On A SATURDAY AFTERNOON earlier this summer, business was brisk at the Reel Horse Market in East Hampton, one of a string of quaint villages on the eastern end of Long Island, about 90 miles from New York City, that are known collectively as the Hamptons. While a few patrons at the market that day managed to keep their eyes on the splendid strawberries and melons in the produce section, the attention of most customers was drawn to the bakery counter, where movie stars Uma Thurman and Timothy Hutton, while waiting for a coconut cake, had started to make out. Seriously. "They were groping, grinding, bumping all over the place," recalls cashier Randi Edison. "It was cute at first, but then it got nauseating. They were so overly affectionate, I was over here asking for a bucket."
Edison and the shoppers at the Red Horse can be forgiven for being more appalled than starstruck at such brazen exhibitionism. After all, as much as for their sand-duned beaches and rolling potato fields, the Hamptons have been known for
subdued ways and a relaxed attitude toward wealth and fame. "Ten years ago there was no glitz," says real estate agent Frank Newbold. "Now I hear us called the Tabloid Hamptons." Not to mention Hollywood East and Malibu-on-the-Atlantic.
In truth, celebrities have been in the Hamptons for decades. And residents have always taken a quiet pride in some of their famous neighbors, like artists Willem de Kooning and the late Jackson Pollock or authors Kurt Vonnegut and E.L. Doctorow. Movie and TV stars, too, have managed to live there inconspicuously. Alan Alda has had a house in Bridgehampton for years, as has ABC anchorman Peter Jennings. Roy Scheider has long lived in the area, and Chevy Chase—a scion of the Crane plumbing fortune—points out with pride that, as a member of a family that has been a presence here for more than 48 years, "I'm part of old East Hampton." Even a Hollywood legend like Gary Cooper rests here quietly, buried beneath a simple rock headstone in Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery.
The current crop of celebrity arrivistes, though, isn't nearly as modest and retiring as Coop, dead or alive. Star-spotting has become as popular a sport in the Hamptons as golf, and easier than fishing with dynamite. Almost anyone can tell you that Winona Ryder recently made a purchase at the Barefoot Contessa, an East Hampton gourmet shop. Or that Kevin Costner bought candles at Lume in Amagansett last month, and Hugh Grant, recovering from his round of mea culpas after the Divine Brown affair, had dinner at Savanna's in Southampton with his brother Jamie. "Originally, people came here for a peaceful, quiet hideaway," says real estate agent Tina Fredericks, who has sold and rented Hamptons homes since 1961. "Now they come because this is where the action is—this is where you've got to be."
Most trace the change back to the arrival of one man: Steven Spielberg. In 1983, the Jurassic Park director paid an estimated $1.25 million for a property on Georgica Pond in East Hampton. He made a statement of sorts by razing the three-acre plot's existing house. "Normally people out here restore old houses," says Newbold. "It showed that Hollywood had arrived and things were going to be done differently." Very differently: Spielberg imported a 19th-century French barn to serve as the main house—it was the site of his 1991 wedding to Kate Capshaw—and the structure gives the estate its Franglish name, Quelle Barn (meaning "what a barn"). The director has since expanded his fiefdom by buying an adjacent lot and land across the pond to protect his pristine view of the sunset.
Since setting up house, Spielberg has drawn many of L.A. celestial bodies into the Hamptons orbit. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have been frequent guests and are now said to be looking for a Hamptons home, as are Spielberg's DreamWorks partners, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Georgica Pond is now the place to own a home—and the grander the better. In 1993, Revlon mogul Ron Perelman paid $12.6 million for the Creeks, a 57-acre pond-side estate. Guests this summer have included Shirley MacLaine, Michelle Pfeiffer and Don Johnson. Martha Stewart recently bought a house on the pond (her second in East Hampton)
for $3 million to avail herself, she has said, of a view of its "unique ecosystem," while Calvin and Kelly Klein shipped in 4,000 square feet of pine trees and a field of 7,000 dune grasses to make their shingled home look just so.
Though she's been looking at places for a few seasons, Barbra Streisand remains a Georgica wannabe. "You'd think with her wherewithal it would be easy, but it's not," laments a real estate agent who has helped Streisand. "Her dream would be an old house on a farm that goes down to the sea. But people who own those kinds of homes have money. They don't have to sell. Right now, what she wants doesn't exist."
While Streisand hasn't been earning real estate agents any commission checks, she is doing her share to keep the local economy afloat. "A Barbra sighting can make your business for the next month," says Jerry Delia Femina, ad executive ("Joe Isuzu" was his brainchild) and owner of the Red Horse Market as well as a chic East Hampton Italian restaurant he named after himself. "But if Barbra Streisand ate at all the places she's said to have eaten, she'd look like Roseanne." Indeed, Streisand has been called the Loch Ness Monster of the Hamptons: often seen, seldom photographed. Technically homeless in the
Hamptons, she generally bunks with designer pal Donna Karan in East Hampton—though she's said to have rented a house this year in Amagansett for her son Jason. Babs is known to shop at East Hampton's home james!, an upscale housewares store, and, along with luminaries like Costner, Spielberg, Thurman and Mick Jagger, she's a frequent diner at Nick & Toni's, a Mediterranean eatery in East Hampton co-owned by Toni Ross, daughter of the late Time Warner chief Steve Ross, a Hamptons pioneer for the glitzy set. Staffers at Delia Femina tell how Streisand came in July 4th weekend, dressed in tan suede, and requested an arugula and Roquefort salad to go. Delia Femina does not do takeout, but Babs got her food and a silver fork she promised to return.
