These days, the purchase of a house in the Village of Sag Harbor Historic District for $2.5 million would not raise eyebrows. But one that recently closed on John Street is an exception because the seller was Helen Doctorow, widow of one of America’s most-admired writers, E.L. Doctorow, who died at 84 in July of last year. The family had lived in the home during summers and weekends for decades.
The new owners, Melissa M. Wilson and Scott E. Landau, will enjoy one of the most desirable locations in Sag Harbor. The property is a quarter-acre and the house on it was built in 1880. The 2,450-square-foot residence has four bedrooms and 2.5 baths. In the winter the fireplace provides warmth, and year-round the Sag Harbor Cove provides a lovely view.
Probably E.L. Doctorow’s most-famous novel—certainly the one that sold the most copies—was “Ragtime,” and it expanded his audience exponentially from those who had read his three previous books. The author was born in the Bronx and given the name Edgar after Edgar Allen Poe. Though he attended the Bronx High School of Science, he leaned toward literature and eventually did graduate studies in English drama at Columbia University. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, Mr. Doctorow found a job reading and evaluating material for a movie company. After reading enough Westerns he wrote one of his own, “Welcome to Hard Times.” It was well received when published in 1960 and later became a film starring Henry Fonda.
Mr. Doctorow’s next “day job” was as a book editor, first for NAL, then the Dial Press. Among the authors he worked with were Ian Fleming, Ayn Rand, James Baldwin, and Norman Mailer. It was his third book, “The Book of Daniel,” released in 1971 after he left publishing, that brought more attention, and then four years later “Ragtime” was a huge bestseller, later becoming a movie directed by Milos Forman—one of the distinctions being that it lured James Cagney out of a 20-year retirement for his final feature film role.
In the following years, in New Rochelle and on John Street in Sag Harbor, Mr. Doctorow wrote “World’s Fair,” “Billy Bathgate,” “The March” and other novels. Included in the honors he received are a National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.
For those readers with a literary bent in addition to an interest in real estate, next January the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan will be offering “A Celebration of E.L. Doctorow” featuring Don DeLillo, Jennifer Egan and Ta-Nehisi Coates.