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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Last Stop, Hamptons

Florida has been dubbed ‘heaven’s waiting room’ but Long Island’s East End might rank a close second in that regard, based on Dan Rattiner’s just-published In the Hamptons Too (SUNY Press/Excelsior Editions, June 2010).

Rattiner, founder and executive editor of Dan’s Papers, a Suffolk County weekly newspaper marking its 50th anniversary this year, offers in his latest work an insightful look at the 20th century luminaries with whom he crossed paths on the East End, all in their twilight years. In the Hamptons Too offers a lively recounting of the Hamptons’ growth over time, as well, although it is the vivid portraits of feminist Betty Friedan (1921-2006), diplomat Alger Hiss (1904-1996), and novelist Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) that resonate.

Friedan, first president of the National Organization for Women and author of The Feminine Mystique, was an East End presence dating back to the 1970s, the book indicates. Rattiner met Friedan at various events over time, although the August 1988 luncheon they enjoyed at her Garden Street, Sag Harbor residence, and chronicled in the book, offered Rattiner a glimpse of her family life. Indeed, while chatting that summer day with Rattiner, Friedan was having an additional bedroom built onto her Sag Harbor property so she had a place to sleep when her three grown, married children, and her eight grandchildren, aged 2 to 14, came over to visit. Friedan made it clear to Rattiner that you can be a fierce advocate for women’s rights and a doting grandmother, too.

Rattiner met Hiss while Hiss was living on Osborne Lane in East Hampton in the early 1990s. Hiss, who was almost blind by this time, immediately tells Rattiner he has the latest edition of Dan’s Papers regularly read to him, a deft conversation-starter when meeting the paper’s founder. Decades earlier, Hiss, a Harvard Law School graduate who accompanied President Franklin Roosevelt to Yalta as a top White House aide, was at the center of a case which drew national attention. Hiss was accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union while working at the U.S. State Department. The espionage charge was not formally brought against Hiss during the era’s legal proceedings but Hiss went to prison in the early 1950s for lying to Congress. The individual who introduced Hiss to the Hamptons was New Yorker magazine writer A.J. Liebling, Hiss tells Rattiner. Hiss said he bought a home in Amagansett before moving to East Hampton, and that the East End reminded him of the coastal portions of his native Maryland.

Kurt Vonnegut, for his part, became for a short time a regular dining partner of Rattiner’s in the early 1990s at Bobby Van’s in Bridgehampton, a restaurant that is there to this day. Vonnegut grew up in Indiana but found his way to a home on Main Street in Sagaponack after many of Vonnegut’s 14 books, most notably Slaughterhouse Five, based on his searing combat experiences during the WWII, climbed the bestseller list.

Rattiner, a walking repository of East End history, has scheduled an ambitious book tour this summer. The details can be found at www.danrattiner.com.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net