Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons

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A quirky cast of eccentrics vies for a slice of the Hamptons—on land still inhabited by families that have farmed and fished the regions for generations.

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Overview

A quirky cast of eccentrics vies for a slice of the Hamptons—on land still inhabited by families that have farmed and fished the regions for generations.

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Editorial Reviews

Newsday
Outstanding!
Jay McInerney
Such a cast of eccentrics hasn't been seen since Midnight in the Garden of Good and EvilThe New Yorker
People
Entertaining.
Library Journal
Gaines has produced a fascinating description of the eccentricities of the wealthy homeowners and renters of the exclusive summer homes in the Hamptons. Filled with delicious details and bizarre situations, this is the ultimate gossip book. Highlights include accounts of a man arrested for putting pumpkins outside his store, a real estate magnate whose whole life turned out to be a lie, and a scandalous nude bathing pool. Gaines meticulously explicates the players and the contexts of the feuds and political battles that thrived in the rarefied air of the wealthy, making this a book that can be enjoyed without knowledge of the environment or the social pedigrees of those involved. -- Alison Hopkins, Queens Borough Public Library
Swanson
Steven Gaines' Philistines at the Hedgerows is a gossip-motivated social history of the ritzy cultural-elite beach towns on the eastern tip of Long Island -- although Gaines would hate the use of the word "gossip" to describe what his book's about. The former music journalist can still recite, off the top of his head, the first line of the March 28, 1994, Publisher's Weekly review of his notorious book, Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein "Little more than a rehash of material that has appeared in supermarket tabloids over the years." After the manic and often shamelessly well-researched way he told the story of Klein's manic self-invention, in person, Gaines has little patience for people calling him a gossip. Which explains a lot about the ambitions of Philistines (which is a much nicer book), and about why it's an interesting read even if you live a long way from this satellite status-hell for Manhattan's pecking order obsessives.

Gaines is a sympathetic interviewer who pays exhaustive attention to detail, and he's undoubtedly in love with the wooded landscape of the Hamptons, from its dunes to its ancient, fertile fields. (These fields are now being carved into mini-estates dominated by the hulking manors of the newly rich.) The book is told in a series of independent sections that often trace some line of entropy; we learn how the area -- with its grand houses and unspoiled land -- became increasingly seedy before it was adopted and burnished by Klein and other ambitious, self-made Manhattan multimillionaires. Although Steven Spielberg, Klein, Truman Capote, Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis all make cameos before Page 7, along with a litany of big-time New York swells that only close readers of Vanity Fair will have heard of, the real story of this book concerns a series of land-crazed people you've certainly never heard of.

The Hamptons have a long history, which Gaines traces back to the 16th century, when they were taken from the Indians. He includes accounts of libel trials and witch hunts along with stories about Jackson Pollock's drunken rampages. He also recalls the time the local arriviste-hating gentry arrested the recently arrived-from-Manhattan owner of a gourmet grocery for violating the aesthetic fascism of the town code by putting pumpkins in front of his store. The meat of the book is the struggle for peace between those who guard the area as a self-regulating WASP-y outback and the maddeningly resourceful waves of self-created men and women arriving from Manhattan -- the philistines of the title.

Gaines considers the victory of the new arrivals as inevitable, and does a particularly touching job of depicting the high-strung locals trying to hold them back. But he's clearly on the side of the landscape, and bemoans the fact that, as more and more people show up, there's less and less of the misty farmland that caused them to fall for the place to begin with. As an aficionado and an arriviste with bestseller money and movie rights income, he has it both ways. This contradiction is never resolved, and probably it can't be.

Gaines knows how to tell a story, and he knows how to dish. Even if Philistines sometimes reaches to be the "Our Crowd" of our current, real-estate-obsessed age -- and doesn't quite get there -- it's a satisfying comedy of manners about snobbishness and land-lust among America's overachievers. -- Salon June 4 , 1998

Kirkus Reviews
Gaines has written a page-turner, and the Hamptons have a historian and folklorist who fits them like a glove. Gaines turns from his usual ho-hum celebrity bios (Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein) to the rich and dishy cultural history of the Hamptons from the time when Georgica Pond, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world, was the fishing ground of a lone Indian named Jeorgkee. He traces unending Hamptons litigation and squabbling from Goody Garlick in 1658 up to Martha Stewart (Goody Garlick was tried for witchcraft, and Martha has an ongoing feud with her neighbor, real-estate mogul Harry Macklowe). In a series of non-fiction novellas, Gaines tells stories of huge egos in small villages: millionaire broker Allan Schneider, who brought big-city real-estate savvy to the Hamptons; Evan Frankel, called the Squire of East Hampton, who thumbed his nose at old money by building a synagogue at the entrance to the village. While others might fight over lovers or money, in the Hamptons it's property all the way: who owns it, where it's located, and who gets to control the overpriced and frequently hideous housing built on it. Most interesting, Gaines recounts the history of 'The Creeks,' the largest estate in East Hampton, from its creation by artists Arthur and Adele Herter to its recent reconstruction by paranoid billionaire Ron Perelman. In between, 'The Creeks' belonged to eccentric artist Alfonso Ossorio and his deceptively quiet lover Ted Dragon, who befriended Jackson Pollock and who made 'The Creeks' into a piece of neo-expressionist art. Gaines does a deft job rescuing their story from oblivion and writes about all the oddities ofHamptons life with contagious zest. With the dropping of names from Wyandanch to Spielberg, Book Hampton should have trouble keeping it in stock.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316309073
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 5/6/1999
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Philistines at the Hedgerow


