Sag Harbor Celebrates Steinbeck

John Steinbeck at his dock on the Sag Harbor Cove
John Steinbeck at his dock on the Sag Harbor Cove

When John Steinbeck came to Sag Harbor in 1955, the small old whaling port was still a seriously rough-and-tumble town, and he fell right in with the watchcase factory and dock workers who called Sag Harbor home.

Times have changed in the charming fishing village, and the words “The Grapes of Wrath” are more likely to make folks who live here today think of Long Island wine country than the starvation and hard labor of the dust bowl era, but that doesn’t mean Sag Harbor hasn’t adopted John Steinbeck as their pseudo-native son.

This weekend, just after the 75th anniversary of the release of Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath” on April 14, 1939, Bay Street Theatre is kicking off its Second Annual Steinbeck Festival, in conjunction with an annual festival at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where Steinbeck was born.

“We wanted to do something a little different to honor the National Steinbeck Festival here in Sag Harbor,” says Tracy Mitchell, Executive Director of Bay Street Theatre, “We are thrilled to build on the excitement of last year’s event.”

The theater will be showing a total of eight film versions of Steinbeck’s books throughout the weekend. They’ll begin with a screening of “Tortilla Flat,” starring Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr on Thursday, May 1 at 8 p.m., followed by a screening of “Cannery Row” with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger on May 2 at 8 p.m. On May 3 at 10 a.m., they’ll be screening “The Red Pony”with Myrna Loy and Robert Mitchum, followed by “The Moon is Down” with Cedrick Hardwicke and Henry Travers at 11:45 a.m. and “Lifeboat” with  Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix at 2 p.m.

Later in the afternoon and evening on Saturday, the theater will screen some of the most widely known film adaptations of Steinbeck novels, beginning with the 1992 adaptation of “Of Mice and Men” starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise at 3.45 p.m. At 5:50 p.m., they’ll be showing “East of Eden” with James Dean and Julie Harris, followed by the feature screening of the classic 1940 film adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” with Henry Fonda and John Carradine at 8 p.m.

The theater will host a VIP cocktail celebration of the 75th Anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath,” at a waterfront estate in an undisclosed Sag Harbor location, where participants will get a chance to take a boat ride out to see Steinbeck’s home and writing studio, where he wrote and lived from 1955 to his death in 1968, from the Sag Harbor Cove.

The VIP reception will be hosted by animal activist and NBC News correspondent Jill Rappaport, and  Wölffer Estate Vineyard partner and winemaker Roman Roth will be on hand pouring wine from his namesake label, “The Grapes of Roth.”

On Sunday at 11 a.m., Ms. Rappaport will lead a dog walk through Sag Harbor titled “Travels with Charley,” in honor of Steinbeck’s chronicle of the same name in which he set off from Sag Harbor with his standard poodle in search of the real feelings of the American populace.

The proceeds of the VIP reception and the dog walk will benefit the Bay Street Theatre and 10 percent of the dog walk proceeds will benefit the Southampton Town Animal Shelter Foundation.

The all-inclusive festival VIP Pass for the weekend is $150. Participation in the dog walk is $35.

A film-only pass to all the films is $30 and regular Joes can come to see individual films for $10 each.

Tickets are available at the Bay Street box office.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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