Steven Gaines Refl ects on His Career
Brooklyn-born writer’s bio of Halston heading to Netfl ix
BY ANGELA LAGRECA
Steven Gaines says he has
retired — but that’s hard
Gaines, The New York
Times bestselling author, journalist,
radio host and co-founder of
the Hamptons International Film
Festival, seems to be hotter than
ever. His 1991 biography of fashion
icon Halston, titled “Simply Halston:
The Untold Story” is fi nally
being told as a fi ve-hour series on
Netfl ix starring Ewan McGregor.
Gaines’ Hamptons classic, “Philistines
at the Hedgerow: Passion
and Property in the Hamptons”
(1998), in which he meticulously
and hilariously chronicles the
powerful and pretentious characters
on the East End, is also being
made into a series. His moving
memoir “One of These Things
First” (2016), about his struggles
as a 15-year old gay teen, received
critical acclaim, and he is currently
writing part two.
I caught up with Gaines, a
Brooklyn-born longtime East End
resident, via phone from his infamous
house in Wainscott, which
he purchased from the former
owner of the The Swamp, the legendary
gay club in the Hamptons
that closed 20 years ago.
Retiring or not, Gaines never
met a story he couldn’t tell.
What made you want to write
about Halston, and what was the
reaction to the book?
It was originally an assignment
from Vanity Fair. Tina Brown
asked me to write about him and
it was never published, but that’s
when I fi rst gathered the material;
a year or two later there was interest
from (publisher) Putnam that
I write his biography, and I said,
“Sure, I’d love to.”
It was exciting. I got to meet a lot
of people in the fashion world. But
a lot of people were also very mad
— because the truth is sometimes
hard. I don’t blame them in a way.
What made people mad about
Halston was, in fact, a cocaine
addict — a lot of people were on
Steven Gaines and Angela LaGreca in pre-COVID times
drugs then but they cleaned up
their acts. The cocaine affected
him in a really, really bad way —
he was totally unhinged and nasty
— and this guy was a genius,
with absolute incredible taste. He
had a remarkable way of looking
at things, a different expression of
fashion. He was really quite something,
and marvelous and fun and
glamorous and dramatic. He was
the epitome of 1970s glamour —
and he blamed the businessmen
for destroying it — but it was really
Halston who destroyed it.
Did you spend time with Halston?
I didn’t, really. I had one conversation
my whole life with Halston
in which he told me to “steal” from
myself — to fi nd your strength, and
then steal from yourself. I thought
about that a lot, and I think I eventually
understood what he meant.
I looked at my work and I said,
“The best part of my work was that
I was a good storyteller” — not that
I wrote beautiful sentences or had
wonderful metaphors. So I went
back and I saw that, and I said,
“I’m going to take that and tell stories.”
What took so long to adapt
“Simply Halston” into a series?
The rights to produce the book
were bought 20 years ago. First,
it was going to be a movie, then
they didn’t see it as a movie. Alec
Baldwin wanted to be Halston —
he took the option for fi ve years
— that fell through. These things
Saying I’m the author of a book
is like a whore who wants to be
asked to stay for breakfast. They
bought my book and I really have
not been in touch with them, but I
love how the series turned out.
You’ve written a lot of bestsellers,
but “Philistines at the
Hedgerow” is the one you are
most identifi ed with. How do
you see the book?
The book is a social and cultural
history of the Hamptons in a moment
of dramatic change. I wrote
it as a love letter to the Hamptons.
It’s lighthearted and a good story.
Fox Searchlight TV is involved
in the series. I read the fi rst two
hours of the script; it’s wonderful,
they really capture what the
Hamptons are and not in a mean
way — it’s perfect.
Did “Philistines” change your
It did. When it came out and
was very successful, especially out
here, a friend said, “Now you have a
place at the table.” Invitations were
coming in, I was expected to be a
“witty” guest, and guess what — I
didn’t want a place at the table. I’m
a down home Brooklyn boy, and I
passed by that meal…
Did you feel that, in your own
family, you couldn’t say anything
about your sexuality?
Oh my God, I was so ashamed.
How could I ever look my grandfather
in the eyes again, or anybody, or
walk down the street? I didn’t want
to be that person. I felt very isolated.
There’s nothing worse than a selfhating
gay Jew. It’s a very bad combination
OUT EAST END
I knew of no other gay people.
There wasn’t a word “gay” that I
knew about. You were a “f—–.” It
was just terrible. I would rather die
than anybody fi nd out. And that’s
the decision I made when I was 15
years old. (An attempted suicide,
which lead to Gaines “happily”
signing himself into the fabled
Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic
“because Marilyn Monroe had
been there the year before.” There
he met “writers, architects, Broadway
producers” and “learned about
another world.”) It turned out to be
the beginning of a wonderful adventure…
and is one of the reasons
why I’m a writer today.
When did you come out?
I didn’t come out for years because
I went to see a brilliant,
young, psychiatrist who said that
if I wanted to be straight that he
could help me do that. So I spent
the next 10 years in therapy trying
to become straight and having sex
with women — the cure was called
“copious coitus” and that meant I
was a cad. Looking back on it now,
I think I duped a lot young women
into thinking there was some sort
of future with me. So it took years
after that for me to come out.
But people of my age bracket
— I guess you call them “seniors”
now — they really suffered
through a time of tremendous
prejudice… The interesting thing
was, towards the end of the ’70s,
gay people had become, for fi ve
minutes, kind of “chic.” Everyone
wanted gay friends, and “gay infl
uence” was way way out of the
closet. Then, of course, AIDS happened
and it took away that blossom
on the vine.
Are you really retiring?
Yes, I’ve become a gentleman
farmer (laughs). Okay, not really, but
I am trying to fi nd out if it is legal
to plant marijuana in my backyard.
I’m actually kind of kicking back.
Writers are expected to die over
their keyboard. I’m going to be 75
in November, and I don’t want to go
chasing waterfalls. I just want to
write what pleases me and enjoy. I
just want to be remembered.
HALSTON | Netfl ix | May 14.
GayCityNews.com | MAY 6 - MAY 19, 2021 37