Down a private road, behind a 10-foot hedge of sheared privet, beside a turquoise pool, Irwin Shaw, the writer, now 70, is coddling a rum and lime juice on the rocks. "You see," he says, "there's an A-list and a B-list. The A-list gets invited to the orgies and murders. I'm not on the A-list. The B-list gets invited to plain parties."
The orgies and murders, you understand, happen at the steamy, sexy social-climber affairs portrayed on ABC's new television show, "The Hamptons," which airs for the second time at 9 tonight on Channel 7. The plain parties Shaw refers to are, well, like the little dinner he went to the night before with Saul Steinberg, the cartoonist, Robert Caro ("who wrote the Johnson book") and Bruce Jay Friedman, the writer. Or the one Washington socialite Joan Gardner was giving next door for Tom Wolfe, the writer; Gerald Rafshoon, Jimmy Carter's former media adviser; cartoonist Charles Addams, diplomat Angier Biddle Duke and two dozen other people who are mostly rich or famous.
Irwin Shaw, who makes no bones about growing up in Brooklyn, can joke about it. But, from Quiogue to Sagaponack, in the Hamptons' chic enclaves, the natives are upset. The real Hamptons, they protest, aren't at all like the soap opera. Ask everybody who's anybody.
"Ghastly," said Gardner, who lives behind another wall of privet, beside another pool, in a house full of flowered chintz. "Everybody thinks this place is full of people who wear black tie and have maids with blue hair. Forget it. That's not how we live."
Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the writer, a long-time resident, huffs: "I've never seen anyone drive a Ferrari or a Porsche up to a party here. Everyone drives BMWs or Mercedes."
ABC hopes to extend the five-part "Hamptons" series into a full-fledged show for fall. But a lot of well-known Hamptonites, appalled by the coast-to-coast besmirching of their exclusive retreat, just wish the whole thing would go away. Former treasury secretary Bill Simon said he had "no intention of watching" the program. Neither did Nora Ephron, the writer. Lee Radziwill, Jacqueline Onassis' sister, sniffed, "I'm not the least bit curious. It obviously doesn't have anything to do with the Hamptons."
The Hamptons encompass the five towns of Southhampton, East Hampton, Bridgehampton, West Hampton and Sag Harbor, strung along a wide, white-sand beach on the far, southern end of Long Island. The "Four Hundred," New York's society families, came before the turn of the century, building rambling shingled mansions on the ocean and private clubs with acres of grass tennis courts. A small sign, opposite the Cadillac dealership here, reads, "1640. Southampton Village. Oldest English settlement in New York State."
Over the years, artists moved to the Hamptons, attracted by the tranquil ponds, the windmills, the flat fields of potato blossoms and the privacy. Among them: Willem de Kooning, the late Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Rivers. The Hamptons became a retreat for the avant-garde.
Writers came, too. Peter Matthiesen, George Plimpton, Truman Capote, E.L. Doctorow, Willie Morris, Joseph Heller, Richard Reeves. The writers wrote about it, and, in the media spotlight, the Hamptons became the "in" place for the literati and the glitterati.
Today, new money overwhelms old money. Hollywood, once represented by a few well-bred professionals such as Dina Merrill, now helicopters and limousines in for weekends. Mansions by the sea are selling for $2 million and up, and renting for $40,000 a month. Steven Spielberg, the director, owns one. Warner Communications head Steve Ross is a regular. So are actor Alan Alda, actress Lauren Bacall, directors Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet. Mick Jagger breezed through last month for his 40th birthday.
Carl Bernstein, the Washington writer, rented his huge Bridgehampton home last summer to the mother of Queen Noor of Jordan. The queen came with her personal security force, but "the bodyguards were decorous," Bernstein told New York magazine. "They carried their pistols in tiny purses."
The Hamptons in the soap opera, whose producer, Gloria Monty, is known for her success with "General Hospital," is a place with a white-columned country club (filmed in the New York suburb of Westchester), black-tie dinner dances, Muzak, houses with chandeliers, alcoholic blonds with hard faces and corporate moguls who deliver lines such as, "I like blue blood and old money."
Marvin Kitman, the Newsday critic who watched the show at the home of writer Wilfred Sheed, lamented, "There is not a single writer. There isn't a token artist or a rich, suntanned liberal."
Nonetheless, in the real Hamptons, there are a few who uphold standards. The broadcasting heiress who wears her Bulgari on the beach. Linda Mortimer, daughter of the equerry to the late duke of Windsor, who insists that the butler wear white tie. "I don't know anyone like them," said Mortimer of the people in the television Hamptons. "If we knew anyone like them, we would run in the opposite direction."
In the real Hamptons, anyone can attend a champagne brunch next Sunday at Kay and Warner Leroy's estate in nearby Amagansett for $10,000 a head, a fundraiser for the United Jewish Appeal-Federation Campaign. More typical, perhaps, was the $50-a-head fundraiser held by New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne last month to benefit victims of AIDS. Claiborne raised $100,000, partly by auctioning donated art. Mixing with the crowd were playwright Edward Albee, feminist Betty Friedan and IBM heiress Olive Watson.