By Steven Gaines

Little, Brown

Copyright © 1998 Steven Gaines
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-30941-9


Chapter One

The Pasha

ONE FRIDAY NIGHT in December 1991, while dining at the home of Bruce Cotter, a retired East Hampton police lieutenant, real estate magnate Allan M. Schneider began to choke on a piece of rare sirloin steak lodged in his windpipe.

Schneider, fifty-four, was the most powerful broker in all the Hamptons-"the Pasha," as he was affectionately called by his staff-with offices in Southampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, and East Hampton and revenues approaching $100 million. His empire had grown even larger that morning when he closed a deal to acquire a fifth office, in Amagansett. The new office, plus the imposing Allan M. Schneider Agency headquarters he was erecting along the highway in Bridgehampton, would seal his domination in the Hamptons real estate market.

Shortly after signing the papers at the lawyer's office, Schneider started to drink-first with celebratory champagne, then a three-martini lunch at Gordon's restaurant-and he hadn't really quit since. Earlier in the day he had called his secretary, Rochelle Rosenberg, who gave him his messages and said, "I'll see you on Monday, Allan."

Allan answered playfully, "Maybe you will, maybe you won't."

The Cotters, one of the many local families with whom Schneider was close, had invited him over for a steak dinner to mark the occasion and, they hoped, sober him up. It was Schneider's hallmark that he was friendly not only with the wealthy Summer Colony but with the hoi polloi, the farmers and tradesmen who were the "real people" of the town. He had met Cotter soon after arriving in the Hamptons in 1968, when the lieutenant had pulled him over on Montauk Highway for a traffic infraction. Allan stunned the policeman by inviting him home for a drink. Cotter indignantly declined, but over the years Allan became a good friend to Cotter and his wife, Carol Lynn. When Cotter retired from the force, Schneider invited him to sell real estate for the firm, where he became a valued employee.

That December night at Cotter's house, Allan was cutting pieces of steak and shoving them into his mouth, several at a time, chewing and talking, very drunk and red in the face, when a chunk of meat got caught in his throat and he couldn't swallow or speak. Cotter, who was trained in the Heimlich maneuver, calmly walked around behind Schneider's chair and pulled the short, corpulent real estate broker to his feet. Then he clasped his hands around Schneider's girth and with a mighty tug pulled upward. The steak dislodged with dramatic force, shooting ten feet across the room. Schneider gasped for air and sank into his chair, his blue blazer and starched white shirt askew. He loosened the striped rep Princeton tie at his neck and looked ashamed.

"I'm so embarrassed," he said, uncharacteristically meek. He managed a wan smile to his dinner companions, showing small, ivory-colored teeth. "I'm so sorry," he repeated, looking blankly at the take in front of him. For a moment there wasn't a sound in the room. Then Allan pitched over to the side and hit the floor with such a thud, the walls shook.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Philistines at the Hedgerow by Steven Gaines Copyright © 1998 by Steven Gaines. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, July 20th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Steven Gaines to discuss PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW.


Moderator: Welcome to barnesandnoble.com, Steven Gaines. How are the Hampton's treating you today -- are you suffering from the East Coast heat wave?

Steven S Gaines: The Hamptons were very cool but overcast today. They claim there's always better weather in the Hamptons no matter what the rest of the country is like.


John from JWC901@aol.com: Good evening Mr. Gaines. WHat initially prompted you to write this book?

Steven S Gaines: I read MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL and it inspired me to write a book like it about my own hometown.


Murray from Coney Island, NY: Do you think the "scene" in the Hamptons has changed drastically over the years?

Steven S Gaines: Yes, it is unrecognizable from what it used to be. It used to be very stodgy and low-key -- now it's gotten very wild, with Mike Tyson and Sean Puffy Daddy Combs out here and Donald Trump in stretch limousines with a bevy of bombshell beauties. That's not the way it used to be.


Lisa A. from aol.com: Who would you say has the biggest ego in the Hamptons currently?

