East Hampton’s Steven Gaines, an author of great renown and recently a political candidate for the East Hampton Town Board, has a birthday on Sunday, November 20. He will turn 65. Gaines is a best-selling author of 12 books, including, Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons, The Sky’s the Limit: Passion and Property in Manhattan, The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles and Marjoe, a biography of evangelist Marjoe Gortner.
He has absolutely no plans of moving away, he said recently, while sitting in the huge party room of his four-bedroom home in Wainscott. He bought the house from the estate of the fun-loving nightclub owner Bill Higgins over 20 years ago. “The thought of not living in the Hamptons scares me,” he said. [expand]
Gaines appears poised to make magic with words again. The recent election campaign seems to have re-energized his creative capacity. He admits it was the film about Gortner (not written by him) that set off the firestorm of sales of his biography about the evangelist. Then, with the release of The Love You Make, it was confirmed that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Beaming with pride, he said that Philistines at the Hedgerow was his defining effort because, although it was a book focused on the East End, it had great international sales and spent four weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers’ list. He said that while writing the book he felt he captured the “magic” of the area that he calls home and will always call home.
So, why the sudden interest in politics? “I wanted to address some needs of the community. I had some ideas of making the East End not just a two-month economy, but a 12-month economy. Our local industrial parks have capacity for growth to create full-time jobs that would enable strong growth of the local population. We need to find more low-density businesses for the industrial parks, along with some other ideas.”
Gaines came in fourth in the race, garnering 1,702 votes (Suffolk County Board of Election figures as of November 13), with only the top two vote getters getting awarded East Hampton Town Board seats. So after falling short in the November election, I asked him what his political plans were going forward. “At this moment,” he said, “I have no new political aspirations. I am an author, writer—a journalist. I do plan to continue being in the political dialogue of East Hampton. East Hampton is my world, not just my community, my friends are here, in fact, the community is my friend.”
With the re-election of East Hampton Supervisor still in doubt, coming down to absentee ballots still to be counted, Gaines has nothing but admiration for incumbent Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. About the outcome of the race, he said, “I sure hope it’s Wilkinson. I have enormous respect for him because he is incredibly smart. He is solid as a rock, a very good leader, fun to work with. He has a great devilish sense of humor. I have a great feeling about him.” He paused, then continued, “He is gifted, intelligent. He already has done so much for this town.” Gaines was thrilled to talk about the election, even though he lost. “Elections should be about issues, not rooting for a soccer team. Those people who root only for their party are what polarize this town, this country too,” he said, adding, “It’s about intelligence. It should be about the issues and not being disrespectful.”
I asked him about his possible future involvement in public service. “I am concentrating on my writing, however, I will be available to help in any way.” Like how? He proceeded to talk about the fact that soon there would be two seats opening up on both the East Hampton Town Planning Board and Town Zoning Board. He explained, “They are seven-year appointments, that’s a big commitment, I am about to turn 65 and I am not sure I want to do anything for seven years, but I know I can help this town in these areas.” Then the talk turned back to his writing. He has a memoir he has been working on, and something else big, which he didn’t want to disclose just yet.
When asked how he took a book about East Hampton and made it into an international sensation, he told this story. “I knew it was a good effort. I knew it was a good read. It wasn’t really just a regional book, so I came up with this idea. I flew in book reviewers from all over the country for my own personal tour of the Hamptons so they could see the Hamptons for themselves. I drew up a tour of about 40 locations and personally drove them to all the locations myself. I loved doing it, because I love this community so much. I believe that’s why the book was such a huge success, not because of the tours, but because it was the good writing, the good stories; the book was like a really good tune.”
Gaines was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School, followed by studies at New York University. Gaines then aimed his career path toward a career in journalism, starting as the “Top of the Pop” columnist for The New York Daily News. This led him to penning several books about the music business. A favorite to many music fans was his Alice Cooper autobiography, Me, Alice. He then focused his attention on the world of fashion and wrote biographies of Halston and Calvin Klein. Next came the controversial book, The Club, published in 1980, about the infamous Studio 54. The book was co-authored with then 21 year-old Studio 54 bartender, Robert Jon Cohen. Putting a bright light on the club scene at that time turned Gaines’s world upside down, with him eventually forced to move to Laguna Beach, California, where he lived for a while.
I ask him about his home in Wainscott. “I use to rent up the road,” he explained, “and Bill Higgins built this house, sort of 80’s modern with this big room for parties, it was like the after-hours party place….After he passed away it became available. I bought it from his estate. Then afterwards it seemed everyone had a story about it,” he said. Smiling, he continued, uttering an unprintable remark about the high-spirited activity that had taken place here. Then he continued, “It has a Jacuzzi in the greenhouse—it’s a real timepiece. This leather chair,” he said, indicating the chair he sat in, “and a lot of the furniture came with the house.” There is lots of tasteful and iconic art on the walls, many originals, and no doubt there are a few more large parties in this home’s future.
For now, however, Steven Gaines, with his big black dog always nearby, is taking a break after the election effort. But it’s only a short pause because there are surely great things ahead for this gifted man of words. The community itself is his muse. And he’s here to stay.