The season’s not winding down, it’s going out with a bang, with back to back parties, several a day, days in a row. Summer on steroids. We stuck to one a night, sticking to the end, catching up with the hosts, prolonging the pleasure — three nights in a row.
Tovah Feldshuh gave props to the crowd for staying, at the Ellen Hermanson Foundation’s Back in Black summer benefit. “When I do a concert, I always like to go on before dessert,” she told them, “because rich people leave. So, I’m honored that there are still a—-s in the seats.” They stayed, then danced in the aisles. It might have been the charity’s best gala ever, thanks in part to the cool reggae band (Winston Irie and the Selective Security Band), a great Vietnamese menu (from the Hampton Racquet’s V Cafe), and the good vibes that always surround co-founder Julie Ratner.
Julie Ratner and Emily Levin started The Ellen Hermanson Foundation 26 years ago in memory of their baby sister, Ellen, felled in her 40s by breast cancer. It started as Ellen’s Run, conceived around Julie’s kitchen table. Today, it’s a full service breast cancer support system for Long Islanders, offering state of the art treatment and psychosocial support, regardless of ability to pay. The jewel in the crown: the Ellen Hermanson Breast Centers of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
Walk into a grocery store with Julie, someone will bound over and hug her for seeing them through the disease. The gala is filled with those stories: how she connected those in need to surgeons, rides to chemo and moral support.
Tovah Feldshuh and John Graham, who owned the Hampton Racquet, where it was held, were honored. Jean Shafiroff chaired. Jill Rappaport, Anne Ciardullo, Letitia James, Rebecca Seawright, Robert Chaloner and Oscar Mandes, Ingrid Arneberg and Will Marin, Patti Kenner, Barbara Rosen, Karen Sachs, Melissa Cohn and Bill Hart, Stanley Baumblatt and Chaz Austin, Iris and Jay Dankner, Jackie Lowey, Hugo Moreno, Dee Rivera, Eileen Rappaport, Iris Shokoff, Jodi Wasserman, Constance Chen, Hope Klein Langer, Amanda Star Frazer were among those who came out to support the cause.
“I have no idea why you are honoring me tonight, except that Julie Ratner and a few others here love me, as I love you,” Tovah Feldshuh told the crowd. “So, if honoring me raises some money for this wonderful organization, I say, screw it, let’s do it!
“One of Julie’s greatest virtues is that she doesn’t hold judgment,” Tovah told me later. “She’s incredibly kind and respectful, even of people who do not share her point of view. It makes perfect sense from who she is that the Ellen Hermanson foundation would be born. Love is strong. Hate is strong. Trust is fragile. Julie kept her word to her sister (to advocate for breast cancer care) and then some.”
Feldshuh also honors strong women onstage. Her Golda’s Balcony was the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history. These days, she plays Ruths: Ruth Westheimer in Becoming Dr. Ruth, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Sisters in Law. Feldshuh and Westheimer are old friends. Ginsberg spent time with Feldshuh for the role. Tovah wanted to know her perfume, her lipstick (The justice wore whatever her college roommate sent.)
“‘Madame,’” Tovah said she asked her, “’I’m going to be your voice out in the planet. How do you want to people to think of you?’ With her head craned forward, she looked very Benjamin Franklin serious. From those little brilliant fish lips, she said, ‘I want them to know … I’m funny!’”
Ginsburg was raised by a strong loving mother. Westheimer was orphaned by the holocaust. “One stands up straight as a rail and the other one is hunched over,” Tovah continued. “I feel Dr. Ruth became a sex therapist to give others intimacy in their relationships because she lacked it as a child.”
Tovah loved to greet Dr. Ruth, by lifting her for a hug. Until Ruth told her, “You can’t pick me up anymore. I’m an endangered species!”
Still. she is a friend with benefits. When Feldshuh started playing her, Goop sent the actress a vibrator. Like these women, a gift that keeps on giving.