Steven S Gaines: Ira Rennert -- he's building the biggest house out here. People in the Hamptons suffer from palace envy. Mr. Rennert's new house is 100,000 square feet and has a 100 car garage.


Dave from East Village, NY: Did you have any idea that there was such a national interest about this subject? Where you at all surprised when you saw your book on the New York Times bestseller list?

Steven S Gaines: I'm not the least bit surprised. I always knew there was a national fascination with the Hamptons. But of course, I was thrilled and gratified to make the New York Times bestseller list.


Renata from Concord, MA: Just curious where the title for this book came from. What were you hoping to communicate with such a unusual title?

Steven S Gaines: It came to me while I was listening a South Hampton grand dawager talk about all the newcomers. She said "the Philisteies are upon us, just down the road outside the hedgerow." And then I knew I had the title.


Tim from New York City: Are you going to be ostracized in the Hamptons now that you've exposed some of their dirty laundry?

Steven S Gaines: But I didn't expose dirty laundry. This book is greatly loved in the Hamptons. It's the single biggest selling book ever in both South Hampton and East Hampton.


Lobs from Chatham, MA: Would you say that nouveau riche and riche in the Hamptons are tolerant of each other as long as the riche part of the deal is upheld? Or is old money really important and Stephen Spielberg considered an outsider?

Steven S Gaines: There's very little old money left. It's extremely competitive because the economy is driven by the bull market of Wall Street so people spend money like crazy out here. I like to call it "affluenza" and no, Steven Spielberg is considered a newcomer, but is greatly respected. He's bought a lot of property and left it as farmland.


Jilly from The Desert: Within Hampton society, how many social classes do you find? What are the tiers and how do they view one another?

Steven S Gaines: Off the top of my head there are three classes. There are the Hampton natives, whose families have lived here for hundreds of years. There's the old time Summer Colony. And there's the newcomers over the past 20 years who have enormous new wealth. All three classes stick to themselves.


Darius from Shelter Island: What ever happened to the North Fork of Long Island? Why is it that The Hamptons became so huge and the North Fork is relatively untouched?

Steven S Gaines: The North Fork is lovely. It's stunning and relatively uninhabited. If the North Fork is lucky, it will stay that way, because the South Fork faces the Atlantic Ocean, and the North Fork, Long Island Sound, the South Beaches became the summer resort, and they were ruined. But more and more people are discovering the North Fork of Long Island.


Gary from St. Paul, MN: Is drunk driving as prevalent in The Hamptons as in the Savannah we read about in MIDNIGHT?

Steven S Gaines: No, not at all. A fair share of social drinking goes on here, but the people in the Hamptons are acutely aware of the problems of alcoholism. We have one of the most active Alcoholics Anonymous schedules of any resort community in America. I think they drink more in the South.


Alexandra from Long Island City, NY: Does your book cover the current "hot spots" in the Hamptons?

Steven S Gaines: No, it doesn't. This book is much more like MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. It's a social and cultural history. It ends July 4th, night, of 1997, but it's mostly about the incredible characters who helped turn it in to the seaside sideshow it is today.


Meredith from Washington, DC: Has the advent of brand name celebrities spoiled the tranquility of areas in East Hampton like Georgica Pond?

Steven S Gaines: Yes, the invasion of celebrities and in particular, the media that covers them, has changed the Hamptons for the worse. There were always a lot of celebrities out there, but the media coverage wasn't this intense. Next week, when the President arrives, it is going to be a nightmare.


Barry from Towson, MD: How much anti-semitism remains out in The Hamptons? I remember a time when a Jew couldn't even buy a plot of land.

Steven S Gaines: It's true. There were covenencs in the deeds to land and houses that forbid the sale to Jews or people of color. However, very little anti-Semitism is left since the Hamptons have become such an eclectic conglomeration of people from all backgrounds.


Scott Scenci from Wayne NJ: How did you get the Hamptonites or members of the Social Register to open up to you? Were they so desperate to complain about the Trupins that you were a welcome sight?

Steven S Gaines: Well, I'm a Hampton's insider. I've been out here for 20 years, and I'm a cofounder of the Hamptons International Film Festival. Everybody knew how much I cared for the community and people were willing to talk knowing I'd allow them a fair platform.


Sondra Franks from Clayton, MO: Mr. Gaines -- Will Dune Road fall into the Atlantic?

Steven S Gaines: If it does, I'll have ocean front property. The beach erosion has been just awful. We've lost some magnificent houses to the storms.


Brooke from Tennessee: Do you plan to write more books related to this one?

Steven S Gaines: I haven't decided yet. I might just well write a book about another community but it would have to be as fascinating as the Hamptons.


Mick from Denver, CO: Why do you think the Hamptons originally became the exlusive hot spot that it is? Why the HAmptons? Why not some other areas of Long Island?

