Like this city, the Hamptons have long been a place where opposing forces co-exist in a fragile state: the privileged and the working class; the established and the strivers; the year-rounders and the summer people.
Jeff Salaway was a unifying presence in that fractious world. He was a guy “who could talk to everyone and anyone,” said his rabbi, David Gelfand. “The person on the street was his friend, as was the person who drove up in the fanciest car.”
“He was a joker, a Pied Piper and a guy full of life,” said his publicist, Steve Haweeli.
Mr. Salaway had married Toni Ross, the daughter of the late Time Warner chairman Steve Ross, and he moved comfortably in that world; but he was just as much at ease with the busboys and bartenders who worked at Nick & Toni’s, the restaurant that he and his wife opened in 1986.
Nick & Toni’s helped define the Hamptons. It was a focal point, a destination, a refuge–and, for some of its regulars, an identity. It was the summer hangout. And summer had come to a cruel end.
So on Sept. 2, two days after Mr. Salaway’s untimely death, the more than 1,000 people who converged on his memorial service at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton seemed dazed and stricken, not quite sure what they should be doing or where they should be going. If Mr. Salaway had been there, he would have known exactly what to do. He would have welcomed the mourners with a warm smile and a clever joke that would have reassured them no matter where they had to sit. And he would have known how to handle the guest list that determined who was allowed inside the Jewish Center and who was not–a formality that seemed to upset some people even further.
But Jeff was gone, and so they staggered under the white tent–wherever Mr. Salaway was, there always seemed to be a white tent–and into the synagogue, their swollen eyes covered with sunglasses. Some heads were bowed; some were craned in the direction of the celebrities who kept filing into the place of worship. Actors Alec Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Roy Scheider and Alan Alda could be seen in the crowd, as were singers Paul Simon and his wife, Edie Brickell, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt, Ronald Lauder, Candice Bergen, writers Nora Ephron and her husband, Nick Pileggi, writer Steven Gaines and filmmaker Barbara Kopple, who had interviewed Mr. Salaway for her documentary on the Hamptons just hours before the auto crash that took his life.
Rabbi Gelfand began the service by quoting a sage. “We are never hopeless in the face of death,” he said. “But we do rob death of its ultimate victory by living well and fully as long as it’s ours to live. So when we die and people weep for us and grieve, let it be because we have touched their lives with beauty and simplicity. And let it not be said that life was good to us; rather, that we were good to life.” Mr. Salaway, Rabbi Gelfand said, “was so good to life.”
Jonathan Snow, artist-in-residence at the Hayground School, likened Mr. Salaway to “a one-man klezmer band on a mission to make the world rejoice.” Added Mr. Snow: “He regaled us with a kind of constant cognitive dissonance that said, ‘This is the most serious and important kind of work you can do in this world’–and in the next breath, ‘Hoopa-hoopa-hoopa, we were at Grossinger’s.’”
Next, a few colleagues talked about Mr. Salaway. They cited his “wry grin,” his “generosity of spirit” and the fact that “God didn’t bless him with much of a butt,” which meant that he was always hiking up his pants.
The restaurant’s publicist and former bartender, Steve Haweeli, recalled the time that his balding boss walked into the restaurant with his hair cut in a combed-down Roman style, prompting five of his employees to say in unison, “Caligula!”
A few days after the ceremony, Mr. Haweeli remembered some other good times he’d had with his employer. He recounted meeting up with Mr. Salaway and some friends at the restaurant in the dead of winter, smoking cigars and playing poker. Another time, about seven years ago in August, “the crescendo week for the summer,” Mr. Salaway called up Mr. Haweeli and told him poker would begin at Nick & Toni’s at 7 o’clock. Mr. Haweeli figured they’d be playing in the restaurant’s office, but instead Mr. Salaway and a group that included Chevy Chase were playing in the restaurant’s subterranean wine room. “We’re down there and Jeff’s ordering pizzas, fried calamari, and you can hear from the floorboards above us that the place is just rocking,” Mr. Haweeli said. “Every once in a while you’d hear some plates crash, and we’re just downstairs playing poker all night with cigars, of course, nice wine, all that stuff.” Added Mr. Haweeli: “Jeff liked to have fun.”
Dan Rizzie, a painter who lives in Sag Harbor, told The Transom that Mr. Salaway was “the only man I’ve ever known who could swagger into a room on his knees.” In fact, Mr. Rizzie said that it was a tradition between them that every time Mr. Rizzie walked into the restaurant, Mr. Salaway would genuflect. “I’m probably the least well-known artist that came into the restaurant,” he said. “But no matter who was there, whether it was Steven Spielberg or anyone, he would drop to his knees and kiss my feet when I came in. It was horribly embarrassing for me and everyone else, but he just didn’t have any problem doing things like that. He did it the night he died,” Mr. Rizzie said. “Jeff didn’t care. He had absolutely no problem with stuff like that. It didn’t matter whether it was the guy off the corner or the most famous person in the world, Jeff was the exact same way with everyone.”
