Anthony Haden-Guest on the slow, sad and seemingly terminal decline of the once enchanted Hamptons
THE HAMPTONS STOOD outside the flow of time. I could feel that right away. It was the mid-Seventies, I had moved to Manhattan from London and my summer weekends were given over to exploring them, one by one.
Southampton was Type-A fellows with pink flushes and lawn-green pants and women with hair the hue and texture of unravelled twine. I remember fancying that I was being a bit of a hit at a beach club dinner when one such flaxen goddess brayed — it was directed at her goddaughter, my date, but I felt ears fluttering room-wide — ‘Sure talks a lot, don’t he? I hope he’s good in the sack.’
A kind of there-ness mattered. As when a New York magazine fashion editor noted approvingly of a model who was up for a Hamptons issue that his Topsiders were scuffed, meaning that he was just right for a milieu where relaxations included tennis, bicycle polo, after perhaps a cocktail or three, not too much sea swimming because of that sullen undertow, and little boating — apart from a few zealots like the late Dennis Oppenheim, who kept a sleek arterial-red craft off Bridgehampton — but much tracking of sand into houses, partying, and occasional groggy slumbering on sofas, indeed all the cheerful scruffiness of beachside life.
Writers and artists tended to lurk in East Hampton, Springs, Sag Harbor. And George Plimpton’s shindigs were convincing proof that the Literary Life — and how fusty the phrase seems now, as if translated from the French — not only existed, but could also be fun.
As for Montauk, well, that was a remote enclave that seemed almost as far away as Edinburgh is from London. Montauk is where that paste gem of a movie, 1979’s Cocaine Cowboys, was shot on Andy Warhol’s compound, and where Peter Beard’s compound overlooks the best boulder beach I know.
Framing these variegated Hamptons was land where farmers actually grew crops, an ocean upon which fishermen — weathered folk who politely ignored the Summer People — actually went fishing. It was very real — even the delusions, kind of Yankee Fellini — and I was knocked out by it.
THEN TIME DID start to move in the Hamptons. The Eurotrash who were surging into Manhattan were fleeing the kidnapper, the kneecapper or simply the taxman and the detumescence of Swinging London, but they sure knew a good thing when they saw it and what they saw in the Hamptons was an unravaged Côte d’Azur, Costa del Sol, Costa Smeralda at a smidgen of the price.
They pounced, with some taking a few minor precautions of the kind to which they had grown accustomed back home — the installation of bulletproof glass, say — so whenever a particularly choice property disappeared into unknown hands, whichever fallen foreign autocrat or felonious fat-cat was in the news would make the list of suspects.
The Euros, though, being mostly laid-back, fitted into the Hamptons pretty sleekly — one started a winery, another a horse farm. But then American New Money picked up on the island’s charms and time in the Hamptons began to go into overdrive.
In 1979 the financier Barry Trupin bought the place built for Henry DuPont on Meadow Lane for $700,000, renamed it Dragon’s Head and, much to the ineffectual rage of his neighbours — he had blown off the zoning regs — had it transformed into a faux château, complete with a sizeable movie theatre and a giant shark-filled aquarium.
Trupin was duly clobbered — for tax evasion, then a kerfuffle involving a stolen Marc Chagall — so he sold up and the place was picked by Francesco Galesi, whom I knew and liked. Were there still sharks in Galesi’s aquarium, or is this a false memory? One day in 2002 I was on the city-bound jitney and Galesi popped aboard. I was surprised — Galesi not exactly being a jitney kind of guy — but he said breezily that something had come up with his business.
Well, Galesi was an outside director of WorldCom, which I would shortly learn from the financial pages was plunging into a fraud case and which would soon file for the largest bankruptcy in US history. Galesi would emerge, if not unscathed, untainted.
Illustration by Femke de Jong
BUT DRAGON’S HEAD, which was torn down in 2009, wasn’t a freak. It had been a harbinger, an omen. The first time I took a jitney to the Hamptons it was, as I recall, an eight-seater tan minivan, and one time I took a seaplane and waded ashore, but mostly it was a drive. And an easy drive.
But I remember standing on that same Meadow Lane some time in the early Noughties, waiting as the traffic roared by. And roared by and roared by, and I was thinking this shouldn’t be happening here.
But life goes on. Reality TV came to the Hamptons, as did the medical drama Royal Pains, and there were art fairs in the Hamptons this year three weekends running, with stands stuffed to the gills, and with local galleries dealing blue-chippy art.
I escaped to a party for It’s a Dog’s World, a book about Lucky Diamond, the ‘animal most photographed with celebrities’, among whom were Kim Kardashian, John Travolta, Bill Clinton, Snoop Dogg and Sarah Palin.
On hand were dog sculptures made from dried flowers and promotional material for petURNity, mosaic urns for your dead pet, and I joined a group that included Rachelle Oatman, who paints humanised dogs, and pretty well.
The subject of nail polish for dogs came up. I asked a thin blonde in white who was carrying a small white dog with a blue bow in a large snakeskin handbag whether she would paint her animal’s nails.
Were there episodic TV shows, art fairs and fancy dog parties in the Hamptons twenty years ago? I doubt it. Will there be in twenty years? Possibly. And will there be interminable traffic jams?
I doubt it.
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