Annie Wilkinson

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Annie Wilkinson is an an award-winning former associate editor of the Long Island Press. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have run her features and cover stories.

Frances Hodgson Burnett: Fighting With the Wind

Frances Hodgsen Burnett

All through her life, she broke the rules. Her formal education ended at age 13. She challenged society’s notions about womanhood at a time when few women worked, and set the gossips’ tongues wagging with her scandalous two marriages and two divorces, adultery with a man 10 years her junior, and affairs.

But her force as a writer crushed the notoriety: She won a legal suit revolutionizing copyright law to reimburse writers for profits from plays based on their works. A women’s rights advocate, she signed a writers’ petition on women’s suffrage before the House of Representatives in 1910, a year after building her Plandome estate on the North Shore.

Frances Hodgson Burnett penned adult novels, children’s books, and short stories — 52 novels and 13 plays — and produced works for the stage. At one point she wrote six books in 10 years, despite battling ill health. What drove her?

Riches to Rags

Like her riches-to-rags-to-riches characters, the author started life in 1849 in affluent, mid-Victorian Manchester, England. But their fortunes collapsed with her father’s death when she was 4 years old. Her widowed mother ran their iron foundry until America’s trade declines caused it to fail and forced the family to move to a marginal area. The behavior of other 10-year-old street children around Frances Hodgson fascinated her; observing their Dickensian existence nurtured her flair for fiction, writing on a slate or on old account books.

Still impoverished, her family moved to America to live with relatives in a log cabin near Knoxville, Tennessee. But the Civil War economy worsened and their mother’s health failed; only neighborly generosity kept them alive. The practical, independent little girl stepped up, opening a small school, raising chickens, and teaching piano.

In 1867, using postage she paid for by selling grapes, she submitted a story, for “remuneration,” as she put it. Godey’s Ladies Book published the 17-year-old’s first two stories, paying her $35. Her serialized magazine pieces became popular and earned enough to support her family after their mother died in 1870.

Her first adult novel, That Lass o’ Lowrie’s, contained realistic detail about a feisty woman working in a coal mine. It was published in 1877, four years after she married — reluctantly — Dr. Swan Burnett.

A self-described “story maniac,” Frances Hodgson Burnett churned out fluid adult manuscripts needing little editing. She typified the ”new woman,” wrote biographer Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina: self-supporting, independent, and a shrewd businesswoman. The New York Times praised her “treatment of adultery, spousal abuse, illegitimacy and female independence.” Burnett also zeroed in on unhappy unions, based on her faltering marriage.

Garden Therapy

In 1886, her Little Lord Fauntleroy, about a curly-locked boy in velvet and lace modeled after her son Vivian, sold half a million copies. Attributing her dedication to a spiritual force, she wrote constantly, her sons at her feet under her writing desk. She bought extravagantly — clothes, houses, and gifts for relatives; more than 90 gowns; and home decor for her English estate, Great Maytham Hall. And, exhausted and anemic, she suffered nervous breakdowns.

She crossed the Atlantic 33 times for business and pleasure, often with men, unchaperoned. Her stressful marriages, bitter divorces, and the death of her teenage son Lionel in 1890 brought on depression. She found comfort in what Gerzina calls ”a romantic friendship” with Harper’s Bazaar Editor Elizabeth Garver.

In 1897, her plays earning $1,000 a week, Burnett settled at Maytham. There, outside under the trees, rejuvenated, she wrote A Little Princess in 1905.

Some say Maytham’s crumbling garden wall — and its tame robin — inspired Burnett; others believe it was her childhood home’s back garden. The Secret Garden (1910) was written among hundreds of rose plantings at Fairseat, her Plandome estate. It told of an orphaned girl finding solace in a neglected garden, who “made herself stronger by fighting with the wind.” Like her other children’s classics, it rose above the era’s florid style and morality.

She spent her last years at Plandome among spacious gardens and roses that sloped down to Long Island Sound. In 1914, she wrote, “To live in the best suite of rooms in the best hotels in any part of Europe is strict economy in comparison to living at Plandome Park, Long Island.’’

She died in 1924 and was buried in the Roslyn cemetery. A fire later destroyed Fairseat except for its original stucco carriage house and garden balustrades.

 

John Coltrane: Speaking to Our Souls

From the outside, the suburban Dix Hills home looks like many other ranch-style structures that dot Long Island.

But this modest Candlewood Path house has a distinctive history: In 1964, in the upstairs practice room, homeowner John Coltrane composed his Grammy award-winning album A Love Supreme. The work’s spiritual tone captured the essence of a world protesting war amid the emerging pride of African Americans seeking to honor their heritage and contributions to American culture.

Coltrane’s composition changed the world of jazz forever. But the road to success was an uneven path for the jazz saxophonist, bandleader, and composer, blockaded by the pressures of performing and the ravages of drug addiction.

