Annie Wilkinson

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.

Audrey Hepburn: Our Fair Lady

Audry Hepburn in Sabrina

When Audrey Hepburn filmed Sabrina in 1953, she was a bona fide movie star starring with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden in tony Glen Cove on the fabled Gold Coast. Wearing the timeless designs of couturier Hubert de Givenchy and legendary designer Edith Head, she was surrounded by lavish wealth and would become wealthy herself as the highest-paid actress in the world, earning $750,000 per film.

But just seven years earlier, in 1946, she was a child living through Europe’s post-World War II famine. What must she have thought of the excesses around her, this talented yet secretive actress who had survived being abandoned in wartime?


Life started out well in Brussels, Belgium for Audrey Hepburn Kathleen Ruston, born into semi-royalty on May 4, 1929. Her mother was Dutch noblewoman Baroness Ella Van Heemstra; her English-Austrian father Joseph Victor Anthony Hepburn-Ruston was a Bohemian banker.

But by the mid-1930s, the British Union of Fascists was popular in England. Hepburn’s parents sympathized and met fascist leader Adolf Hitler; Hepburn’s mother bragged that Hitler kissed her hand and she published a pro-Nazi article. When anti-Semitic ideology spread, though, Hepburn’s mother distanced herself — but her husband joined an extreme splinter group and abandoned his family. After Hepburn’s parents’ divorce, she was sent to a London boarding school. She “was dumped,” she said later.

Her mother moved their family to the Netherlands, which was safe until the 1940 Nazi occupation. Hepburn remembered watching trainloads of Jewish families being deported to concentration camps.

Her father had left his family with no money. Meals consisted of bread made from beans, or broth and a potato — or no food for days.

Hepburn supported the Dutch pushback against Nazi occupation, stuffing resistance newspapers into her woolen socks and wooden shoes and delivering messages and food to downed Allied pilots. Her secret efforts included ballet performances to raise money for the cause. The shy child became a brave, expressive young woman.

After the “Hunger Winter” of 1944-1945, living without electricity or water, the family survived on endive and tulip bulbs. After the Germans blockaded food imports, Hepburn suffered from severe malnutrition, weighing 88 pounds. She developed anemia and jaundice.


To quiet her hunger pangs, Hepburn read books and continued her ballet lessons. In 1946, agents of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) rescued her from the famine.

She dreamed of becoming a ballerina. But at 5 feet 7 inches, she was too tall. She moved to London, modeling and acting in revues and cabarets to support herself and her mother and training to become a dental assistant. In 1951, entranced by the actress’ distinguished bearing and elfin-like innocence, the French writer Colette cast Hepburn to star in the stage production of her novel Gigi.

Hepburn starred opposite Gregory Peck in her first American-made movie, as a runaway princess in Roman Holiday in 1953, one of many stylish romantic comedies she would make. She won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress.

That year, the Sabrina cast and crew filmed at Kiluna Farm, the estate of CBS creator William S. Paley. Once a working farm, it is now the luxury development Stone Hill Manhasset off Shelter Rock Road.

In autumn of 1953 the Long Island Rail Road’s Glen Cove station hosted real royalty when Hepburn was filmed and photographed there, “looking devastatingly chic in her Givenchy suit and hat,” according to Formerly called Nassau station, it was built in 1895 to provide a dignified station for local millionaires such as J.P. Morgan.


Audiences worldwide loved her and she earned numerous awards. But at heart she was the mother of two sons, who described “being miserable” when she was away from them. So in 1966, she walked away from acting to stay home to raise her children.

She never forgot how UNICEF saved her. In 1989, after her children were grown, she was appointed UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador. Advocating for children’s rights, Hepburn visited drought-ravaged villages and met with members of Congress. Her granddaughter Emma Kathleen Hepburn Ferrer said her mother would not just say hello to the children: “She would really pick them up and cradle them and kiss the mothers’ hands.”

In her final film Hepburn appeared in a cameo as a graceful, serene angel in Steven Spielberg’s Always. She worked with UNICEF until 1993, when she passed away from appendicular cancer.

