Sagaponack Saga: Guilt by Association; Studio 54, Where Are You?

Sagaponack Saga: Guilt by Association

When Ira Rennert first got the permits to build Fair Field, his monstrous dream house in the Hamptons, a group called the Sagaponack Homeowners Association, headed by Manhattan-based real estate broker Albert Bialek, rose up in opposition. Then came the Sagaponack Village Association, an organization dedicated to the secession of this chunk of pricy land and the 300 families that live on it from the jurisdiction of Southampton township. Reporting for presidential duty once again was the tireless Mr. Bialek.

But on Feb. 5, when a new group, which calls itself, rather wordily, the Association of Friends of Sagaponack, filed two lawsuits, one against Mr. Rennert and the Town of Southampton, the second against the town’s zoning board of appeals, local residents noticed something interesting. Not only was Mr. Bialek not involved in the Association of Friends of Sagaponack, the principals of this new association had all once belonged to either one or both of Mr. Bialek’s organizations.

Indeed, sources familiar with the situation said that the genesis of the Association of Friends of Sagaponack arose out of dissatisfaction with Mr. Bialek’s ham-handed leadership of the Rennert renegades. Those sources indicate that, late last year, after Mr. Bialek repeatedly refused to step down as president of the Sagaponack Homeowners Association, a number of members of the group, including restaurateur Allan Stillman, stockbroker Joseph Dilworth, money manager Joseph Zicherman, and real estate developer Carole Taylor, submitted their resignations to Mr. Bialek’s office. In addition to forming a new association, they also hired an outside law firm from White Plains. (The new association’s lawsuits, filed at State Supreme Court in Riverhead, L.I., seek to tear down Fair Field and also ask for millions of dollars in damages for civil rights violations.)

Sources familiar with the situation said that many of those who resigned had tired of Mr. Bialek’s loud and sometimes rough-edged manner, which had allegedly alienated potential allies in the fight against Mr. Rennert and was at cross-purposes with the dignified public face that the group was trying to present. (One Sagaponack resident recalled Mr. Bialek wearing a leisure suit to one of the town meetings). There was also some dismay over the amount of press that Mr. Bialek was getting. Mr. Bialek accompanied filmmaker Michael Moore’s camera crew when the group ventured onto the Fair Field construction, a jaunt which resulted in a short-lived lawsuit by Mr. Rennert.

Mr. Bialek had also generated controversy in his neighborhood with a boxy, two-story, approximately 2,500-square-foot addition that he had legally but quietly built onto his original house. One local noted that the structure “would be a welcome addition–to La Guardia airport.” The building’s design has prompted some locals to dub Mr. Bialek’s house the “Doubletree Sagaponack” and to joke that overnight guests receive frequent-flier miles. In November, Southampton town supervisor Vincent Cannuscio was referring to Mr. Bialek’s addition when he said: “There’s some really big hypocrites [in Sagaponack], and Bialek is one of the guys who has a big letter H in the middle of his name.”

Members of the Association of Friends of Sagaponack who spoke to The Transom downplayed their reasons for their split from Mr. Bialek’s organization. Mr. Dilworth, who is the treasurer of the new organization, said, “I think there was a feeling that there was a need for a different way of approaching things,” he said. “So rather than argue, those of us who were like-minded marched off in a different direction.”

“I don’t wish him ill,” said Mr. Zicherman, who is a vice president of the new group. “He certainly is free to pursue this independently any way that he wishes.”

Mr. Dilworth and Mr. Zicherman also praised Mr. Bialek for being, as Mr. Dilworth put it, “the first one to stand up and say something ought to be done about this.”

Mr. Bialek did not return several calls to his Sagaponack home and his Manhattan office. He recently told the East Hampton Star that the Association of Friends of Sagaponack was a “splinter” group from his own and estimated that the Sagaponack Homeowners Association still had about 60 members in its ranks. Privately, members of the Association of Friends and other locals expressed extreme doubt about Mr. Bialek’s estimate. “It’s more like two members–Al and his wife,” said one. If Mr. Bialek decides he would rather follow than lead, he may find he’s not exactly welcome in the new organization. Asked if he would be allowed to join the Association of Friends were he to ask, Ms. Taylor replied, “No comment.”

Studio 54, Where Are You?

Thanks to the wonders of grass-roots dissemination, a gayer version of Mark Christopher’s 1998 film 54 –the cut that Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein did not want the public to see–may be screening at a friend’s home near you.

Just a day after The Transom made a series of phone calls inquiring about a “director’s rough cut” of 54 floating around New York gay circles, presto, a videotape copy appeared on The Observer ‘s doorstep bearing just that title.

Disco film buffs may recall that last year Mr. Christopher was steamed when Miramax executives informed him that his movie had fared so badly with a Long Island test audience that he would have to reshoot a number of scenes in order to make the film less noxious to multiplex crowds.

An hour of Mr. Christopher’s two-hour film was lopped off, and a half-hour of new footage was inserted. (Mr. Weinstein has been dubbed “Harvey Scissorhands” for his stringent editing demands.) Since many of the changes involved taking out the gay tendencies of the film’s central character, Shane (Ryan Philippe), Mr. Christopher, who was hired on the merits of two gay-themed short films he directed, howled that Mr. Weinstein and Miramax were trying to de-queerify 54 .

So in a turn that cannot please Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Christopher’s version is making the rounds. The questions of how and why are not so easily answered. According to a source close to the production, copies of early cuts of films are never hard to come by on movie sets, and frequently circulate before a film is even released in theaters. Mr. Christopher did not return telephone calls, but speculation among the movie-industry crowd is that supporters of the director are trying to turn his version into a cult hit, thereby boosting his stock in Hollywood. The Miramax version of 54 tanked at the box office.