A QUIET VOLCANO

His music was sometimes called “volcanic,” but interviewers called him thoughtful and conscientious. He emphasized the best in others and was noted for being a quiet, gentle man.

His bandmate Miles Davis observed, “…It was like he was possessed when he put that horn in his mouth. He was so passionate — fierce — and yet so quiet and gentle when he wasn’t playing.”

Those bold sounds are still popular after 60-plus years. Coltrane described his motivations by saying, “I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.”

Born in 1926, John William Coltrane grew up listening to the sounds of the many instruments his father played at home in North Carolina and to Count Basie recordings. The youngster picked up the alto saxophone and clarinet and his mother encouraged him to attend music school. He was drafted in 1945 and played with a U.S.Navy band until 1946; in 1947 he switched to tenor sax.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Coltrane (nicknamed “Trane”) performed with the prestigious Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and as a session musician. “The Duke” Ellington took notice and hired Coltrane. But, like many other “hopheads,” Trane was a drug addict. Ellington fired him.

Miles Davis took a chance and hired Trane to play in his First Great Quintet, but drugs, mainly heroin, intervened; Davis fired and rehired him several times.

JAZZ REHAB

Trane kicked the habit and rehabilitated himself, undergoing a metamorphosis just as jazz was changing. In the late 1950s, the danceable, big-band sound gave way to “bebop,” densely rhythmic improvisation over dissonant chord changes played by small ensembles.

Trane joined pianist Thelonius Monk’s adventurous quartet for six months, developing an increased harmonic and rhythmic sophistication by playing notes simultaneously amid cascading scales, a technique dubbed “sheets of sound” by critic Ira Gitler. After recording under his own name, in 1958 Trane rejoined Davis’s group, emphasizing scale patterns beyond major and minor (“modal jazz”).

Starting in 1960, Trane’s acclaimed quartet focused on mode-based improvisation, experimenting with free jazz and incorporating the spirituality of music of India and Africa.

In 1964, the year Trane moved his family to Dix Hills, he wrote A Love Supreme. As The Guardian noted, “It became a hit with the hippie audience … and … rock guitarists too, notably for the mantra-like chant inspired by Coltrane’s absorption in Indian music and Eastern religious thought.”

The multi-award-winning big seller brought global acclaim. His grueling schedule — practicing 10 hours a day while touring extensively — had a bizarre effect: He’d put his horn down, beat on his chest and scream into the microphone, said his drummer Rashied Ali in 1966 in The Sixties. Ali said Trane was inspired by a Buddhist chant “where you could pound your chest and it would change the sound of your voice. He wanted to get that quiver on the horn.”

Others said that after 1965 Trane was using LSD. Miles Davis claimed that the hallucinogen caused Trane’s death at age 40 in 1967, but the cause of death was listed as liver cancer.

In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded the musician a special posthumous citation. The home where he spent his final years has been designated a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which will help renovate it as a museum and cultural center. The designation honors a prolific artist who left a formidable legacy — a legacy that will no doubt influence musicians for decades to come.   

 

In Her Own Way: Zelda Fitzgerald

Zelda Fitzgerald

She was a high-spirited, unconventional 1920s Southern belle and aspiring ballerina embracing independence. He was a struggling novelist bedazzled by her wit and unconventional behavior who dubbed her “America’s First Flapper” and stole her words. They loved each other deeply but destructively, across Alabama, Connecticut, France, Switzerland, Maryland, and Long Island.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald and F. Scott Fitzgerald practiced emotional cruelty, drunkenness, infidelity, plagiarism, and mental illness. And yet they remain celebrities personifying the rebellious youth of the Lost Generation.

WHEN ZELDA MET SCOTT

Merriam-Webster defines “flapper” as “a young woman of the period of World War I and the following decade who showed freedom from conventions.” As the spoiled daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Justice, Zelda flirted, drank, and smoked in public. She turned 18 and graduated high school in 1918, as the war ended. She met 22-year-old Scott at a Montgomery country club dance; he was a U.S. Army officer stationed nearby, after flunking out of Princeton University.  

Acclaim for his 1920 debut novel, This Side of Paradise, brought sudden prosperity as the Roaring Twenties burst upon the country. As he chronicled the Jazz Age, she danced on tables and cartwheeled across hotel lobbies; after their 1920 marriage, she splashed in Washington Square fountain. They indulged their whims, spending wildly beyond their means.

The next few years bore fruit: They honeymooned in Westport, Conn., and Frances (“Scottie”) Fitzgerald, was born in 1921. In 1922, they moved to 6 Gateway Drive in Great Neck, where Scott wrote magazine short stories and an unsuccessful play. Zelda dreamed of becoming a prima ballerina, painted fantastical scenes and family portraits, and wrote the essay Eulogy on the Flapper for Metropolitan Magazine. She would pen more than a dozen articles and stories; many appeared under the joint byline “F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.”

