Jerry Della Femina, the outsized Manhattan adman who was one of the inspirations for the television show “Mad Men,” has sold the The Independent newspaper, based in East Hampton, to billionaire investor Ron Perelman, owner of the guarded Georgica Pond estate The Creeks.
Mr. Della Femina said on Wednesday that he had simply decided it was time to sell the paper. He will continue writing his often acerbic, occasionally soulful weekly column for the foreseeable future, he said.
“I like what we do now and I think he help them continue to do it,” Mr. Della Femina said of Mr. Perelman. “He’s a guy who wants to do a lot of things. He’s a good guy to have a newspaper. I think it will be good for the paper.”
The Independent was co-founded in the early 1990s by Mr. Della Femina’s daughter, Jodi, but Mr. Della Femina took over ownership after becoming embroiled in a battle over a display of pumpkins in front of Jerry & David’s Red Horse Market, which he owned at the time. The imbroglio led to his arrest. “Arrested! In handcuffs, in the back of the car, the whole thing. Can you believe that? Over pumpkins,” he exclaimed during an interview. For much of the next few years The Independent was the bee in the bonnet of East Hampton Village officials.
“As someone said in ‘Philistines at the Hedgerow,’ every Wednesday when the paper came out they were incredibly unhappy waiting to see what we had written about them that week,” Mr. Della Femina said, with a dash of wistful relish. “And so we became an independent voice in a town where the only newspaper was decidedly [one-sided].”
For some years, Mr. Della Femina wrote headlines for The Independent, seeking to emulate the New York Post’s sardonic and eye-catching headline style. “We’re Toast!” read one of his old favorites, accompanying a story about fears over the difficulty of evacuating the East End of Long Island if there were ever a disaster at a Connecticut nuclear power plant.
The famously publicity-shy Mr. Perelman penned a letter to The Independent’s readers, which ran on the front page of the paper’s April 19 edition, saying that the company will be launching a website this summer and expanding its coverage of “community service, charity and not-for-profit work.” The front page also featured two stories about charity fundraising events directly below Mr. Perelman’s letter.
“Our readers can look forward to a beautifully redesigned paper and website launching Memorial Day, as well as many exciting new contributors,” Mr. Perelman said in his letter. “We are going to preserve, invest in and grow The Independent to deliver the East End’s go-to paper, one that showcases all that we love about our community.”
For most of the last couple decades, Mr. Della Femina’s only involvement in the paper’s weekly offerings was his column, in which he waxed philosophic about life and, often, excoriated public officials both locally and nationally. His first column, he recalled, was about “a guy named Larry” who had been charged by local authorities with violating local codes by offering swimming lessons at his East Hampton home.
“I simply had to say ‘My God, who are these people running our town,’” he said. “And it branched out from there.”
When Mr. Della Femina sold his eponymous restaurant to the Hillstone Restaurant Group, owners of the Houston’s chain of steakhouses, he blamed President Barack Obama in his column.
The column has often laid bare his disdain for left-leaning politicians (though he did endorse Hillary Clinton last fall) and Mr. Della Femina quipped that perhaps there is an opportunity, suddenly, for him to expand his commentary horizons.
“I’m moving,” he said, joking: “I’m taking over Bill O’Reilly’s spot.”