The East End—the Hamptons, North Fork and Montauk—is such a spectacular setting, with its ponds, harbors, bays, ocean beaches, cliffs, dunes, old New England towns, farms, fishing docks, vineyards, oceanfront mansions and artist studios, that everybody in the country wants to know about this place where we live. Hollywood is showing them.
Here is a survey of some of the films made here, including some interesting anecdotes about them. But first, here’s three movies that many believed were shot in the Hamptons, but weren’t.
JAWS (1975), starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, was made entirely on Martha’s Vineyard. However, the best selling book it was based on, by Peter Benchley, WAS set in the Hamptons. Also, Steven Spielberg, the director of it, bought a home in the Hamptons after the film came out, and is often here. The late Roy Scheider also moved here just after the film was made.
When we here in the Hamptons first learned they were making a film of the book Jaws, we all hoped they would film it here. But after considering it, they told this reporter that the Hamptons would be just too busy for the eerie quality they were after and so they decided the location should be the fictitious “Amity Island” and had Martha’s Vineyard stand in for that. However, what they did do (as a sop?) was premiere this movie at the East Hampton theater. It was the first time that red carpets, limousines, movie stars and paparazzi were in this town, and I watched the proceedings from across the street, having become convinced ahead of time that it was so scary I would never again swim in the ocean if I watched it. Indeed, many people were scared of the ocean for years afterward.
WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S (1989) is about a pair of losers who pretend that their murdered employer is really alive, but the murderer is out to “finish him off” at his summer home in the Hamptons. It stars Andrew McCarthy and was filmed almost entirely in North Carolina.
TYLER PERRY PRESENTS PEEPLES (2013) stars Craig Robinson, S. Epatha Merkerson and Kerry Washington in a film that has one of the stars trying to impress the wealthy Hamptons parents of his girlfriend. Supposedly taking place in Sag Harbor, the town supposed to be that town is really Rowayton, Connecticut.
SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE (2003) is about an aging swinger with a taste for women one-third his age who falls in love with his latest conquest’s mother. It stars Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton and is a romantic comedy by Nancy Meyers, filmed at an oceanfront mansion and on various streets in downtown Southampton and East Hampton. Newtown Lane in East Hampton was shut down for several hours several times during the making of this movie. In one scene, Nicholson was filmed coming out of a store with an ice cream cone on Newtown Lane, but it wound up on the cutting room floor (the celluloid, not the ice cream). Scenes from Newtown Lane that did make the film include several from the old Barefoot Contessa gourmet food shop, since closed down as its owner, Ina Garten, has gone on to fame and fortune with cookbooks and TV.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) is about a couple that undergoes a procedure to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turns sour. It stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, and part of it was filmed at Eleonora and Michael Kennedy’s oceanfront house in Wainscott and on the beach in Wainscott. The famous scene where the pair are in a bed on the beach was shot in Montauk. Scenes supposedly on the Long Island Rail Road were shot on the New Haven line of Metro-North.
THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR (2004) is about a likable, egocentric SOB who has separated from his wife. It stars Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges and much of it is shot in a waterfront mansion here. The stars give performances in this film that are considered among their best.
LOVE WALKED IN (1997) was filmed all over the place in Westhampton Beach. It is a love story starring Denis Leary, Michael Badalucco and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, and I spent a day as an extra at what was then Westhampton Bath and Tennis, sitting at a table and pretending to eat a salad for 12 consecutive takes where the Denis Leary character walks in from the beach and the Michael Badalucco character walks in after him, explaining something. In the middle of these “takes,” a moth flew into the salad I was pretending to eat and apparently died a horrible death by salad dressing. In the movie, I do not appear. I am behind a post as the camera scans through the dining room. Dan’s Papers was a prop in this movie, being read by Sanchez-Gijon at the Post Stop Café, before someone comes in to meet her.
SHELTER ISLAND (2003) is a Grade B horror movie. It stars Stephen Baldwin, Patsy Kensit and Ally Sheedy and was filmed largely in locations on Shelter Island, but also in Sag Harbor and Southampton. Nudity apparently involved body doubles, which, according to many, nowhere near resembled those of the actors.
MURDER IN THE HAMPTONS (2005) was a made-for-TV film that starred Poppy Montgomery as Generosa Ammon in a dramatization of the murder of her husband, Ted, in his bed on Middle Lane in East Hampton one night in 2001.
DEATHTRAP (1982) is a thrilling murder mystery adapted from the Broadway show that ran for nearly 10 years. It stars Christopher Reeve, Michael Caine and Dyan Cannon, and was entirely filmed here under the direction of Sidney Lumet, with some lovely scenes shot inside a private home in Water Mill, at the Montauk railroad station and in East Hampton at the railroad station there. One night, the entire area around the railroad station was lit up with “lightning” created by Hollywood’s special effects people as a scene was shot over and over. I personally attended the shoot, at night, at the Montauk railroad station. Reeve, intending to get off in Southampton, has slept through that stop and wakes up at the end of the line. He gets out and finds a cab operated by a local lady who’s a real character and will take him back to the Hamptons. Temporary tracks were set up in the station parking lot so the cameras could dolly in and out.