Some say the seeds for Scott’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby were sown in Westport, while others insist they germinated in Great Neck on “that slender riotous island.” In any case, the Fitzgeralds befriended their LI neighbor, railroad industry heiress Mary Harriman Rumsey, whose Sands Point estate at 235 Middle Neck Road reportedly inspired Scott’s “East Egg” setting for Jay Gatsby’s mansion.

Gatsby was published in 1925, a year after the Fitzgeralds moved to Paris. Zelda was Scott’s muse, and more: He quoted her words as the voice of his female characters and took material from her diary and letters for his writings. As she wrote in a book review, “Mr. Fitzgerald … seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.”

THE MAD WIFE

By the late 1920s, their lives were disintegrating. He could not write without drinking to excess; she practiced ballet excessively yet refused an offer to join a Naples dance company.

She accused Scott of having a homosexual relationship with his friend Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway called her “crazy”), had an affair with an aviator, and asked for a divorce. Scott locked her in their Riviera house and she attempted suicide. Friends noticed serious behavioral shifts and, suffering from nervous exhaustion and hysteria, she entered a health clinic in 1930. The diagnosis was schizophrenia; today, the condition might be called manic depressive disorder, characterized by her spending sprees, melancholy, and passionate personality.

During her confinement she wrote her only novel, Save Me the Waltz, in six weeks. The largely autobiographical 1932 work was panned by Scott and the public, crushing her confidence. She continued painting but abandoned writing after he said, “…You are a third-rate writer and a third-rate ballet dancer.”

Some say that Scott confined Zelda because she disturbed his writing; he blamed his inability to finish another novel on medical debts. Scott moved to Hollywood in 1937 to write scripts, dying of a heart attack in 1940 at age 44.

She was discharged and readmitted for breakdowns and relapses for the rest of her life. In 1948, a fire tore through a North Carolina mental hospital where Zelda was locked in a room awaiting shock treatment, killing her and eight other women.

Critics have reassessed her work. The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani wrote that Zelda “managed to distinguish herself as a writer with, as Edmund Wilson once said of her husband, a ‘gift for turning language into something iridescent and surprising.’”

Art gallery curator Everl Adair concluded that Zelda’s artwork “represents the work of a talented, visionary woman who rose above tremendous odds to create a fascinating body of work … that inspires us to celebrate the life that might have been.”

Clement Clarke Moore: Mr. Santa Claus

Author Clement Clarke Moore, right, is credited with devising the modern image of Santa Claus.

For nearly two centuries, Santa Claus has been a plump, jovial, good-hearted soul who travels worldwide in a sleigh pulled high above the rooftops by magical flying reindeer. Each Christmas, when this wise old elf flies over the Northeast, perhaps he gives a nod to the Long Island neighborhood where his iconic image was said to have originated: the Moore Homestead Playground, originally called Elmhurst Playground.  

Before Nassau County was formed in 1899, that neighborhood, today’s Elmhurst, was originally called Newtown. The wealthy Moore family had established their 1660s farmhouse and acreage there. In 1779, Clement Clarke Moore was born at the family’s Chelsea estate; he spent many Christmases in Elmurst, which many historians believe it was the setting for his classic 1822 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line,’Twas the Night Before Christmas). But while readers praise the inventive revamp of its central character, Moore’s own character may not be as admirable as that of his creation.

SANTA GETS A MAKEOVER

Moore attended Columbia College (now Columbia University) and become a scholar of the literature of the ancient Greeks and other civilizations. The expert in Dutch folklore mixed myth and reality to come up with a memorable tale of Santa Claus’ epic journey. The poem’s merry, generous Santa was unlike the real Saint Nicholas, the ancient Christian bishop who told children to live disciplined lives and gave only occasional gifts.

On Christmas Eve in 1822, Moore was going to buy a turkey to donate to the poor. As he rode in a sleigh through Greenwich Village’s snow-covered streets, he began writing a poem for his six children. Some say his image of Santa Claus was inspired by the sleigh’s bearded driver, by a local Dutch tradesman, by the first governor of New Netherland (now New York and New Jersey), or by Moore’s portly neighbor. Others say that Moore’s black slave drove the sleigh.

ROOFTOP PRANCERS

Those airborne reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh? In 1000 B.C.E. ancient Mongolians carved hundreds of gravestone images of flying hoofed creatures. Greek mythology told of leaping reindeer outrunning flying arrows. The arctic indigenous Sami shamans of Northern Scandinavia and Eastern Russia imagined strong creatures who coursed through the skies. Flying goats pulled the Norse god Thor’s sleigh.

