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As has been mentioned in recent posts on this blog, since my father passed away last fall I have been working my way through the lifetime of possessions he and my mother accumulated over the years.

Many of the larger pieces have been consigned to two auction houses: Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, which specializes in high-end pieces, and Hyde Park Country Auctions, in Hyde Park (the FDR Hyde Park, south of Rhinebeck, not the Long Island Hyde Park, or, for that matter, the London one), which will be handling the more quotidian items when their new facility opens in September. Both allow internet bidding.

Many of Sam and Grayson’s larger pieces will be featured in Stair’s “Fine” auction on June 27, 2015. But two items have been slotted into their “Modern” sale on Saturday, June 6th ( One, listed as Lot 819, is the brass, steel and glass desk at which Sam wrote daily on the second floor of Wildercliff for many years. It was sold to him by its designer, the noted John Vesey. It’s a gorgeous piece of furniture. The estimate is $1500-$2500, though Veseys have occasionally been known to go higher than that. The second piece, lot 779, is a lovely, graceful and beautifully crafted blonde wood stool, in an elegant and perplexing design. And it actually comes with one of my favorite Sam Hall stories.


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Sam would often be asked to open Wildercliff for charity events. Every year, Hudson Heritage, a local land preservation group, would organize a fundraiser by enlisting a group of owners of large Hudson Valley homes to open their houses to the paying public for one day. Sam always supported their work, and usually said yes. People would pay money to be carted from large house to large house and oooh and aaah at the view, the furnishings, the weird colors we favored, and the rest of it. Docents were positioned on every floor to explain things and keep an eye out for thieves.

Sam would be fresh-eyed and set to charm, pug on arm, when the first bus pulled up in the morning. By the end of the day, having put up through bus after bus of people wandering through his life (and often making quite inelegant and misinformed statements about it), he had always had enough. The charm would wear off, the pug would be let down to bark at whomever she pleased, wine would be poured for himself and maybe me if I was around, and he would give in to the mildly evil side of his nature, and begin to interact with these earnest tourists in whatever way amused him.

So: long day, orange early-evening light slanting through the windows on the second floor, and there are a pair of biddies in his bedroom, and they are asking him about every little thing. They ask about his preposterously long bed (“I was going to get a St Bernard, but it didn’t work out,” was his usual response—entirely untrue, of course; from my birth forward, Sam’s dogs had always been pugs). They considered the painted white paisley patterns on the floor, and declared them “interesting.” He didn’t bother to point out the fake shafts of sunlight carefully dappled in; he’d been saying it all day and he wanted his house—his life— back from these interlopers. He wanted them to leave. And then their eyes fell on the wooden butterfly chair in the corner. “What’s that?” one of them asked. Something broke inside Sam, some last piece of decency and decorum. “That,” he said, his wit dry as a carefully sharpened sword, “is my Japanese cocksucking stool.”

It worked. The biddies hustled back down the stairs and were out of the house in two minutes. Later, when he told me I roared with laughter, as did everyone else he told, and it made it into his repertoire of dependably funny stories. But when he first told me, after I stopped laughing, he asked if he had been too mean, too bizarre, making up a thing like that just to get the day over.

No, I assured him, he had been precisely mean enough.


In 1978, at the top of their career arcs, my parents bought a house.

Dark Shadows had ended its run several years before, but it had established them. They had gone on to greater successes, my father as headwriter of One Life to Live, first with Gordon Russell, his writing partner on Shadows, and then alone. My mother had spent the ‘70s doing less television and more live theater, including noted productions of Genet’s The Screens, and, on Broadway, The Leaf People and the Brecht/Weill musical Happy End.

They had never had a house. I grew up in a rental apartment in Manhattan; my parent’s careers had been, in the early years, a bit rough. But they had come through the fire, they had made it, and they rewarded themselves by purchasing a house in Rhinebeck, New York.

Not just any house, either— the most fantastic house I had ever seen.