Women doing it for themselves is also the credo of Nicole Noonan. As Chief Executive Officer of New Chapter Capital, Inc., she brought to America the concept of funding women’s divorces whose husbands leave them penniless. Nicole and husband Steve Knobel, a real estate executive, held a late afternoon party around their pool with more great live music.
The Knobels don’t seem to need litigating skills for their marriage. “I’m one of the last of the chivalrous men,” Steve told me as he ran to get me a drink. He regularly whisks Nicole away to Europe to celebrate their first date, their wedding anniversary, or just … because.
It’s the other kind of husband that Nicole likes to battle. We all know the stories. The wife sees her husband through medical school and four children. Then he leaves her holding the (limited edition Chanel) bag, with an empty bank account and frozen credit. He’s got lawyers, time, off shore bank accounts and a new young girlfriend wanting the good life. All the wife has is her good taste and hostess skills.
“You see it all the time,” Noonan told me, “one person controlling the financing, handling the bills and the other has no idea what their monthly expenses are. I once asked an educated woman what her mortgage was. ‘What’s a mortgage?’ She replied.
“No matter how happy the marriage, it’s good to know what’s in the bank — and where the bank accounts are! Fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce, as do 63% of second and 72% of third. It’s the only thing that the more we practice, the worst we are!”
And so, this professional (Boston Ballet/ New Jersey Ballet) dancer turned Inside Edition Associate Producer, turned matrimonial lawyer, on air legal talking head and now, business CEO, is all about empowerment.
“I believe she who holds the wheel determines the direction,” Noonan says. “You are the master of your own destiny. Hold the wheel. Believe in yourself. And others will believe in you.”
We turn from the Noo to the Old, World that is, channeled in a delightful Slim Aarons-themed party Susan and Hunter Cushing threw on their sprawling Quogue grounds. Susan is a painter whose depictions of old style luxe leisure have been compared to Aarons.
Hunter ran HUD’s affordable housing in the Reagan years, controlling a third of their budget. When he was younger, he summered down the street in the Stanford White Greek Revival home, Belle Mead, that his family bought from Eileen and Jerry Ford of Ford Models. His sister’s wedding there was featured in Martha Stewart’s book Weddings.
“Susan paints people living the good life,” Hunter mused as we caught up at the end of the evening. “There’s a deeper meaning to it, but it’s the same themes: what she knows, whether it’s Southampton, Quogue or Palm Beach. One of the purposes of this party was for her to get photographs to paint.” Long brightly colored hostess garb was the dress of choice. Guests played a version of heads up, with notable names of the era stuck on their backs.
Samantha Haywood was given Catherine Deneuve. Turns out her mother, Nancy Haywood, knew Claude Lelouch when they lived in the South of France. He tapped her to appear in A Nous Deux, starring Deneuve. “Basically she disappeared for two days,” Susan said, “while they filmed on her boat.”
Hunter had many connections to that golden era, as well. In his 20s, thanks to his friendship with Josh Logan’s daughter Sue, Hunter ended up playing charades in the River House with Lauren Bacall and Danny Kaye. In those days, he was also a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago, hanging with Stan and Nina Rumbough when it belonged to their mother, Dina Merrill, married to Cliff Robertson at the time.
Hunter and Stan went back to their childhood in summer camp. They discovered another nine-year-old had something money couldn’t buy and they could never have. “One Sunday this kid came to breakfast and showed us what he said were the marbles from The Caine Mutiny,” Hunter recalled. “‘They are not!’ I replied. I learned later that was Humphrey Bogart’s son.”
And so, a happy end to August. This season, everyone tried to party for two — summers that is. There was twice as much traffic, lines to get $90/lb lobster salad and fights for parking spots. Getting restaurant reservations: the Hamptons Hunger Games. (You didn’t think I could let the summer go without mentioning all that!) It all led to what I call August rage. People yelling from cars. Shop keepers barely containing tempers. Vaxers vs anti vaxers.
How to avoid it? “Stay home,” Insider Debbie Bancroft told me. “Really. Learn to cook!”
Or, as we do: after all that running around, run home. And stay there til the next party.
Photographs by Jared Siskin/©Patrick McMullan (Hermanson).