Other modern-day observers speculate that many of the poem’s concepts (like the Dutch reindeer names) were lifted from earlier work by Moore’s friend Washington Irving. In 1809 in Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York, Irving wrote how St. Nicholas advised a sage then “laying his finger beside his nose, gave a very significant look, then mounting his wagon, he returned over the treetops and disappeared.”

MAGICAL MYTH

A friend of the Moores sent the poem to the Troy Sentinel newspaper. It was published anonymously in 1823; Moore did not claim credit until 1837. He was seen as a grumpy parent whose other poetry urged his children to be humble and refuse transient delights. Did he really pen the light-hearted verse? He did not publish it under his name until 1844, wanting to be revered as the author of a scholarly Hebrew dictionary. Instead he became famous for a work he referred to as a ‘trifle.”

A controversy erupted around 1900 when the descendants of Major Henry Livingston Jr., a Dutch Hudson Valley gentleman farmer and poet, claimed that Livingston was the poet. In 1919 the Dutchess County Historical Society ruled that a comparing the poem with Livingston’s verses “adds internal evidence supporting the correctness of the family’s position.”

The truth? In 2000, the Encyclopaedia Brittannica wrote that many scholars concluded that computer-aided analysis “showed that it had more in common with poetry written by Livingston than with poetry by Moore.”

Santa and his reindeer may never reveal the truth about who really invented them — but that won’t stop children everywhere from reciting “Now, Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!…”

Lou Reed: The Coolest Man In The World

L to R: Lou Reed in his later years and in his Freeport High School yearbook photo.

In the mid-1960s, Greenwich Village mirrored the polarized nation. Political upheaval and the sexual revolution set the scene for Lou Reed to turn music on its ear with the Velvet Underground and the support of pop artist Andy Warhol.

“They were … countercultural cool,” wrote Rolling Stone. “Not the Haight-Ashbury or Sgt. Pepper kind but an eerier, artier, more NYC-rooted strain.”

After six years, frontman Reed played his last Velvets gig at Manhattan’s Max’s Kansas City in 1970. He walked away from the group called the most influential American band of the late 1960s and early 1970s — but his demons walked with him.

WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Performing solo, the singer-songwriter-guitarist-poet delivered brooding, half-spoken, half-sung verse. He personified coolness, signing letters “The Coolest Man in the World.”

But the hipster was a suburbanite. He was born in Brooklyn in 1942, then his family moved to a modest ranch-style home in Freeport, where he attended Atkinson Elementary School, Freeport Junior High and High School, where he played R&B and rock in bands. The English major with attitude was one of the brilliant Jewish kids who frequented the Village and wanted to be beatniks.

After his 1959 graduation, he struggled academically at Syracuse University, so he was sent home. His depression and sexual adventures frightened his parents — Reed later said he knew he was bisexual in high school — who subjected him to electroconvulsive therapy.

Reed returned to Syracuse. Despite his drug use, he graduated with honors. He got a job at Pickwick Records, where he met Welsh musician John Cale, the Velvets’ co-founder. Reed later recalled that at Pickwick, “They’d say, ‘Write 10 surfing songs …’ and I wrote ‘Heroin.’”

In 1972, RCA released his second album with its hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,” about drugs, transsexuals, prostitutes, and oral sex (RCA deleted the oral sex references).

Like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, Reed wrote about the city’s seedy underbelly: junkies, hookers, and other outsiders. Reed walked the walk, reportedly vowing to take meth every day for the rest of his life. Onstage, wrapping a microphone cord around his arm, he pretended to shoot up.

LIFE OF CONTRADICTIONS

Reed was lauded and damned. Rolling Stone praised him for fusing “street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music.” Writer Ed McCormack called him “one of the ballsiest dudes I ever knew — the chameleon who taught Jagger, Bowie, the New York Dolls, and a whole generation of swaggering rock ’n’ roll peacocks how to ‘put their girl on’ without sacrificing their manhood.”

Others labeled Reed a privileged suburban rich kid. A posturing public junkie. A monster, said biographer Howard Sounes, “a suspicious, cantankerous, bitter, angry man.” Reed allegedly slapped women, pulled fans’ hair, and pulled a switchblade on his violin player.

Biographer Anthony DeCurtis told The Guardian that Reed was very private and “had a very complicated relationship with his own history and his own, often contradictory, desires.” He added that Reed tried to convey a “leather‑clad invulnerability,” but there was a lot of insecurity underneath that. DeCurtis added that after a signing for Reed’s book of lyrics, Reed wept, moved at having people say how much his work meant.

In 2012, he was recognized by U.S. and European researchers who named a new genus of spiders in Israel after him. Loureedia annulipes is a velvet spider that lives underground.

TOUGH, GRITTY, AND SWEET

Reed’s career spanned four decades. In 1992, he met performance artist-musician Laurie Anderson, after getting clean in the 1980s; they spent 21 years together. Anderson described him as “the sweetest, most tender person.”