One film industry insider, who requested anonymity, did cop to circulating a copy of Mr. Christopher’s 54 , which could account for some of the buzz. “People just can’t wait to get their hands on it. It’s all that anyone wants to see from my video collection,” he said.

Mr. Christopher’s cut depicts a Shane who is much more sexually active with both men and women. He enjoys two shirtless tongue kisses with men (one of them a Halston knockoff) in the basement of Studio 54. He also romps with his best friend’s wife (Salma Hayek) on top of a Studio 54 commode while Steve Rubell (Mike Myers) peeps through the stall door. The Miramax version steers clear of any love triangles or weirdo voyeurism.

Mr. Philippe’s character is more voracious (and less of a heroic figure) in other ways, too. He takes more drugs in Mr. Christopher’s cut and deals them as well.

In one of the climactic scenes of the director’s cut, Shane admits to Steve Rubell that drugs he had dealt to Disco Dottie (a grandmotherly character based on the real-life Disco Sally) caused her overdose on New Year’s Eve in 1979. In Miramax’s version, Shane doesn’t take the blame. “We did it to her!” he wails to Rubell. “The place did!”

Los Angeles Film Critics Association president and Daily Variety film critic Emanuel Levy, who wrote a negative review of the Miramax version, warmed up a little when he was sent a copy. “In the director’s cut, you get much more of the mood of Studio 54, the decadence of the time,” Mr. Levy said. “The characterizations are stronger. And it also seems like Miramax took out the real sexuality.”

Is a small groundswell of critical support enough to make this version of 54 an underground favorite? The aforementioned tape disseminator wasn’t so sure. “Honestly,” he said, “even the gay version was a little tough to get through.”

–Andrew Goldman

No. 1 at Elaine’s

The 70th-birthday celebration that Elaine Kaufman’s friends threw for her at her Second Avenue saloon on Feb. 9 attracted some old literary souls and, naturally, they came with stories attached. Ms. Kaufman was especially touched by the sight of Memoir of a Gambler author Jack Richardson, who was one of her original regulars, but hadn’t visited the place for a while. Writer Bruce Jay Friedman had called Mr. Richardson to invite him and told him he had always been No. 1 with Ms. Kaufman. In contrast, Mr. Friedman placed himself at No. 11. Mr. Friedman said Mr. Richardson replied that “there had been some fatalities since then, so I might have moved up a lot faster than I had realized.”

Meanwhile, former Harper’s editor Willie Morris couldn’t make it, but he sent a telegram. Problem was, when New York Post columnist Neal Travis got up to read it, no one seemed to want to quiet down enough to hear it, especially MacAndrews & Forbes employee Dennis Stein, who emitted a loud snore upon hearing Mr. Morris’ name. Mr. Travis shot back, “Just because you dated Elizabeth Taylor, you snore!” He added that the document he was holding came from “Willie Fucking Morris.” Mr. Travis tried again to read above the din, but then gave up, announcing that he would simply reprint the telegram in his column. Finally, while there was much discussion about Woody Allen’s absence from the night, it turns out that Mr. Allen dined with Ms. Kaufman the following night, which happens to be the actual date of her birthday.

No More Bread for PB&J

PB&J, the public relations company formed by twentysomething trendsters Ally B. (as in Bernstein) and Jennifer Posner, will shut their doors come March. Many publicists sounded the death knell for the company after the publication of New York magazine’s “Power Girls” cover story: Ms. Posner, in particular, took heaps of flak–and death threats–after she was quoted as saying that PB&J’s hip-hop clients hadn’t being served well by black publicists. “…They needed two big-mouthed Jewish girls to tell it to these guys straight,” Ms. Posner was quoted as saying.

Shed no tears for Ms. B.–Momma’s got a brand new bag. Lizzie Grubman–another of the infamous “Power Girls”–has hired Ms. B. to start up a music division at her eponymous firm. According to Ms. Grubman, Ms. B. intends to bring over PB&J’s two major accounts, Tommy Hilfiger Jeans and Loud Records. And Ms. Posner? She is looking to “go in house,” possibly working in the publicity department for “a big company, like Sony,” according to one source who knows both women. The strain of running a small business, coupled with the bad press from the magazine story, was too much for the two youngsters to bear, according to the source. “The story was very taxing on all the girls involved. It really came down to how they would react: whether they could hunker down and get back to work, or whether they would, like, spin out.”

Neither Ms. B. nor Ms. Posner could be reached to comment as to whether they were surviving nicely, or, like, spinning out.

The Transom Also Hears …

Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein was a virtual human multiplex when he arrived at Camp David, the Presidential retreat near Thurmont, Md., on Jan. 30. The Transom hears that Mr. Weinstein brought approximately half a dozen films with him when he and his wife, Eve Weinstein, joined Bill and Hillary Clinton and a group that included Mrs. Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham; former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler, his wife Polly Kraft; singer Carly Simon and her novelist husband, Jim Hart; Steven Rattner, deputy chief executive of Lazard Frères & Company, and his wife, Maureen White; and financier Dirk Ziff and his wife, former Forbes reporter Natasha Bacigalupo Ziff at the rustic Presidential retreat. Although Mr. Weinstein insisted everyone watch an upcoming Miramax picture called Happy, Texas , the group voted on the second of the double feature. The winner: Shakespeare in Love , which Mrs. Clinton had seen at the film’s New York premiere. By the time the film began playing at around 11 P.M., many of the V.I.P.’s had already gone to bed, leaving only a hard-core half dozen or so, including the President (who had napped earlier in the day) to see it to its end.