In case you snoozed through the last five decades on The East End, Dan Rattiner, eponymous founding publisher of Dan’s Papers, is still in the Hamptons, where 52 years ago he started a small Montauk paper with features, ads and sometimes pseudo-news that grew into an impressive string of free newspapers all over the North and South Fork (distributed also in Manhattan). He’s still at it, Still in the Hamptons, which just happens to be the title of his new book subtitled “More Tales of the Rich, the Famous, and the Rest of Us.” There are 37 tales to be exact, and he’s still writing away, perhaps storing up for a fourth volume, though it’s reasonable to assume that the 37 here hardly deplete the current mother lode.
The tales, all about Dan’s encounters with people “plain and fancy” he’s met over the years, keep coming –“I’d think how could I NOT include this?” Although many essay collections invite dipping in anywhere, Still in the Hamptons’ chronological arrangement, beginning in 1959, should be honored in order to appreciate the changing landscape and culture of the region, an ambiguous thing, and the author’s easy-going style, a good and constant thing. Wit, humor and nonjudgmental reporting diffuse what early on in his career some saw as Dancentric journalism. Of course Dan Rattiner’s front and center in these first-person accounts, but he’s also a keen observer of events and characters, which he crafts into dialogue-rich narratives with a beginning, middle and end, and that usually take unanticipated side roads. In a recent documentary made about him (essay No. 36), director Dennis Lynch calls Dan “King of the Hamptons,” but for sure, the monarch’s nicely mellowed out.
Still in the Hamptons, the third in a trilogy of recollections published by SUNY Press (In the Hamptons: My Fifty Years with Farmers, Fishermen, Artists, Billionaires and Celebrities and In the Hamptons Too: Further Encounters with (see above), are available online as well as in bookstores) clearly shows the “transformation” from what The Hamptons were to what they have become. The earlier pieces feature long-time locals – fishermen, farmers, some wealthy bankers who owned summertime mansions on the beach and “a few artists and writers living in seclusion in houses tucked away in the woods.” It’s hard to believe that in 1960 the stretch after Smithtown on the LIE was so barren. And that most tourists then were not so much interested in The Hamptons, as Montauk. By the ‘80s however, the hedge-fund honchos and movie and music celebs had arrived.
So who’s and what’s included in the new volume? It’s no Page Six. Tycoon Arthur (Napeague Fish Factory) Benson; Montauk fishing boat captain Carl Darenberg; Dan’s attractive, innovative maps that serve as endpapers here; a Lazy Lucy (a photographic gizmo); Dick Sandford (Bridgehampton water authority); farmer and town auctioneer Charlie Vanderveer; David Willmott (publisher of the penny saver, Suffolk Life); Nell Robinson (red-headed elderly WASP); Grey Gardens (with a photo of Jackie and Lee Radziwil as teenagers); (living in an Oceanfront mansion during winter); Marty Shepard, who spearheaded with Dan the movement to have The East End be its own country; Potatohampton (started in 1978!); The Cannon (for a regatta); “best-singing troubadour in the Hamptons” Chris Johnson; J.J. Johnson, owner extraordinaire of Springs Fireplace Road junkyard; Manny Quinn (the beloved police car dummy) The Little People (a charming adventure tale involving his kids); Block Island Scam, Lillywhite’s (toy store on Job’s Lane), Mort Zuckerman (and the Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game); Frank Perdue (“I have never met Frank Perdue, but I did speak to him over the phone once;” Alastair Gordon (architecture critic for The East Hampton Star); writer about New Zealand Jews Odeda Rosenthal; Colin Powell; WLNG’s Paul Sidney; Kim Cattrall and Mark Levinson; Peter Jennings; the Dan’s Papers How I Survived the Winter Party; Leon Uris, chicken farmer Tate King; Whipped Until Bloodied (sign harkening to Revolutionary War); church deacon Paul Jeffers; Brenda Siemer (wife of Roy Scheider and advocate to preserve the Sag Harbor Cinema sign); Peter Beard; Dennis Lynch and Alec Baldwin, “perhaps the most complicated and interesting person I’ve known.”
“Everything changes,” Dan writes early on. “Nothing remains the same. Except maybe Dan’s Papers.” Quite an accomplishment.