But addiction had done its damage. He spent his last days in East Hampton, a tai chi master who was “happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature,” Anderson remembers.

In May 2013, after chronic liver failure, he had a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic. He died from complications five months later.

 

Charles Addams: The Long Island Macabre Master Who Created The Addams Family

Charles Addams posing with a mural he painted that once hung in a Hamptons hotel. (Look magazine Library of Congress)

Halloween was his holiday. Fascinated by coffins and tombstones, as a boy, he played in a cemetery next to haunted-looking old homes, some say.

Years later, he was married in a pet cemetery in Water Mill. His bride dressed all in black and carried a feather fan — black, of course — because the groom just liked black.

“He thought it would be nice and cheerful,” she said.  

His neighbors described him as a fairly regular guy, though, an animal lover with lots of dogs and cats who was actively involved in East End life.

Who was the true Charles Addams? He indulged his obsessions to famously combine Gothic images and gallows humor — and he was also a “cheerful,” regular guy.

A KID CALLED “CHILL”

Born in 1912,  the only child of devoted parents in comfortable Westfield, N.J., Charles Samuel Addams was not your typical middle-class kid.

He broke into a deserted Victorian house to draw pictures of skeletons on the garage walls at age 8. He explained his obsession to biographer Linda Davis: “I was always aware of the sinister family situations behind those Victorian facades.”

When he was 12, a New York Herald newspaper cartoonist said he was untalented and should forget his dream of an art career. But the kid nicknamed “Chill” kept drawing, creating cartoons as art director of his high school paper before brief stints at college.

In 1931, he enrolled in Manhattan’s Grand Central School of Art. He set his sights on The New Yorker magazine. The next year he sold them his first spot sketch for $7.50. In 1933, the magazine bought the first of many drawings.

After his father died that year, he went to work for True Detective magazine. He relished retouching and removing the blood from the pictures of corpses.

In 1935, he joined the New Yorker staff. America was transfixed by the dark, shadowy Frankenstein and Dracula films, which likely inspired Addams to create his signature subjects: a slinky, pale, black-gowned vixen and her weird-looking clan in front of a dilapidated, haunted-looking Victorian mansion. Unlike movie monsters, Addams’ characters had an eerie yet healthy sense of humor.

The New Yorker started running his immediately recognizable Addams Family artwork that year. In 1942, his first anthology of drawings was published.

GOTHAM GOSSIP

People talked about breakdowns and mental hospitals. They said he tricycled around parties smoking a cigar. They talked about the beauties he bedded, from Greta Garbo to Jacqueline Kennedy. They viewed his apartment collection of crossbows, maces, and a Civil War embalming table.

But in public, the stylish sophisticate in tailored Brooks Brothers suits was a throwback to the big-band, cigarette-girl era. Random House founder Bennett Cerf called Addams “the gentlest and kindest old schizophrene.”

Every celebrity from Cary Grant to Alfred Hitchcock admired him. Alfred Hitchcock once knocked on his door to see how he lived; Hitch was said to depict Addams’ Victorian mansion in his 1960 masterpiece Psycho. Over the next 40 years, The funny, lovable, creepy Addams Family starred in a TV series, feature films, and a Broadway musical.

EAST END ETERNITY

Addams often worked at his Westhampton Beach weekend home and later in Water Mill. He called the East End “Bugatti heaven” and raced his Alfa Romeo Castagna in the early 1960s, went to vintage meets in Bridgehampton, and entertained glamorous stars, including Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine, before marrying his third wife, Tee, in Water Mill.

Made for each other, they loved picnicking in graveyards.

In 1985, they bought the Sagaponack home they named “The Swamp.” In late September 1988, Addams drove to Manhattan and died of a heart attack in front of his apartment. Tee reacted in classic Addams style, saying “He’s always been a car buff, so it was a nice way to go.” She passed away in 2002.

Their ashes, along with those of their pets, were buried in their pet cemetery.

Robin Williams: Spark of Madness

Robin Williams at the 2011 BAFTA/LA Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Photo by Paul Smith / Featureflash)

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” —Robin Williams

In the summer of 1981 on Fishers Island, Robin Williams was on top of the world — literally.

Every Friday night, a plane piloted by his good friend swooped down, picked him up, and off they’d soar. The pilot was Christopher Reeve, famous as the superhero star of Superman films. Williams was a well-loved comedic master starring in The World According to Garp.

“Those were the heady days for them both,” said actress Glenn Close, Williams’ co-star. “They were living the kind of fast and crazy life that our business can hand to you if you become a wildly famous phenomenon.”

Fishers Island will never forget Williams. And the world will always remember the gales of emotional laughter he gave us before his untimely death.

