I’ve been reminiscing about summers, back when the living was easy, the fish were jumping, and our pleasures were simple. The days are getting shorter and Labor Day is upon us.
Kurt Vonnegut and I dipped our toes in the water, so to speak, by initially being serial renters of three summer getaways on Long Island’s East End. In 1979 we bit the bullet and purchased our shingled house in Sagaponack.
Our pleasures were simple ones — tennis, biking, swimming, picnics on the beach, the annual Writers and Artists baseball game, and
George Plimpton’s annual fireworks. The fanciest event by far was an annual luncheon celebrating Bastille Day hosted by Liz Fondaras. By fancy I mean she had a bartender, real China, and she shared her collection of hats with guests who had neglected to wear their own.
I’m hearing that life out there has changed. The COVID refugees, fleeing their city dwellings, have decamped to the East End of Long Island in droves. Now it’s gridlock traffic everywhere, fancy catered dinner parties with place cards, jammed parking lots, home visits by masseurs, hair stylists, cosmeticians, private tutors, curated family pods, and often times a medical concierge to administer swab tests while guests wait in the white pebbled driveway for results. Lobster salad has occasionally been rationed.
I feel fortunate to have stuck it out this summer in New York City — shuttered stores notwithstanding. When I’m looking for company I dig into my archives. My friends are here.
George Plimpton’s 4th of July fireworks party at his Amagansett beach house on Three Mile Harbor was always the favorite summer event. A low key family affair, we all brought our own picnic suppers, blankets and beach chairs. Plastic glasses were de rigueur for drinks often poured from a thermos. George and his wife Freddy provided beer and hot dogs. As soon as it started to get dark, George and his friends the Grucci brothers (known as the First Family of Fireworks) set off one spectacular display after another from a floating dock. Most of us were summer residents so this party was our biggest get together — a time to catch up. Looking back I can’t recall that any of us lived there year-around as we all had busy working lives — mostly in NYC save for Joe and Polly Kraft in Washington D.C. and Irwin Shaw, who devoted his winters to skiing in Klosters, Switzerland.
Saul Steinberg and his girlfriend Sigrid Spaeth (Gigi).
Left: Jean Kennedy Smith, Alexandra Schlesinger, and Phyllis Green, with Steven Smith not far behind. Right: Adolph Green and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
Left: Freddie Plimpton and daughter Medora. Right: Elliott Erwitt.
In the foreground, Gigi is on the sand with Polly and Joe Kraft and Barbara Epstein (with head scarf). Saul is seated at table on far left with Miriam Ungerer.
Film critics Andrew Sarris and his wife Molly Haskell summered in Quogue where they slammed tennis balls instead of movies.
Molly and Andrew frolicking in the sea.
Joe Heller and his wife and daughter owned a house in Amagansett.
Heller was obsessed about his weight. He jogged, swam, and often rode his bike, on a daily basis. That way he could nurture his passion for food.
Lunch at Murray Schisgal’s Amagansett house with Joe, Robert Alan, Arthur, and Kurt.
Geraldine Brooks and Budd Schulberg’s house in Quogue had its own dock.
Budd and Gerry later collaborated on the book Swan Watch — a true story of the mating cycles of a pair of swans, Loh and Grin, and their cygnets.
Peter Matthiessen, a one-time commercial fisherman in Long Island, at the beach in Sagaponack.
Casting for striped bass.
Edgar Doctorow swimming with Becky in Gardiner’s Bay.
Dwight MacDonald and his Lhasa Apso Sam prefer the shade. “I’m not really in the literary swim.”
Kurt and Pumpkin running on the beach in East Hampton. In case you’re counting, only one of these six feet is touching the ground.
Edward Albee and Pookie heading home for dinner in Montauk where their house sat high on the grassy dunes. The playwright bought the house overlooking the Atlantic for $40,000 which “I could not afford but I could not afford not to have it. I am, however, a Pisces — a water sign — and I am unhappy when I am land-bound. Mountains and deserts are all very well, and I have enjoyed them both, but unless they abut an ocean I become impatient. Simply, I must be either near or by (or on!) large bodies of water most of the time to be a happy man.”
Kurt and I often hosted lunches on our back lawn when we rented in East Hampton. The house was once owned by the Gerald Murphys. Seated l. to r. are Irwin Shaw, KV, George Plimpton, Swifty Lazar, and Gene Young.
Left: Gordon Parks and his wife Gene Young were staying with us. Right: Jean Stafford lived year-around in the Springs.
