From the Archives: Dan’s Papers 1992

The intellectual reputation of the Hamptons comes from its hundreds of artists, writers and playwrights. The artists came first, late in the 1940s, with the arrival of Jackson Pollock and Willem deKooning. The writers came later, in the 1950s and 1960s. Today the Hamptons is home to novelists Leon Uris and E. L. Doctorow, writers Kurt Vonnegut and Joe Heller, the author of Catch 22. Playwright Lanford Wilson won the Pulitzer prize two years ago, as did Edward Albee 20 years ago. Peter Mathiessen won a Pulitzer for his book Men’s Lives one year ago. There are literally hundreds of other writers, who have won awards or have books on the bestseller lists, all living in the Hamptons, Montauk and on the North Fork.

It is possible to see what it was like when the artists first came here in the late 1940’s. The home and studio of Jackson Pollock in the Springs has been preserved, under the administration of Stony Brook University. Lectures are given and tours are available. The interior of this home has been restored to very much what it looked like when Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner lived there in the 1940s and 1950s.

No such monument to the arrival of the writers here exists. Yet. Arguably, the first internationally known writers on the East End were John Steinbeck and James Jones. But Steinbeck really conducted his retirement here and James Jones’ best work, From Here to Eternity was long behind him.

Perhaps no individual writer marked the awakening of the writers’ community in the Hamptons so much as Truman Capote. He lived in Sagaponack, wrote his acclaimed work In Cold Blood there, and along with Willie Morris and James Jones, became the original focus of the legendary writers’ hangout on Main Street in Bridgehampton known as Bobby Van’s.

Now, it turns out, the home of the late Truman Capote, who died in 1984, has been given to the Nature Conservancy.

The home is a modest affair, surrounded by hedgerows on a broad two-acre lawn, and it is at the corner of Daniels Lane and Peters Lane a short walk—1,000 yards—from the Atlantic Ocean.

For Capote, who had also become a national celebrity in the 1970s and 1980s, his home in Sagaponack was his retreat. Capote in his later years was in movies, on talk shows, at fundraisers and parties. He was a tiny man with a high, squeaky voice and with his trademark white hat; he cut a fascinating figure among the glitterati in both Manhattan and Hollywood.

Capote was also openly gay. And his lifelong companion, a former Broadway show dancer named Jack Dunphy, lived almost the entire time in Sagaponack from April to October. Dunphy prepared beautiful dinners, wrote and painted, and he’d go almost every day for a swim in the ocean. From the house just 1,000 feet away, you could hear the thunder of the breakers, and you could see the fine mist of the salt sea air which often moved as much as a mile inland from the beach.

Capote, meanwhile, was a busybody in Bridgehampton. For those of us who remember him, he was in and out of all the shops, he frequently stopped at Bobby Van’s where a special table had been set aside for him, and he drove around in an old red convertible, his trademark in these parts.

Capote was only 59 years old when he died, apparently from liver complications exacerbated by the intake of too much alcohol. He died in a spectacular setting, in the guest bedroom in the Hollywood home of Johnny Carson’s ex-wife Johanna. When the funeral was over, it became Jack Dunphy’s concern to determine the fate of the home.

Not long after Capote’s death, Dunphy had lunch with Gerald Clarke, the author of the biography of Truman Capote. At this lunch, Dunphy asked Clarke to be the executor of his will. He hoped that after his passing, the home could be used as a writers retreat. Clarke looked into it, but said that would cost more money than Dunphy had available. Clarke then suggested that Dunphy will the home to the Nature Conservancy.

Jack Dunphy died in April of this year at the age of 77. And the house has now been received by the Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Sara Davison, director.

Davison says she was surprised and thrilled that the home passed into the Conservancy’s hands. According to Conservancy rules, developed private property donated to the Conservancy is to be sold and the proceeds used to buy land in the wild for preservation. The appraised value of the property is about $800,000 and though this is not a huge sum, the money could be used to buy more acreage along the greenbelt spanning East Hampton and Southampton, or acreage out in Montauk for nature conservation. A bronze plaque, noting the donation from Dunphy and Capote, will be erected wherever these new purchases are made.

As for the Capote property, it seems very likely that the structures there will just be bulldozed down. They are really quite small. A new big summer mansion, perhaps designed by a well-known architect, would be more in keeping with this proximity to the beach.

The Capote property currently has two structures on it. One of them, a wooden cottage with a sun porch is just 1,400 square feet. The other is even smaller, just 800 square feet and had been a gift from Capote to Dunphy. The two could be alone or apart, as they wished. Friends of this twosome remember long, graceful dinners, prepared by Dunphy and served at the long wooden table set up by the grape arbor on the patio. There were quiet evenings of reading here, of Capote writing on his Facit manual typewriter in a little study, of Dunphy painting on an easel set up in the living room of his cottage.

It is not the Nature Conservancy’s fault that they are treating Truman Capote’s home like they might any other developed property. They are in the business of saving land in the wild.

But for $800,000, which will benefit the Nature Conservancy, some angel could come along and also save the home of this unusual and extraordinary writer. Jack Dunphy was right. It would make a wonderful place where young writers could come and find a peaceful work place for a few hours, just a short walk from the beach. They could find inspiration, working among the paraphernalia of Capote’s 1960s and 1970s. This home could serve the writers community in the same way the Pollock-Krasner House in the Springs serves the artists community.

The time to act is now. The property is being represented by the real estate brokerage firm of Brennan and Braverman.

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