FISHERS FUNNYMAN

Garp shot one scene outside the Roslyn movie theater, but the film’s centerpiece was the spectacular, massive Wilmerding hilltop estate near Plum Island that looked out over sweeping lawns and Hay Harbor. Many of the 250 Fishers locals said that Williams displayed no egotistical airs, and knew the names of everyone on the crew.

They witnessed rapid-fire ad libs: When Jeff Miller of The Suffolk Times asked Williams about Garp, Williams quipped, “It’s a fairy tale written on acid.” Williams could make sense one minute then erupt in nonsense, savaging the news, people, and events. Close described how he spontaneously “wove it all into a cohesive whole with no notes, nothing but his genius.”

But Garp’s Oscar-winning George Roy Hill, who had directed luminaries such as Paul Newman and Robert Redford, rejected improvisation, yelling “Cut!” and stopping filming. Williams cooperated, relying on his early drama lessons.

“STIMULUS JUNKIE”

Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago in 1951. He recalled that his mother influenced his sense of humor; he tried getting attention by making her laugh.

Raised mostly by a maid, in a 40-room farmhouse near Detroit, the shy, quiet child had an uncanny ear for dialogue and recorded himself voicing different characters. After he moved to Northern California, high school drama courses revealed his explosive talent; he was voted “Most Likely Not to Succeed” and “Funniest.”

In 1973, Williams beat out 2,000 applicants to a Juilliard School full-scholarship advanced drama class. The only other student was Christoper Reeve, who remembered, “He was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released … he virtually caromed off the walls.” They studied conservative dramatic acting techniques and became lifelong friends.

Williams first stepped onstage in San Francisco in the mid-1970s. By 1977, he was wowing them at the L.A. Improv, and in 1978 he starred in Mork & Mindy. In 1981 Williams cracked up Johnny Carson, debuted on Saturday Night Live, and made Garp. He was so turned on by life — and by sold-out TV specials and major films — that his third wife Susan Schneider called him “a stimulus junkie.”

LOSING IT

Garp was just the second of many comedies, fantasies, and tragedies he would star in. He won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, Grammys, and a best supporting actor Academy Award for Good Will Hunting in 1997. But he battled depression and fueled his performances with cocaine and alcohol before getting sober in rehab.

In 2013, extreme depression, anxiety, and paranoia, along with stomach and vision problems, tremors, and insomnia, assailed him. He forgot his lines. He feared he couldn’t be funny. The diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease.

His wife said he was mad at himself for what his mind and body were doing. Unable to retaliate, on August 11, 2014, the 63-year-old committed suicide by hanging himself. An autopsy disproved the diagnosis: Williams actually had severe Lewy body disease, an incurable, aggressive dementia.

Close recalled that although his humor and insights came from a place of pain and uncertainty, they “connected us and reminded us of … how we are capable of moments of inspired transcendence and others of unspeakable despair.”

RFK: A Ripple of Hope

Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 Indiana primary.

Fifty years ago, American soldiers were being slaughtered — nearly 17,000 by year’s end — in Vietnam. African Americans were hobbled by discrimination and the Black Power movement fueled riots. In April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated nonviolent protest against discrimination, was assassinated.

Enter Robert Francis Kennedy, campaigning for president in Indianapolis. He was shy, so nerve-ridden that when speaking in public his legs shook behind the podium. But he spoke calmly, without notes, telling King supporters that their leader was dead in Memphis:

“What we need in the United States is … compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

Dr. King’s murder caused protest everywhere except Indianapolis. Many said that Bobby Kennedy saved the city.

LIFE OF SERVICE

The seventh of nine fiercely competitive children, Bobby Kennedy (RFK) was born into Massachusetts wealth in November 1925, indulged by his mother, dubbed “the runt of the litter” by his father, and overshadowed by older brothers.

But quiet determination impelled him to graduate from Harvard and study law. He served his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy by managing his successful 1952 U.S. Senate campaign and 1958 reelection bid. In 1960, JFK resigned as senator and won the presidency. He appointed his brother U.S. attorney general; RFK became a close confidant and enforced civil rights laws.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Despite the devastation, from under the cloak of sadness emerged a compassionate RFK. Championing change for the urban poor and disadvantaged, nine months after the assassination he announced his New York senator candidacy. When he spoke at Atlantic City’s Democratic Convention in August 1964, the delegates’ applause roared for 20 minutes.

SERENITY ON THE SOUND

Establishing residency, RFK rented Marymead, a woodsy, 25-room Colonial Glen Cove mansion. He appreciated suburbia, having spent time in Riverdale and Bronxville. He moved to Marymead in September, resigned as attorney general, and accepted the senator nomination.

