Hollywood on the Potomac: When Classes Collide

by Janet Donovan

Holly Peterson dishes on the social dynamics that rule the Hamptons each summer.

Heather Vincent, Kathy O’Hearn, Rachel Greenberg and Tammy Haddad (Photo Courtesy of White House Correspondents Insider)

Before New York Times-best-selling- author Holly Peterson made her annual trek to one of America’s most storied summer destinations she made a “book stop” at the Jefferson Hotel to celebrate her latest novel, “It Happens in The Hamptons.” The gathering, hosted by Constance Milstein, Tammy Haddad, Kathy O’Hearn, Hilary Rosen, Juleanna Glover, Carol Melton and Heather Podesta, included many guests intimately familiar with the second summer home lifestyle.

The Hamptons, long a playground for the rich and famous, is the focus of her novel, which addresses the dynamic of what happens when new money, old money and local culture collide. “Think of it as ‘Downton Abbey’ in bikinis,” Peterson says. Though her social satire centers around the clashing of classes and cultures on the southeastern tip of Long Island, it could apply to other summer communities, including Aspen, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Bar Harbor and Newport.

Peterson has spent the last 20 years writing social satire because of her fascination with the wealthy and their intense neuroses. The premise of the book was to socially analyze the old money Hamptons types who own adorable but often rundown cottages and often clash with new money one percenters like Ron Perelman and celebrity glitterati who include Sean Combs and Christie Brinkley.Throw in the locals who serve the rich at restaurants and shops, and you have a real collision of culture and values. “There’s this amazing tension between the classes in these communities,” Peterson says,“and that’s the life blood for any author. So that’s the setting.”

The book strikes close to home for Peterson, whose father Pete Peterson was a self-made man who grew up poor in Nebraska during the Great Depression. It was her father’s drive, which she describes as “stratospheric and astronomical and not kind of human or normal,” that helped secure his fortune on Wall Street. His subsequent service as Richard Nixon’s secretary of commerce helped inspire his devoted daughter’s interest in current events and the “cocktail social swirl of power, business and media.” Being around policy decisions and people who affect them is “a big heroine rush” she says, crediting former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and that newspaper’s longtime syndicated columnist Richard Cohen as her journalistic role models.

Peterson fondly remembers playing jacks in the halls of the White House while her father attended meetings. From her Washington days she cites her parents’ close friends Kay Graham, Muffy and Henry Brandon, Barbara Howar, Sherry Henry and Joan and Tom Braden, adding that she was “friends with all the kids, too.”

“The book is a narrative. It’s a romance,” Peterson adds. “There’s a lot of sex.There’s a lot of fun. But I think it’s a grander thing about the financial differences between people and what that means.”

The promise of sex, money and drama is a good one and come summer there is no doubt what book we’ll have stashed away in our beach bags.

This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of Washington Life.

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