In the real Hamptons this weekend, one could see a chocolate-colored Rolls-Royce pull up to a McDonalds; a maid, dressed in a pink uniform, bicycling past a potato field; wealthy stockbrokers waiting in line to buy the Sunday New York Times. One could stop by the Pasta and Cheese gourmet shop in Bridgehampton to choose among 17 kinds of mustard and hear a suntanned matron in designer clothes growl, "These cherries better be good at $2.75 a pound."
Nonetheless, most people who live in the real Hamptons are at pains to convey how unpretentiously they live. Sheed had T-shirts with the words "The Un-Hampton" printed up for his Sag Harbor friends, to remind people that they don't live in Southampton. "I've never been to any 'Great Gatsby' bashes here," he said. "We keep the rich locked up in their country clubs so they don't bother the rest of us." Just to make certain no one gets the wrong impression, Sheed refuses to be photographed in front of his swimming pool. "It's too Hollywood," he says.
Polly Kraft, a Washington painter, says she doesn't even bring a dress to her home in Wainscott, outside East Hampton. She has been coming to the Hamptons for 25 years with her husband, columnist Joseph Kraft, and said she spends most days in her studio. The television show made her "howl with laughter," she said. "It was totally ridiculous."
In East Hampton, they tell you that Southhamptonites wear chiffon and black tie. In Southampton, Joan Gardner insists that the difference between the towns is that, "In East Hampton, the men wear socks. In Southampton, they don't. I sat next to Bill Simon at dinner last night and I pulled up his pant leg to test my theory. Sure enough, he was wearing socks."
In Wainscott's exclusive Georgica Association, a group 64 families who have homes or enjoy beach privileges in a protected area, Goodhue Livingston, 87, and his wife, Dorothy, 76, live in an unpretentious, weathered-shingle saltbox filled with straw rugs, duck prints and books on Winston Churchill. Livingston came to the Hamptons in 1897, in the first year of his life, to visit his grandfather. He remembers galloping down the main street of East Hampton before horses were replaced by automobiles.
"My grandfather's house here was built in 1884," he said. "He was assistant secretary of state under Grover Cleveland. My mother was one of the "dreadnaughts," the dowagers of the Hamptons who laid down the law. Now the man who owns my grandfather's house is trying to sell it for $2 million. He says it was designed by Stanford White. It wasn't, of course. But White did design my family's house on Fifth Avenue."
Livingston, who served in both world wars and was a top aide to the legendary New York mayor Fiorella La Guardia, is tall, straight-backed, white-haired and sharp-witted. His old blue jeans have white spots, from Clorox. He wears an ancient blue blazer with a handkerchief in the pocket. "I call them the boudoirs," he says of the old mansions bought up by the nouveau riche.
His wife chimes in, "We suspect they have wall-to-wall carpeting."
The Livingstons were baffled by the TV show. For one thing, the chandeliers. They've never seen one in the Hamptons. For another, several protagonists take the train. "The social colony never takes the train," said Dorothy Livingston. "The bathrooms are disgusting."
The show, which purports to reveal the private lives of old-moneyed families, "is made up according to what people like to believe about the Hamptons," she said. "People like to think of the rich as decadent and unattractive. It's a way to put them down."
In the Georgica Association, money doesn't count, Dorothy Livingston said. "This is a very private little community. You could be Princess Di and if they didn't know you, they wouldn't want you."
In Southampton, it is no different. Jean Lawford, sister of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, "didn't get into the Meadow Club because they didn't want the publicity," according to one member.
Shaw is unfazed by the Hamptons' old money crowd. "Old money in America is what someone made in a pigpacking plant in 1933 . . . If there's some snobbery here its that they still don't like the Jews in the clubs. So I don't go to the clubs. Friends of mine said, 'We'll resign.' I said no. You don't need a club to swim in the ocean. The food isn't that good and the service is lousy." He throws up his hands. "After the Holocaust, to fight to get into a country club?"
As for the sex portrayed in the soap opera, Shaw quips, "There's the same amount of adultery here as in Podunk, only here the assignations are often carried out by bicycle."
Cornelia Foss, a painter who rents a house in Bridgehampton with her husband, composer Lukas Foss, said she first came 23 years ago, attracted by "the quiet beauty of the landscape and, in a funny way, the quality of the people." But now, she added, "The whole thing is beginning to change with the movie people. The hustling has become like Beverly Hills, the fierceness with which people try to get invited to parties and meet celebrities."
Foss was in an East Hampton delicatessen last week with her daughter. "My daughter said, 'Mom, would you buy me a shrimp?' " Foss said. "I looked at her and said, 'What do you mean, buy you a shrimp?' "
"She said, 'Well, they are $1 each.'