Wherever he appeared, crowds besieged him. At Hicksville’s 36th annual Labor Day volunteer firemen’s parade, hundreds lined the route; the Nassau County Police Department added 20 men to the 40-man detail. Later RFK watched his children swim at Piping Rock Country Club in Locust Valley, returned home to nap, and held a cookout on the grounds.

That fall RFK lunched with his wife Ethel and campaigned in Long Beach, Central Islip, and across Long Island. A new neighbor moved in: widowed former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, his late brother’s wife. To avoid prying eyes, she chose Dosoris Island’s Creek House, a 10-room fieldstone structure accessible only by a stone bridge. Like RFK’s house, hers faced Long Island Sound.

They were supportive of each other and rumors of romance flew. Ignoring them, Bobby campaigned, smiling, waving, shaking people’s hands. The people voted, electing him with 720,000 votes.

He conveyed a ripple of hope as he advocated for the urban poor, took up La Causa of striking California farmworkers, and proposed suspending U.S. bombing over North Vietnam, while riots in Harlem, Watts, and most major U.S. cities continued.

In March 1968, the guest of honor at the Sky Island Club at the Garden City Hotel, not realizing the microphones were on, confirmed his presidential ambitions. His formal announcement came the next day, but national newspapers had already zeroed in on the slip. He could no longer ignore a country in crisis.

UNHEALED WOUNDS

He won the California primary on June 4, 1968 at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. In his victory speech, he said that despite the division, violence, and disenchantment of the last few years, “We can start to work together.”

He waved to the crowd, and as he moved slowly through the kitchen to shake hands with employees, he was shot by gunman Sirhan Sirhan.

Robert F. Kennedy, age 42, died the next day.

John Philip Sousa: Mr. Stars and Stripes

Left: John Phillip Sousa, who lived in Sands Point, composed the National March. Right: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University Rubenstein Library.

For many, summer celebrations would be nothing without hearing John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever. The 1896 march conveys images of flags waving, parades, and the sense that everything will be alright.

Bringing music to the masses, evoking nostalgia for a simpler time, the “Pied Piper of Patriotism” and self-proclaimed “salesman of Americanism” was so popular that a Liberty battleship, a Washington, D.C. bridge, and schools — including John Philip Sousa Elementary in Port Washington — bear his name.

TALENT AND TIMING

His childhood was as American as can be. He was born in Washington, D.C., next to the United States Marine Barracks, the first son of European immigrants. His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band.

By 1861, the lad with perfect pitch was an award-winning multi-instrumentalist at a private conservatory. He studied harmony, composition, and violin as the sounds of military bands and Civil War battles echoed nearby.

When he was 13, a traveling circus offered him a bandleader position. He later wrote that he wanted “to follow the life of the circus, make money, and become the leader of a circus band myself.”

He tried running away but his father enrolled him as a Marine Band apprentice. At age 19, he published his first march. He became a solo violinist, conducted Broadway and vaudeville orchestras, and wrote operettas. Appointed the Marine Band’s leader, in 1888 he composed Semper Fidelis, which became the Corps’ official march.

He moved to Manhattan in 1892 and formed his own symphonic concert band. Neil Harris’ Library of Congress biography described how the “carefully groomed Sousa, clad in tight fitting uniform and spotless white gloves, acted out the maestro.”

Sousa mastered marketing his brand as public relations wizards worked the press. He had an instrument created, the Sousaphone. The newly invented phonograph had recorded the Marine Band marches, making the the world’s first recording stars. Among those marches was his famous 1896 Stars and Stripes Forever.

MORE THAN MARCHES

In the late 1800s, agricultural America was becoming an industrial powerhouse; German, Scandinavian, and other immigrants fled to America; the nation struggled for global domination after warring with Spain over Cuba in 1898.

Sousa faced criticism. Frederic D. Schwartz wrote in American Heritage that critics at the time remarked on The Stars and Stripes Forever’s “‘jingoistic’ or ‘martial’ character.”

In Lawyers, Guns, & Money, University of Rhode Island Professor Erik Loomis calls Sousa “the composer and conductor of America’s soundtrack for imperialism and colonization.”

During the Victorian era, many held that America was culturally inferior to Europe, an attitude that irritated Sousa. But on their first European tour in 1900, his musicians impressed audiences, mastering dynamics to include different levels, unlike other bands’ often bombastic sounds. The dapper mustachioed showman, a mason and member of the Sons of the Revolution, attracted a following by offering humor, perfection, and patriotism.

BAND PLAYED ON

In 1914 America joined World War I and Sousa, 62, enlisted in the Naval Reserve. His navy band was so popular that it raised $21 million for the war effort. As Howard Reich wrote in
the Chicago Tribune, “… And out of that noisy, cacophonist din came the measured, four square, reassuring beat of the ‘Sousa March.’”

