What do Neil Patrick Harris and D. H. Lawrence have in common? Okay, up until this week, absolutely nothing. That changed, though, when it was revealed that Mr. Harris and his partner, David Burtka, are the purchasers of the former Rosset estate on Hands Creek Road in East Hampton. The price paid was $5.5 million.
To some, Mr. Harris is still known as Doogie Howser, the character he played on the TV show of that name in the early ’90s that launched his career. However, unlike many actors who achieve fame young, Mr. Harris has managed to create a thriving career on the stage and screen. In addition to the TV hit “How I Met Your Mother,” he has starred in “Gone Girl” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and in 2015 he hosted the Academy Awards without mixing up the envelopes. The Albuquerque native and his partner have two children who presumably will enjoy frolicking on the 13-plus-acre property that was just purchased.
Barney Rosset was such a legendary figure that the property where he lived for many years is still known in both publishing and real estate circles as the Rosset estate. While it is highly unlikely visitors will discover an uncensored version of “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” that had fallen behind a bookcase, the house and grounds still reek of the legacy of a giant in book publishing. The property includes gardens and open meadows (upon which Rosset used to ride his tractor), tennis court, swimming pool, separate garage, and is surrounded by preserved land. The 4-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot house has ensuite baths, chef’s kitchen, four fireplaces, a library (of course!), upper-level decks, and for the adventurous, a rooftop hot tub.
It is not a stretch to say that Rosset—who died at 89 in 2012—was a big reason why there are so many book publishing people here on the South Fork. More than just moving here, Rosset almost headquartered his company, Grove Press, in East Hampton. His life spanned what is now recognized as the golden age of book publishing, when good and great writers were nurtured by their editors and many publishers were independent companies. Grove Press turned out to be more independent than the others.
While Rosset was in the Army Signal Corps in World War II, a small publishing company had started up on Grove Street in Manhattan. After the war, having pulled together some money from various jobs, Rosset bought it. He would run the company for 34 years, and was never known for being generous with advances to writers. He was not an especially smart businessman, so money was often in short supply. Another reason why money was tight at Grove Press was that Rosset engaged in hundreds of lawsuits aimed at overturning obscenity laws. Two successful efforts resulted in the publication of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by Lawrence and “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller. Among the other authors he published were Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Malcolm X, David Mamet, William S. Burroughs, and Marguerite Duras.
In the late 1940s, Rosset was living with the painter Joan Mitchell in the south of France. They heard from friends about the emerging New York School of artists in New York, particularly Jackson Pollock and Hans Hofmann. The latter had a school on Eighth Street in Manhattan, and Rosset believed that Mitchell should attend it. If they were moving to New York, though, he insisted that they get married. Mitchell was the first of Rosset’s five wives, with whom he had four children and four stepchildren.
Through Mitchell, Rosset met many of the New York School painters, who also included Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, some of these artists were spending an increasing amount of time in the Hamptons, with Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, being pioneers by moving to the Springs full-time. Rosset visited the artists there. Motherwell had a house in East Hampton, and Rosset decided that is where he wanted to live too. With Rosset on the South Fork, other publishing executives, editors, agents, and writers followed. He entertained industry visitors and was quite the raconteur. Alas, Grove Press continued to be not much of a moneymaker, and in 1985, Rosset sold the company. Today’s incarnation, Grove Atlantic, is one of the very few independents left on Publishers Row.
Rosset sold the estate on Hands Creek Road in the mid-1990s and the property underwent upgrades and other renovations in the intervening years.