Monroe, especially the famous one of Marilyn and Frank Sinatra together. The photo has since appeared in thousands of publications as it purportedly was the only photo of the two stars ever taken together.
Up until the day he passed away some 10 years ago, Don was on call for any and all photography that I required. No matter the hour of day or night, whether he was in his cups or not, Don never missed getting a crisp clear shot.
Currently there is a move afoot to enshrine Don Dondero in the Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame. I heartily add my endorsement of this nomination.
Harry Spencer is a long-time northern Nevada resident.