Steven S Gaines: Because nothing else on Long Island looked like the Hamptons. It was completely flat and just far enough from New York City so that it was rural but just close enough to Wall Street so people could build enormous vacation homes. Before all the development, it used to be quite stunning.


Marilyn from Montauk: Does Bobby Vans play a role in your book? Do you ever discuss it's rise from a simple piano bar to one of the trendiest places in Bridgehampton.

Steven S Gaines: Bobby Van's is an entire book unto itself, and Marina Van, Bobby's ex, is writing it. I can't wait to read it.


Dave from Chicago: Hello Steven Gaines. Have you heard anything about your books from the Hamptonites -- you know, through the grapevine kind of stuff....Is Steven Spielberg planning a movie or has Kim Basinger called you wanting to play Jerry della Femina's wife?

Steven S Gaines: The book is a sensation in the Hamptons. It's very exciting for me. It's discussed everywhere. It's sold more copies at the local bookstore than the last John Grisham novel! People give it away as party favors out here. On the beach, everybody is reading PHILISTINES. It's quite incredible and very gratifying.


lowis from east coast: Some of the people described in PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW act as if they are above the law and resort to some disgusting displays. What was the most surprising thing that you learned while reseaching and writing PHILISTINES?

Steven S Gaines: That the invaders always won, from the Engish Puritans taking the land away from the Indians, to the Polish and Irish farmers taking the land away from the English ancestors, to the newcomers who are building shrines to their ego on the land the Indians once farmed. The newcomers have always won.


pac87@aol.com from NJ: How did you research this book? Did you interview a lot of people for this book?

Steven S Gaines: Yes, I interviewed a lot of people and I spent many months in the Long Island collection of the East Hampton library. Everybody in the community was very helpful in giving me information for the book.


jackson from telluride, co: What's the latest with Martha Stewart's dispute over her property line?

Steven S Gaines: Martha Stewart is suing the poor workman who claimed she bruised his side with her car when she caught him building a fence on the disputed property line. Everybody out here is tired of Martha's feud with her neighbor.


Traveling Circus from Manhattan: Do you think they will ever provide an alternate route or widen 495 to make it easier to get out to the Hamptons? Or will helicopters become the way to go.

Steven S Gaines: Helicopter landing pads are banned in the Hamptons. The rich people would have already had them. The Bee-Gees used a helicopter in and out of South Hampton years ago. And Donald Trump tried to start helicopter service to East Hampton airport, but that scheme failed. Unfortunatley, the Long Island expressway is probably as wide as it's ever going to be, and once you reach the Hamptons themslves, the only road in or out is a 2 lane blacktop.


Dot from Merien, PA: Where else would you write about? For your next book? Do you have any idea when your next book is coming out? I'm also wondering if you've heard anything recently from Calvin Klein -- I heard he had a fit about your other book OBSESSION....

Steven S Gaines: Yes, Calvin did everything in his power to stop my last book from being published. No, I haven't heard a word from him for several years, and I'd like to keep it that way.


Sharon Diefenback from HOTLANTA (phew): Who is your favorite Hampton's eccentric?

Steven S Gaines: Ted Dragon, who makes up a fair portion of the middle of my book, is my favorite person out here, hands down. I saw Donald Trump out here on Saturday night, but the only eccentric thing about him was his hair style.


Jonathan Arles from Ocean City, MD: Do you have any insight into the Artist and Writer's Softball game this year? Who will be in attendance?

Steven S Gaines: It's a clique. You have to play with those guys all through the year unless you're a big literary star or famous painter. Maybe this year for the first time, they'll let me be Towel Boy.


Elke from New York City: Hello Steven Gaines. I loved PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW -- I took it on vacation with me and devoured it in two days. Bravo! Just wondering who you like to read. What are your favorite books?

Steven S Gaines: That's a hard question because while I was writing PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW I had to stop reading for pleasure. I had so much research to do. The most recent book I picked up is by a friend of mine named Joseph Olshan called VANITAS, who also wrote CLARA'S HEART. It's a bittersweet novel. I'm also looking forward to Ellis Amburn's new biography of Jack Kerouac.


William from bhane@aol.com: Will the Hamptons ever lose it's appeal? Do you think The Vineyard or Newport have a chance to tear away some of The Hampton's cache?

Steven S Gaines: The Vineyard and Newport are very different from the Hamptons and will never steal its thunder. As long as there is a Wall Street and as long as there is an Atlantic Ocean, there will always be a Hamptons. However, what it will look like, feel like, sound like, is anybody's guess.


Moderator: Well, thank you for giving us the grand tour of "Hollywood East". Best of luck with PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW and congratulations on its success. Do you have any parting words for the online audience?

Steven S Gaines: I'm thrilled that the book is such a big success, and that all of you were interested in it enough to join me at the barnesandnoble.com author chat tonight.


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