SWEET LIBERTY (1986) is a comedy by Alan Alda, of Mecox, about the making of a movie from a scholarly book about the American Revolution. So it a film within a film. It stars Alda and Michael Caine and was filmed almost entirely in and around Sag Harbor. The film company actually “rented” Main Street, Sag Harbor for a night, filming the principals walking down a largely deserted Main Street after an evening of revelry. Revolutionary War battles, re-created for the film within a film, were shot on the grounds of a former religious retreat in Noyac. I was an extra in the night scene on Main Street, and was a reporter covering the big Redcoats battle up at the retreat, and have good memories of both experiences.
TOWN AND COUNTRY (2001) is a romantic comedy about a group of characters who spend time in Manhattan and the Hamptons. It stars Warren Beatty, Gary Shandling, Nastassja Kinski, Goldie Hawn, Andie MacDowell and Diane Keaton. The film cost $90 million, ran into too many re-writes, was constantly postponing its release date, got poor reviews and died.
ANNIE HALL (1977) is a romantic comedy. A film by Woody Allen, it starred Allen and Diane Keaton and won several Oscars. Most of it was shot in Manhattan, but some scenes were shot in Napeague, most notably one with a live lobster getting out of a pot and terrifying everybody in the kitchen of East Hampton Star publisher Helen Rattray.
THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990), written by Southampton resident Tom Wolfe, is about the unraveling of the life of a successful Wall Street investor after he accidentally makes a wrong turn up in the Bronx. It stars Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Kim Cattrall and was largely shot in New York City, but it also follows the participants out to the Hamptons for some scenes at a private oceanfront home.
MASQUERADE (1988) is a gripping romantic thriller. It stars Rob Lowe, Meg Tilly and Kim Cattrall. The filmmakers actually blew up a perfectly good yacht in the bay just off of Montauk Harbor’s jetties. A lot of it was filmed in a mansion on Lee Avenue in East Hampton, and also on Shelter Island and in Southampton.
ROCKET GIBRALTAR (1988) is about an old family patriarch who unites his family at his summer home for his “final” birthday. It stars Burt Lancaster and Suzy Amis and was filmed almost entirely at an oceanfront mansion in the Murray Compound in Southampton. The dramatic ending, which the patriarch, who has given instructions to his young grandchildren about what they ought to do with him after he dies—which is to set his body off into the surf in a flaming rowboat fire, in Viking fashion—took place at Sagg Main Beach. Kevin Spacey has a small part in this film, and Macaulay Culkin plays one of the children.
POLLOCK (2000) is about the life and career of American painter Jackson Pollock. It stars Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden and was filmed almost entirely at the former home of the late abstract expressionist painter in Springs, with other scenes at the Southampton railroad station, the old Miller Store and Springs Fireplace Road. Marcia Gay Harden received an Oscar for her performance.
HULDA OF HOLLAND (1913) was a silent movie filmed in Bridgehampton, starring Mary Pickford. I have seen stills of this film, including pictures of her in front of the Beebe Windmill on the Berwind Estate in Bridgehampton, but the only copy of the film, I’m told, is in a library in what is now the Czech Republic. Twenty-year-old Harold Lloyd, starting his movie career, is credited as an extra in the film.
GREY GARDENS (1975) was an award-winning full-length documentary filmed by Albert and David Maysles at an overgrown and rundown private home being lived in by an army of cats and the cousin and elderly aunt of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The house today is home to Benjamin C. Bradlee and Sally Quinn.
DEEP IMPACT (1998). Unless a comet can be destroyed before colliding with Earth, only those allowed into shelters will survive. But who? It stars Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman and Maximilian Schell. Produced by Steven Spielberg, it featured several scenes in the Hamptons, all shot on the beach at Amagansett as crowds watch the incoming comet crash into the ocean to create a tidal wave of mythic proportions. Extras for the crowd scene on the beach were selected at an open call held at the Amagansett Fire House. I had signed up, but didn’t get called.
THE DAIN CURSE (1978) is a whodunit mystery involving a playful detective from the 1930s. Adapted from a Dashiell Hammett novel, it stars James Coburn, Jason Miller and Jean Simmons as a 1930 period piece and was filmed on Shelter Island, with some scenes at the Chequit Hotel in Shelter Island Heights with lots of 1930s gangster cars parked out front.
