The soon-to-be-released movie War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg, was shown in East Hampton over the Thanksgiving Weekend. It was a sneak preview, with only very high-profile guests invited, and it took place in the private movie theatre in the Goose Creek Mansion on Wainscott Stone Highway. Attending on either Friday or Saturday night—the film was shown twice—were Jon Bon Jovi, Christie Brinkley and her daughters Alexa Ray and Sailor, John McEnroe, Lorraine Bracco, Jeff Zucker, Martha Stewart, Jay McInerney, Blythe Danner, Julian Schnabel and his daughter Lola, Candice Bergen and Allen Grubman. On Saturday night, Grubman invited many of the guests to his house for dinner.
This is Spielberg’s most recent movie. His first major film, Jaws, also had a first showing in East Hampton, and these are the only two of his movies that have premiered here. But that first one was 36 years ago. And the truth is the contrast between the two events tells you more about the Hamptons than it does about the films. Huge changes have taken place here in the interval.
In the present circumstance, you were either IN to watch War Horse or you were OUT. And if you were IN but not invited to the Grubman dinner, you were OUT but not so OUT as if you had not been invited to the showing. Afterwards, a press release announcing the attendees was sent out to the media.
In the case of Jaws, which was from a book by that name featuring the Hamptons prominently, the media barrage went out well ahead of the planned premiere. The PR people were looking for maximum publicity, the biggest buck. And that effort included sending PR people out to the Hamptons to get the locals ready for something they had never seen happen here before.
When the time came, a red carpet was rolled out from the entrance of the East Hampton Cinema to the street. Floodlights lit the scene. Photographers lined the carpet. Black stretch limousines pulled up and some of the actors and of course Mr. Spielberg were on hand to wave to this crowd of people looking on in amazement, wondering what was happening to the town.
At the same time, the residents of this town—the Main Street was lined with mom and pop stores such as the East Hampton Five and Ten, Marley’s Stationery Store and Diamond’s Furniture—were also wondering if the showing of Jaws would ruin the summer.
This town, and all the other towns in the Hamptons at that time, were dependent for their livelihood not on celebrities and their entourages, but on farming, fishing and, in the summer, the tourists.
According to all the build up to this premiere, the film could terrify people to the point that they might never go in the ocean again. The plot involved a man-eating shark who indeed, during the course of the film, ate numerous individuals in a very grisly manner.
I chose NOT to see the movie. I watched as the rich and famous pulled up to the theatre in their limos and went inside, then went down to Main Beach for awhile to defiantly go for a swim (my last swim?) and then return in time to see some of those who went in come back out.
Numerous people were near to hysterical. “I’m never going in the ocean again!” a 10-year-old told me, confirming our worst fears.
“It wasn’t that bad,” said a young couple who came out holding hands. Obviously they had held one another when the worst parts were taking place, so that was a comfort.
I asked about 10 people what they thought. Half were terrified. A few were crying. The other half were okay. We would lose half our summer.
As it turned out, however, having the Jaws premiere in East Hampton was a huge net positive. Most of those who got scared out of their minds soon got over it. Meanwhile, the mention of East Hampton put the town on the map, and the names of the celebrities attending—Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, among many others—seemed to spark interest in coming out to the Hamptons to see what it was all about and to try to rub shoulders with the celebrities. Both Roy Scheider and Steven Spielberg bought houses here.
As for me, at that premiere, among other things, I was shocked to see this hysterical group of people with cameras rushing around like panting dogs taking pictures of famous people. Certainly Dan’s Papers didn’t have anybody down there doing that.
And so here it is today and the downtown is filled with the most expensive shops imaginable from Ralph Lauren to Tiffany’s and onward and the local mom and pop merchants cannot afford downtown. As for the rest, every Hollywood, Broadway, Media Mogul and Rock Star either lives here or visits someone who is here.
And so the networking continues, behind the hedgerows of course. Fishing and farming and tourism remain, but these industries have faded off into the background a bit. And that’s the way it is.