One can hope that Robert De Niro’s next movie—“The War With Grandpa,” due out in February—will receive as good a reception at the box office as the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals gave last month to his request for a new house in Montauk. But we doubt it. The title alone is cringeworthy. We have higher hopes for another De Niro picture due out next year titled “The Irishman,” in which he re-teams with Martin Scorsese behind the camera and castmates Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.
But we digress. Mr. De Niro already has a house at 242 Old Montauk Highway, and there is a story behind it that we’ll get to in a moment. The application put before the ZBA was to remove that 3,000-square-foot dwelling and replace it with a new, slightly smaller one. The 1.4-acre property faces the ocean, and one of the two variances Mr. De Niro sought was to be a tad closer to the dune than the town code allows. In an unusual step for a well-known actor and a small-town regulatory board, Mr. De Niro attended the ZBA meeting in September when the application was discussed. Perhaps the board members were impressed or were personally assured that they would not have to see “The War With Grandpa” (with memories still fresh of 2016’s “Dirty Grandpa”) because at their October 24 meeting they gave Mr. De Niro’s application a thumbs-up.
The original owner of the property was Robert De Niro Sr. This offers an opportunity to remind readers that before there was “Godfather II,” “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” the Robert De Niro known in cultural circles was his father, a painter. Born in Syracuse in 1922, as a teenager he studied under Josef Albers and Hans Hofmann, two of the 20th century’s leading abstract painters. The elder De Niro was continuing his studies in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts, when he met Virginia Admiral, a fellow student. The two married in 1942, and Robert Jr. was born a year later. Included in their social circle were the writers Anais Nin, Henry Miller and Tennessee Williams.
De Niro Sr. began visiting Montauk in the 1950s and eventually built a beach house there. He was pretty well known as a member of the New York School of abstract expressionists, but that changed in the 1970s when his son emerged as one of the best actors of his generation. He continued to paint and receive exhibitions at New York venues up to his death in 1993. His son inherited the Montauk residence, which ZBA members agreed had by now become beyond repair.