Leif Hope

The New York Times, Sunday, May 18, 1997

Artists vs. Writers: How a Rivalry Escalated

By Leif Hope

On summer Saturdays almost 50 years ago, artists and wives, husbands and lovers would gather in Wilfrid Zogbaum’s yard in Springs to play softball.

Softball was a casual affair. A bat, a ball, sneakers, lob ball pitching, pop flies, occasional home runs, muscle strain and talk. Not high-caliber perhaps, but competitive and fun. And arguments. Abstract Expressionism was in full flower. Cubism was over. Constructions, sculpture, color field painting, Matisse, Braque, Picasso and David Smith were subjects of talk during these lively games.

Many artists had migrated to eastern Long Island after the war for its beaches, the sea, wonderful light and cheap rent. Some had reputations for sales. Many struggled to pay the rent. Several drank too much. The camaraderie was strong, and memories of those days are precious.

Among the artists were Philip Pavia, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Norman Bluhm, Esteban Vicente, Wilfrid Zogbaum, Syd Solomon, Jackson Pollack, Ibram Lassaw, Joan Mitchell, Howard Kanovitz, Leo Castelli, Grace Hartigan, Conrad Marco-Relli and Ludwig Sander. They were joined by two writers: Barney Rosset, whose girlfriend was an artist, and Harold Rosenberg, who, after all, was an art critic.

In the late 1960’s, writers began to infiltrate. The artists accepted them, with reservations. “They changed the game,” Phillip Pavia recalled. “It had been fun, with a lot of laughter. Now they insist on rules.” And, indeed, it changed.

Gradually the definition of “artists/writers” was expanded to included people of different talents – auto-body painters for example, and skywriters – and celebrity. Some catergories and players were:

Writers: Ken Auletta, John Leo, Peter Maas, Avery Corman, Jay McInerny, Jackie Leo, Mike Lupica, George Plimpton, Jack Graves, John Irving, Jim Brady, Ed Tivnan, Sylvia Tenenbaum, Josh Lawrence, Lee Minetree, Brett Shevak, Kurt Vonnegut.

Actors: Malcolm Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, Sam Robards, Lori Singer, Alec Baldwin, Christopher Reeves, Bonnie Feiffer, Alan Alda, Eli Wallach, Ed Burns, Christie Brinkley.

Journalists: Ben Bradlee, Mort Zuckerman, Walter Isaacson, Gail Sheehy.

Composer and Singer: Paul Simon.

Television and radio: Howard Stringer, Mr. G., Kathleen Sullivan, James Lipton.

Athletes: Ham Richardson, the former tennis champion, Gerry Cooney, the former boxer, and the Jets football stars Marty Lyons and Wesley Walker.

Architects: Charles Gwathmey, Ronette Reilley.

Artists: Eric Ernst, Dennis Lawrence, Eric Fischl, Bill Durham, John Conner, Bill Hofmann, Nick Tarr, Mike Solomon, Jeffrey Meizlik, Victor Cagliotti, John Alexander, Walter Bernard, Rudolph Hoglund, Patsy Powers.

Politicians: Eugene McCarthy, the Senator and Presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, and Abbie Hoffman, the Yuppie leader.

The first game for charity took place in 1968, to raise money for the legal costs of two artists who protested the Vietnam War. Today is it serious business, benefitting three wonderful charities: The East Hampton Day Care Center, The Retreat (battered women and abused children) and The Hospice. But the game has changed, from a pleasant, open, often hilarious picnic to a serious business, which results in little laughter, some profanity, deep unhappiness for the losers, pleasure for the winners and great satisfaction for the charities.

As one artist said recently, “When the writers and their egos showed up, there goes the neighborhood.”

Leif Hope of East Hampton is a painter and carpenter and was an organizer of the artists/writers’ softball game. It will be played at 3 pm on Aug. 16 in Herrick Park, behind the A. & P. in East Hampton.