Ben Bradlee: Digging Through Decay

President Barack Obama awards the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ben Bradlee during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 20, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

America is ripping apart at the seams under the weight of a crisis of corruption. It falls to the media to reveal the facts, for the pen is mightier than the cover-up.

Sound like the current state of our nation? Actually, it happened 45 years ago, when one newsman captained his ship through epic waves of scandal. The helmsman was Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee, The Washington Post executive editor who authorized breaking the news that broke the president: Richard M. Nixon resigned in 1974.

The New York Times called Ben Bradlee the “last of the lion-king newspaper editors.” Just who was this indefatigable leader? And what possessed this history shaper who dined with presidents and princesses, who was awarded accolades and medals, to buy a crumbling, flea-infested Hamptons mansion?


The Harvard University alumnus was tough: As a youth, he successfully battled polio, and as a reporter, he dug deep for political dirt. Starting out at the New Hampshire Sunday News, he was hired by the American embassy in Paris. In 1952 he joined its propaganda unit, used by the CIA in Europe. As a Newsweek reporter, then Washington Bureau Chief, he befriended his neighbor, then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy, and covered the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon presidential campaigns. Joining the Post in 1965 as managing editor, Bradlee was promoted to executive editor in 1968.

In 1971, he wrestled with a whopper of an article that would yield Pulitzer Prizes: With publisher Katharine Graham, he ran a piece on the Pentagon Papers, an incriminating Defense Department study of the U.S.-Vietnam conflict. A federal judge had barred The New York Times from running the story but the Supreme Court ruled the government could not restrict newspapers from publishing a story before it ran. In 1972, the Post investigated a burglary attempt to bug the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate complex, leading to Nixon’s resignation.

The Times dubbed Bradlee “the Watergate Warrior.” As Martha Sheyrill wrote in The Washington Post, “Nothing pleased Bradlee more than a piece that nailed the corrupt, pricked a narcissist, uncovered a creep, exposed a phony, felled a climber, and really told it like it was.”


In 1978, the order-shouting, profanity-loving newsroom hero married journalist Sally Quinn. The power couple entertained an “eclectic mix of media, celebrity and political types,” wrote Washington Life, at their D.C. and Maryland homes.

During those investigative reporting glory days, Republicans and Democrats behaved less acrimoniously. “You could differ politically during the day but at night you could sit around the table, break bread, have a few drinks, and there was a camaraderie — and a lot of that happened at Ben and Sally’s table,” wrote Harry Jaffe, senior writer at Washingtonian magazine, in a USA Today article.

Bradlee also supported historical and archeological research. In 1979 he and his wife rescued an 14-room, gray-shingled, 1897 mansion surrounded by East Hampton’s soft dunes and sea mists.

As The New York Times tells it, Bradlee took one look and told Quinn she was out of her mind. He reportedly wrote, “In all my life, including years reporting about slums from Washington to Casablanca, I have never seen a house in such dreadful condition: attics full of raccoons and their droppings, toilets stopped up, a kitchen stove that had fallen into the cellar…”

Ever the clever phrase-turner, he said, “There were 52 dead cats in it, and funeral arrangements had to be made for each one.”

The home had inspired Grey Gardens, a 1975 documentary about mother-daughter hoarder-owners who lived in squalor, surrounded by garbage and wild animals. Sally Quinn told Architectural Digest, “The floor was part dirt. The ceiling was caving in … Still, I thought it was the prettiest house I had ever seen.”

The power duo poured money into restoration. Their “archeological expedition,” as Quinn described it, restored the home’s former glory, and in old Hamptons style they entertained local luminaries — Nora Ephron, Paul McCartney, Steven Spielberg — and hosted philanthropic and arts organizations benefits.

In 2014, five years after being diagnosed with dementia, Bradlee entered hospice care. He had retired as the Post’s executive editor in 1991 but served as vice president at large until dying of natural causes in Washington at age 93 in 2014. Several years before, Quinn interviewed him, asking how he wanted to be remembered.

He replied, “To leave a legacy of honesty, and I guess to live a life as close to the truth as I can.”

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.