The annual softball game hailed back to 1948 when it was started at a picnic by William de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Now it’s at Herrick Park but sadly has evolved into a celebrity gazing charity event. Shown here, The Writers Team, with Lynn Sherr as the lone female player, and Adam Shaw going half Monty.
Left: Eric Ernst and his father, Jimmy, both artists, played for their team. Right: Umpire Bobby Van.
Willie Morris at bat, apparently unaware that the pitched ball is inside the catcher’s mitt.
Peter Maas heading for home.
Elaine Benson and Betty Friedan cheering from the sidelines.
In 1977 George Plimpton moved to Wainscott, and the fireworks moved too. The Wickers and the Updikes were our houseguests.
Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, East Hamptonites since 1955. Later, they became strong supporters of the Bay Street Theater, with the organization naming its second theater space after them.
Kurt and our daughter Lily in Sagaponack where we had purchased a 1740 farmhouse.
Lily’s playdates: Our neighbor Truman Capote, who would often come by for a swim, and Ed Doctorow who drove over from Sag Harbor when he went to the nearby General Store.
There was only one club any of us cared about: Don & Mary’s General Store on Sagg Road. That’s where we went for the morning papers, Mary’s chicken pot pie, and our mail.
Landscape artist Sheridan Lord (wearing his paint-spattered shorts) arrived on his bike every morning to pick up the Times.
Bill Boggs’ English bull dog waiting patiently in the car for his owner to complete his business.
Mary Jane Fell, our babysitter, and Lily picking up the mail at The Post Office. I’m told that post-COVID outbreak there are hour-long lines waiting outside the PO, that packages are piled up in an outside trailer, AND that there’s a wait list of more than 300 “new residents” needing a mailbox.
Irwin Shaw summered on Georgica Pond. His love of the water came from growing up in Brooklyn and riding his bike to Sheepshead Bay as a young boy.
James Jones, Truman Capote, Willie Morris, and Jack Knowles in front of their favorite watering hole, Bobby Vans in Bridgehampton.
Liz Fondaras hosting her annual Bastille Day luncheon. She stood at the entrance to her driveway welcoming her guests with “Bienvenue.”
Saul Steinberg and William Gaddis.
Swifty Lazar and Adolph Green.
Betty Comden, Brendan Gill, and Jean Kennedy Smith.
Left: Irwin Shaw and KV. Right: Craig Claiborne.
Playrights Lanford Wilson and Joe Pintauro in Sag Harbour.
August 18, 1983: What’s a summer without a bride and groom? Left: Patricia O’Donahue and Bruce Jay Friedman invited all their best friends to the celebration of their marriage in Wainscott. Right: Susan Foristal with Lorne Michaels, who is still producing “Saturday Night Live.”
The Three Stogies: Mario Puzo, Wilfred Sheed, and Jack Richardson.
Jane Wilson in Water Mill. William de Kooning (snapshot on the wall), Jackson Pollock, Jane Freilicher, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns, and Fairfield Porter were among her close friends who would convene and picnic on Flying Point Beach in Montauk. Her landscapes were inspired by the meeting of the sky, the sea, and the potato fields that she found in what she described as “Her heart’s home.” Wilson’s work is currently on exhibit at the D.C. Moore Gallery (535 West 22 St., NYC).
Walter Channing with his 11-month-old daughter Sylvia at the family’s Bridgehampton vineyard — Channing Daughters Winery. Walter’s upside-down tree sculpture is in the background.
The Paris Review celebrated its 40th year at a luncheon hosted by Liz Fondaras. Front row: George Plimpton. Second row: John Ashbery, Ed Doctorow, Bill Styron. Back row: Willie Morris, Peter Matthiessen, Rose Styron, John Train, and James Salter.
Left: The 40th Anniversary’s revelry spread out over two days and included a party at Tony Duke’s in the Springs. A highlight of the evening was a duet, “Oh George,” performed by George and Cy Coleman. Right: Jane Freilicher and Larry Rivers were among the invitees.
Edward Albee and Terrence McNally discuss playwrighting at Guild Hall. It was on this occasion that Terrence would meet Tom Kirdahy. They fell in love and married. I urge you to watch the Emmy-nominated documentary about Terrence — “Every Act of Life” — now airing on American Masters.
August 4th, 1995: John Eastman with Andrew Wylie. Andrew and his wife Cammy were the hosts of an early evening picnic at Sagg Beach. Center: Annie Leibovitz and the guest of honor, Salmon Rushdie. Right: Richard Price.
Kurt and me at the end of the evening. In Kurt’s words: ”When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’”