Mr. Salaway was also a relentless practical joker. Mr. Haweeli remembered the time he got Mr. Chase to sing happy birthday to his pastry chef even though it wasn’t her birthday. The next week, he had Alec Baldwin do the same thing. And Mr. Rizzie said that the last time his parents, who are in their 80′s, went to Nick & Toni’s, Mr. Salaway pulled his mother aside “to let her know that I was a drug dealer. He was sorry to have to be the one to tell her.” And, Mr. Rizzie said, “He would just leave messages on your machine–just really dangerous threats and stuff. But you always realized who it was …. “
At the Jewish Center, Mark Ross, Mr. Salaway’s brother-in-law, recalled a weekend his family and his sister’s spent together on the beach in Delaware. “Jeff didn’t know how to do anything small –food, life, anything,” Mr. Ross said. “First night, we went to a boardwalk there. We had French fries from two different places, Italian sausages with onions and peppers, fried chicken, some popcorn, some ice cream. Jeff loved really good food and really good bad food.” The next night, he said, the two men made smoked pork butt and called themselves “the butt kings.”
Next came Mr. Salaway’s two sisters, Marilyn and Liz. Liz “did a little Jeff” by donning sunglasses, hiking up her pants and putting her hands behind her neck to stretch.
“She nailed him,” Mr. Haweeli said later.
And for all those who, in between the tears, were wondering what would become of their Hamptons hangout, Liz Salaway had another joke. “I want you all to know,” she said. “There’s a sign. That’s in my brother’s office. That says, ‘Let my people in .’” But she also addressed the matter in a serious way. Referring to her and her brother’s parents, who were Holocaust survivors, Liz told the crowd: “And for those of you who are wondering and worrying about Nick & Toni’s, one thing you should know about our family is that we’re survivors.”
You Not Talkin’ to Me?
Robert De Niro saw Mike Nichols’ The Seagull in the Park on Aug. 22. Aside from the lure of anything Chekhov, Mr. De Niro was presumably there because of his friend Christopher Walken, who was playing loopy Uncle Sorin.
We’re told Mr. Walken did a nice job–redeemed the whole production, even–but when it was over, Mr. De Niro didn’t go to the back-stage area called the Vomitorium for the traditional post-performance glad-hand. Instead, Mr. Walken had to come into the orchestra to find his friend.
No one knows why. But there was some speculation that Mr. De Niro has not resolved his ancient creative differences with Mr. Nichols. Back in 1975, Mr. Nichols was set to direct a Neil Simon film called Bogart Slept Here . It was the story of an Off-Broadway actor who hits it big in Hollywood. Mr. De Niro, who’d just finished Taxi Driver , was set to star.
After a week, Mr. Nichols fired Mr. De Niro. Production shut down soon afterward and Mr. Nichols left the project. At the time, Mr. De Niro was said to be exhausted. Later Mr. Nichols told The New York Times , “People said I was afraid of failure. I really just felt dead mentally, jaded. I’d always loved rehearsing, but I could barely arouse my own interest.”
Mr. Simon, however, was still interested. He had Richard Dreyfuss read for Mr. De Niro’s part. Mr. Simon decided to change the story around to fit the new star. It became The Goodbye Girl . Herbert Ross was chosen to direct, and Mr. Dreyfuss won a best-actor Oscar for his work.
Mr. Nichols said through his assistant, Jane Levy, that he has “a good relationship” with Mr. De Niro. He also said he did in fact see Mr. De Niro after the show. Mr. De Niro’s representative would not comment. A representative of the Public Theater called speculation about antipathy between Messrs. Nichols and De Niro “ridiculous.”
Barish Bopped by Bank
Keith Barish owes a Swiss bank $10,052,040.56 plus interest, according to a lawsuit filed in August.
Court papers filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan allege that Mr. Barish, producer of The Fugitive and U.S. Marshals and a former partner in Planet Hollywood, defaulted on a loan from the New York branch of the Union Bank of Switzerland. (U.B.S. is no stranger to lawsuits itself: The Swiss bank has been named a defendant in several of the Nazi-collusion suits.)
In October of 1996, UBSNY agreed to loan Mr. Barish $35 million. The court papers don’t explain why the producer was taking the loan, and neither UBSNY’s attorney, Miriam Dowd, nor Mr. Barish would comment on the matter.
The court papers, which were obtained by The Transom, contend that, for a while, Mr. Barish made regular payments on the loan. But by 1998, with more than $10 million in principal still left on the loan, Mr. Barish allegedly stopped making payments.
Again, the suit sheds little light on why this might have happened. It also doesn’t note that, according to published reports, Mr. Barish’s company, KB Technology Partners, recently invested $10 million in Terremark Worldwide, a Florida-based computer company (A friend of Mr. Barish, said that he currently lives almost full-time in Miami).
The Transom Also Hears …
Peaches–the artist formerly known as Merrill Nisker–likes to make out. And she likes to make music. In that order. But don’t ask her to make out to her music. After a recent show, she went home with a groupie. “He was like, ‘Wow, you’re Peaches, aren’t you? Can we play your album while we’re having sex?’” Ms. Nisker told The Transom at a friend’s apartment in the East Village. But, she explained, “that just won’t happen. I can’t tolerate that. It’s kind of creepy–like incest. I guess I’m just too familiar with it. It’s not interesting to me.”
She paused. “I don’t know. If I wasn’t Peaches, would I have sex to Peaches?” Peaches asked herself. “Me personally, I have to say, I’d rather have a few joints and laugh about the music. I guess I don’t like lyrics too much when I have sex.”
Follow George Gurley via RSS.