Special favors are just part of the booty that goes with fame. Nick & Toni's chef Paul Del Favero once gave Thurman and a girlfriend a ride home to Amagansett when they lingered too late at the bistro to get a cab. ("I tell everyone they invited me in for a drink," Del Favero says, "but they didn't.") Marvin Davis, the oil and entertainment mogul, spent most of July in
Southampton with his socialite wife, Barbara, renting the former estate of Henry Ford II. While there to lend comfort to his daughter, Patty, and son-in-law Martin Raynes, who is being sued by the family of tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis, who died last September from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Raynes' pool house, Davis is himself recovering from spinal surgery. Whenever he and his wife dined out, his own green-leather-and-wood chair was brought to the restaurant before him, and on one occasion, ' at Bowden Square in Southampton, he tipped a bartender $25 to carry the chair to a waiting car. Amagansetters Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger are in tight with local pols. Last year, East Hampton Town Supervisor Tony Bullock helped keep news of their wedding on a local beach from leaking by issuing a permit for the gathering in another person's name.
Bullock insists that "if it had been anyone else, we would have done the same thing." As proof, he tells how he refused actress Kathleen Turner's request to have a stoplight installed near her Amagansett home. In fact, Hamptons residents seem to have a highly refined sense of which celebrities are and are not worth troubling themselves over. When Don Johnson—who is, let's say, between hits—tried to smoke a cigarette at Nick & Toni's one recent evening, he was asked to step outside. But after dinner, nary a peep was heard when Johnson's host, billionaire Perelman, opened a window by his table and fired up a fat cigar.
That's not to say the hoity-toity don't try to act like hoi polloi. A few weeks ago three tykes set up a lemonade stand on a Sagaponack beach. Only later was it learned they were the kids of new local homeowner Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. And where else could a bait store reel in celebrities? At the Tackle Shop in East Hampton, owner Harvey Bennett can tell you how "Margaritaville" crooner Jimmy Buffett used to work in the place—"He'd squat in the corner and tie fly leaders"—or how Liz Taylor stopped in with hubby Larry Fortensky. She gave Bennett an autograph with the message, "To the fisherman, you better catch something."
Inevitably, the famed garner their share of gripes—they draw gawkers, they get the best tables at restaurants. But some complaints are serious. Earlier this summer, Perelman got a visit from East Hampton constables after two canoeists complained that a pistol-toting guard forced them to row at least 100 feet off the Creeks' shoreline. Georgica Pond is a public waterway, and a Perelman spokesman called the incident a misunderstanding. In June, legal papers were filed against Melanie Griffith, who allegedly trashed some furnishings in her $85,000 East Hampton rental last year. Among the grievances: Griffith's dog chewed up eight antique chairs and soiled a number of silk rugs. ("Melanie is willing to be responsible for any damage she did," a Griffith spokeswoman says, "but she's not going to just cave in to empty demands.")
But for every star-hater you will find a Jessica Weaver. The 23-year-old works as a waitress at the Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton, a soda fountain that may well be the celebrity crossroads of the Hamptons. "We get so many stars in here," gushes Weaver. "It's the greatest place to work in the world." She and her colleagues can rattle off a menu of recently served notables—and what they ordered: Jodie Foster ("English muffin"); Kim Basinger ("a cup of ice to go"); Marisa Tomei ("feta cheese omelet"); Naomi Campbell
("a BLT—it's sick, she's so skinny!").
Of course, celebrities offer more than glamor, and charity events are now the most common social venues in the Hamptons. Writer George Plimpton gets his kicks setting off fireworks every year at the picnic for the Boys Harbor inner-city youth camp, which this year raised $275,000. Models like Jane Powers, Hunter Reno and Jill Goodacre Connick, wife of Harry Jr., competed in volleyball and tug-of-war on an Amagansett beach in July to raise $75,000 for an AIDS charity. And Paul Simon, Roy Scheider and media tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman bungle around the base paths in the annual Artists & Writers Softball game, all for local charities like the Retreat, a home for battered women.
Such good deeds notwithstanding, still greater comfort might be taken from the knowledge that, in the end, the famous have always known best how to deal with their own. Take the following story, offered by a well-placed source: Two Christmases ago, concert promoter Ron Delsener and his wife, Ellen, hosted a dinner in their East Hampton home. Supermodel Christie Brinkley, then Mrs. Billy Joel, arrived two hours late, her daughter Alexa in tow. The dessert dishes had been cleared, but Christie wanted a salad. An angry Ellen Delsener strode into the kitchen, where the fretful caterers told her that all the food—including the salad—had been tossed into the garbage. With barely a second thought, Delsener grabbed a plate, reached into the waste can and pulled out a fistful of vinaigrette-dressed mesclun greens. "God forgive me," Delsener muttered as she
returned to the dining room to serve Brinkley. "I'm her child's godmother."
MARIA EFTIMIADES, TOBY KAHN, CYNTHIA WANG, JACK OTTER and COURTNEY CALLAHAN in the Hamptons