There are, in New York State, a few large houses, many of them quite grand, that were built by members of the Livingston family, a clan whose connections with the Hudson Valley go back to land grants in colonial days. Wildercliff had been built on a bluff overlooking the Hudson by a Livingston daughter in 1799, and is the only south-facing Livingston house I know of; the others align with the river and face west. In essence a three-story farmhouse that had been added to over the years, it was large enough to be called a mansion without looking like it had ever intended to be one. It had well-proportioned, high-ceilinged rooms, an ample country kitchen with an enormous built-in wood-burning stove, and the world’s finest porch, a simple covered platform that ran along the back of the house and looked south over a long swath of lawn and a huge downriver vista of mountains and water and sky that seemed virtually infinite.

I was working on a newspaper in Tucson* the summer my parents moved in. My mother told me later of the joy they had felt, their first night, just the two of them sitting on the steps of the porch and drinking wine and looking out at the night and the stars and the river.

I remember driving back from Arizona, arriving at this fantastic home— 48 acres, an enormous barn, and eventually a swimming pool— and realizing how this was the culmination of all my parent’s dreams. And the fundamental emotion I felt was pride— pride in them for working so hard they’d been able to achieve this, make it their own.

Antiques were purchased. Decorators were hired. One wall on the second floor, found to be buckling, turned out to be made of mud mixed with horsehair. Sadly, it was torn down and replaced, though we all hated modernizing it. My mother and father had always been adventurous about color— many Dark Shadows-era interviews mention the Pompeian red living room in our New York apartment. This house offered them endless opportunities to experiment and explore. One room’s floor was painted to look like marble. Another had fake shafts of sunlight appropriate to the room’s windows— always slightly unnerving at night. The interior doors had four inset panels framed by molding— the door, the inset and the molding each painted a slightly different shade of white.

The master bedroom, on the second floor, shared a wall with the guest room. The first time my parents had weekend guests, they served an elaborate Friday night dinner, and wine flowed freely. Later, as my mother and father were preparing for bed, they heard their guests through the wall: “Ugh, is all the food this weekend going to be so heavy?”

Confronted by this, my parents could have rethought their approach, reconsidered their standard dishes, changed their menu choices. Instead, after the guests left, they found a company that blew soundproofing insulation into the walls, and carried on precisely as before.

My parents were both inveterate shoppers— I am not, really— and they both had taste. The three-story house was soon full of odd, beautiful pieces, unique chairs and tables and paintings and mirrors and weird little objects that reflected the madness of their sensibilities. The furniture and fixtures in that house came to express as unique a personal vision as the experimentation in colors.

Parties were thrown: cocktails on the porch and dinner parties around the circular table under the chandelier in the dining room, and full-blown house parties where guests came early and stayed late and mingled in a crush with drinks in their hands. There was always music— showtunes, mainly, and jazz singers, mostly female. Cooking was a huge part of that house— Mexican and Chinese and risotto and fresh corn in the husk, soaked in salt water and jammed into barbeque embers to roast, and black bean/mango salad and vitello tonnato and Indonesian rack of lamb and a million other things. Roaring fires in winter, white wine and wicker on the porch in summer. One year we hosted the Hudson Valley Film Festival final party— a tent, bartenders, caterers. A storm roared up and took out our electricity. We found candles and lit them, rain lashing the house, and people slept everywhere and stayed until it was safe to drive the next day.

Architectural Digest photographed the house in January, 1983. Mom died in 1985; Sam never remarried. Hell, he never even dated.

We had that house for 34 years. Sold it in 2012; Sam, fully inhabiting his 90s, had not been able to keep up with the constant maintenance an old place like that needs, and by then his joints were such that the stairs presented a painful challenge. As for me, I couldn’t take it over— I’ve had success, but not hedge-fund-level success, and that’s what it would have taken, given the changed economy from the ‘70s to now, to really make the place work. Sam took a rental, also on the river, and lived his remaining days in a lovely little house with a porch and a view.

But Wildercliff— well, there’s only one of those. And we had it, and we loved it.

And no one can ever take that away.

*This experience later became Nightmare Logic, my first novel, a thriller published by Bantam in 1989. Long out of print, and deservedly so.

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