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Oct 11, 2011 4:21 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Ted Dragon, East Hampton Legend, Dies At 90

Oct 11, 2011 6:24 PM

One of East Hampton’s more eccentric characters, Ted Dragon led a life like no other.

An insider who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, a thief who stole and refurbished his neighbors’ possessions, a questionable fashion guru who donned wigs and bright costume jewelry, Mr. Dragon died at his home on Sunday, October 2. He was 90.

For the past two decades, Mr. Dragon lived quietly at his home on Pantigo Road, going out only to Mass each day at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and delivering Meals-On-Wheels a few times a week. He lived a seemingly quiet life in his cottage—quite a contrast to his days at The Creeks estate.

Mr. Dragon earned his infamy in East Hampton society, and among East Hampton Police, when he was caught one rainy day in 1959 making his way out of Juan Trippe’s home, carrying a chair. This was the last in the string of thefts that plagued the village. Unable to explain exactly why he stole his neighbors’ paintings, oriental rugs, marble statues and even a four-poster bed, he simply stated: “I just loved beautiful things so much, and sometimes I was appalled at how badly the furniture was being kept.” Ironically, some of his neighbors sent him thank-you notes after their stolen property was returned in better shape than when it was taken.

Everything in Mr. Dragon’s life seemed to be a dance. Sharing the 57-acre estate on Georgica Pond, The Creeks, with his partner, artist Alfonso Ossorio, Mr. Dragon acted as a house manager, perfecting the art of hosting and keeping house for decades, and even watered the entire acreage himself.

“It was like masterminding a living stage set,” he told author Steven Gaines in the late 1990s. Mr. Gaines’s book, “Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons,” details Mr. Dragon’s time at The Creeks, among other important and scandalous Hamptons tales.

“They say Ossorio owned The Creeks, but it was Dragon to whom The Creeks belonged,” Mr. Gaines wrote.

For years, he and Mr. Ossorio entertained guests such as art critic Harold Rosenberg and artists Max Ernst, Grace Hartigan, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Gwathmey, Mark Rothko and Robert Dash. Other guests at The Creeks included Dr. Lewis Thomas, the former chancellor of Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital; also, the wife of General Douglas MacArthur.

Although there was a constant influx of personalities, Mr. Dragon seemed to remain distant.

“Most of the people who passed in and out of the house weren’t interested in me in the least,” he was quoted as saying in Gail Levin’s book, “Lee Krasner: A Biography.” Mr. Ossorio attracted performers, artists, writers and the like to his home, and Mr. Dragon, though a gracious host, would disappear.

“I think people would have been interested in him if he was interested in them,” Mr. Gaines said in a phone interview last week. “I think people loved him and they didn’t dismiss him. I think he was bored with people and all the dinners.”

Edward Dragon Young was born on April 24, 1921, to Raymond Louis Young and Carena Dragon Young in Northampton, Massachusetts. A ballet dancer, he performed for the Paris Opera, the New York City Ballet and on Broadway with choreographer Agnes de Mille, who at an audition told him to drop his last name.

According to Mr. Gaines, the only formal dance training Mr. Dragon had received was at his local YMCA, but he had “an innate sense of drama and leonine physicality.”

He met Mr. Ossorio in 1948 in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, where he was on a dance scholarship to Jacob’s Pillow, an avant-garde performance center. In 1951, the couple, who had been living together in Greenwich Village, decided to buy The Creeks from Christian Herter for $35,000. Mr. Dragon gave up his dancing career in order to move in with Mr. Ossorio.

“They had a very special thing going,” Mr. Gaines said. “You have to be really lucky to find that in your lifetime.”

When Mr. Dragon faced heavy penalties after his strange thievery, Mr. Ossorio stood by him and did not question him or the relationship. He even paid for all of Mr. Dragon’s ordered psychological treatment. When Mr. Dragon returned to East Hampton in 1961 after his time at a private sanitarium in Connecticut and on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, circles in East Hampton society had a new nickname for The Creeks: “The Creeps.” It was then when Mr. Dragon began to dress flamboyantly, in caftans, sari-like robes, costume jewelry and multicolored wigs.

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Rest in peace Ted. You were one of the kindest gentleman, I have ever had the pleasure to meet.I also loved your keen sense of humor!!!
By bayview (156), Southampton on Oct 24, 11 7:25 PM
Where's that 1953 photo gone to?
By Frank Wheeler (1811), Northampton on Oct 24, 11 7:33 PM
Ted Dragon was a generous neighbor and friend to Pianofest. He is missed.
By Pianofest (3), East Hampton NY on Nov 2, 11 1:23 PM