WALL STREET (1987) is about that Wall Street master-of-the-universe that everybody loves to hate, Gordon Gekko. It stars Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Hal Holbrook and Tamara Tunie and was filmed mostly in Manhattan, but with a party scene at a Wall Streeter’s private oceanfront mansion in Quogue.
THE FLESH EATERS (1964) is a Grade B horror film about a mad Nazi scientist and a monster that comes out of the sea. It stars Martin Kosleck, Rita Morley and Barbara Wilkin and was filmed almost entirely on the beach at Montauk, which was put forth as an undiscovered island off Long Island. (Three of the characters wade ashore there after their small plane, on their way from Manhattan to the Cape, crash-lands on the sand). The Flesh Eater—a giant, frightening creature 15 feet tall—was stored, until the time for his emerge-from-the-ocean debut, at the Sea Breeze Inn (then the Surf and Sand) on the Old Montauk Highway in Montauk (this is before you could CGI in monsters). “Like ten bad movies rolled up into one. Really good old fashioned trash,” one critic called it. Kosleck was often cast in films of that era as the evil Nazi scientist.
I was a 24-year-old newspaperman in the Hamptons when this was made and “helped out.” I attended cast meetings, shoots on the beach, some of which involved dry ice, and in a scene in the interior of a tent of the evil scientist who had created the monster, you will see the canvas flapping from the wind outside and that was me, wiggling the canvas. The making of this film was a dream come true for me.
INTERIORS (1978) is a dark tale of three sisters trying to come to terms with themselves. Written and directed by Woody Allen, it stars Kristin Griffith, Mary Beth Hurt, Diane Keaton, Maureen Stapleton, E.G. Marshall and Geraldine Page, and was filmed at a lonely oceanfront mansion in Southampton. This is Allen’s first attempt at a straight drama, and is compared by some to Ingmar Bergman. It was not a box office success. My connection to this was to lie in the dunes with a long lens camera to try to take a photo of Woody Allen coming out of the house on the beach. There was one other cameraman there at the time, who I befriended and am still friends with today, and this is Bruce Nalapinski, who for years and years ran the Southampton town cable TV network.
HOUSEBOAT (1958) starred Cary Grant and Sophia Loren and was for a long time believed by this reporter to have been filmed at a houseboat anchored in a cove in Quogue. That is what was told to me by the owner of a marina on Three Mile Harbor who had the boat there for many years afterward, until it was destroyed by fire. For years, Dan’s Papers had a little film festival where we showed movies made out here. When it came time to show Houseboat, it was quite clear from the moss on the trees in the movie that it had to have been filmed in Louisiana or some other bayou. How embarrassing. Anyway, it is a love story and a comedy about a lawyer whose wife dies in a car accident and who then brings his children out to this houseboat, where he meets Sophia. “Survives the test of time, a gem to watch,” wrote one critic, though not all the way through when the time came at our festival.
THE SHEIK (1922) was a silent movie starring Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky. Much of it was filmed at the Walking Dunes, an isolated section of sand in Napeague between Amagansett and Montauk. This was in the early days of film, and it was supposed to be in the Sahara, but there was no budget to go to the Sahara, so they made it here.
LAST SUMMER IN THE HAMPTONS (1995) is a drama/comedy set at a Hamptons summer estate and filmed almost entirely here. It stars Martha Plimpton and Victoria Foyt, was directed and co-written by Henry Jaglom and co-written by Foyt. “A weird, dark family secret, touch of James Joyce and Chekhov,” one critic said.
SOMETHING BORROWED (2011) stars Kate Hudson, Ginnifer Goodwin and Colin Egglesfield, received poor reviews and did not fare well in theaters, but it has wonderful cinematography of our downtowns, mansions and beaches.
Some films were shot out east, got changed around in post-production and appeared under another title. Perhaps the most interesting of them was a film made in Sag Harbor in 1996, largely in a beautiful mansion at the corner of Rysam Street and High Street supposedly overlooking Peconic Bay (which it doesn’t), called Mr. Spielberg’s Boat and starring Jennifer Connolly, Marsha Gay Harden and Dan Futterman. I hung out at the set for an afternoon, which was fun. The plot involved filmmakers trying to get the attention of Mr. Spielberg to ask him to read their film script. Suddenly, Mr. Spielberg’s magnificent yacht appears in the harbor, and the filmmakers scheme to board it late at night and force Mr. Spielberg to read it.
The film got changed around after it was completed, because Spielberg expressed displeasure about his purported connection to the film and so, as a cautionary measure, writer/director John Huddles apparently using dubbing procedures, changed the name of every utterance of the word “Spielberg” to “Spreckman,” so the famous director was “Mr. Spreckman.” He also changed the name of the movie. It came out as Far Harbor, got mixed reviews, and sank. I wonder if it is available on Netflix? If so, it would be fun to watch.