In 1915, Sousa moved to Wild Bank at 14 Hicks Lane in Sands Point. His band continued performing, including 1923 and 1924 concerts at Ward & Glynne’s movie palace (today’s Patchogue Theatre), and he advocated for children’s music education and composers’ rights.

In 1932, he rehearsed The Stars and Stripes Forever with the Ringgold Band for a Philadelphia concert. The next day he died of heart disease at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel. Wild Bank is now a National Historic Land- mark; in 1987, Congress named his Stars and Stripes the National March.

Ironically, although “The March King” wrote more than 100 marches, his band marched in just eight parades.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: Long Island’s Romance of The Century

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.

It started in January 1962 on the set of Cleopatra. Two stars acted out their scene, sparks ignited, and all thoughts of marital fidelity vanished. As Vanity Fair reported, “There was more going on than just electricity.”

They were already famous. Elizabeth Taylor, she of the violet eyes and raven hair, the child actress who blossomed into the most beautiful woman in the world and won multiple Academy Awards and Golden Globes, played the seductive Egyptian queen. Cast as dashing Roman General Marc Antony, Richard Burton was a braggartly sexy Welshman and Shakespearean actor with perfect elocution and a philandering heart.

In 1962, divorce meant disgrace and affairs were taboo. The newly invented birth control pill was outlawed in many states, the media was not celebrity-obsessed, and the internet was science fiction. In that prudish atmosphere, the stars poked a hornet’s nest of public attitudes as cameras focused on their Manhattan, Europe, Africa, and Long Island romance.

HELL BREAKS LOOSE

Like the real Cleopatra and Antony, Taylor and Burton littered their path with broken alliances. Taylor, 29, many times married, was branded a homewrecker for stealing crooner Eddie Fisher away from her best friend, actress Debbie Reynolds, in 1958. Debbie and Eddie had the perfect marriage with two kids (including actress Carrie Fisher) and were dubbed “America’s Sweethearts.” Taylor persisted, though, marrying Eddie Fisher in 1959. They vacationed off Fire Island on their yacht, but things soured by 1961. Enter Burton.

“From those first moments in Rome we were always madly and powerfully in love,” Taylor said, in Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. After their scene, Burton boasted that he would bed Taylor within two days. It reportedly took five days. He bragged to others about his conquest.

Burton, 34, had won a Tony Award for his portrayal of King Arthur in Broadway’s Camelot. He had been married for 12 years to actress Sybil Williams but had casual affairs. Beguiled by Taylor, he fell into an un-casual romance.

All hell broke loose: The scandal was leaked in February 1962 and Fisher fled. Sybil Burton found out and fled. Twentieth-Century Fox halted production for days at a daily cost of $100,000.

Then-U.S. Rep. Michael A. Feighan (D-Ohio), calling the tryst “a public outrage,” lobbied to revoke Burton’s visa, saying Burton’s presence would be “detrimental to the morals of the youth of the nation.” An “open letter” from the Vatican accused Taylor of “erotic vagrancy.” Pursued by paparazzi, vilified by the Vatican, Taylor divorced Fisher and married Burton in Montreal in March 1964.

LONG ISLAND IDYLL

The couple retreated to LI. In 1964, she and Burton honeymooned for a weekend at a waterside guesthouse at Pembroke, a since-demolished Glen Cove estate.

They made 11 movies together including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966, for which Taylor won the Best Actress Oscar. They were observed dining at Rothmann’s in East Norwich and having a bite with a local liquor store owner while sitting on stools at the Quogue Fountain of Youth soda shop.

They stayed in a Quogue carriage house at the Shinnecock Road estate of Aaron Frosch, their attorney and business manager. They visited Hamptons galleries and played tennis at the Quogue Field Club during the summer of 1967. Taylor shopped at the A&P on Montauk Highway.

“Quogies were dazzled by the couple at the height of their stardom,” reported the Quogue Blogue.

THE BATTLING BURTONS

Neighbors heard the couple arguing, over Burton’s temper, or alcoholism, or cheating, or Taylor’s anger, drug addiction, alcoholism. They battered one another emotionally and physically.

They divorced in June 1974, then re-married in 1975. Their final divorce was in July 1976. In Quogue, Burton insisted they weren’t separated. Taylor partied at Calvin Klein’s Fire Island waterfront home, where she reportedly left towels stained with lipstick and makeup. In the late 1990s, she vacationed at Andy Warhol’s Montauk summer estate. Taylor and Burton married again—but not each other.

On Aug. 5, 1984, Burton died at age 58 of a cerebral hemorrhage; he rests in Wales. Taylor died 27 years later at age 79 in 2011. Many say that Burton’s love letter written three days before dying was buried with Taylor in Forest Lawn Cemetery in California. Burton’s last wife, Sally Hay Burton, disputes that, saying that her lawyer was told by other lawyers that there was no letter.

The truth rests with Taylor and Burton.