Tag Archives: Deej Webb

Roundup: Masks, Gatsby Day, Ospreys …

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Yesterday’s announcement by the Centers for Disease Control that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks in most situations — including indoors — will be effective next Wednesday (May 19) in Connecticut, Governor Lamont said yesterday.

That’s the date other restrictions will be lifted too.

Connecticut residents can’t abandon their masks just yet. Wait until May 19! (Photo collage/Miggs Burroughs)

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Happy Gatsby Day!

A few years ago, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe declared May 14 “Gatsby Day” in Westport.

That’s the date — 101 years ago today — that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald signed their lease for the house at what is now 244 South Compo Road.

Marpe said that Gatsby Day should be celebrated in perpetuity. COVID has prevented celebrations last year — the centennial! — and this. But historian Deej Webb (who literally wrote the book on “Gatsby in Connecticut”) wants to make sure that Westport remembers the day.

It’s interesting to note that the Roaring ’20s — the decade associated so closely with the legendary author and his wife — were a direct result of the influenza pandemic of 1918-19.

Will a similar decade follow COVID? And if so, will the direct result of the Roaring ’20s — the Great Depression — ensue too?

FUN FITZGERALD FACT: Deej Webb says that the iconic shot of F. Scott and Zelda in front of their Westport house was not, as is often assumed, photoshopped. It’s legit:

We know the Westport Country Playhouse is a town jewel.

So does the National Endowment for the Arts. They just awarded the Playhouse a $10,000 Arts Projects grant. It supports “Ain’t Misbehavin,” the musical planned for 2022.

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Nico Eisenberger writes: “I just witnessed an unbelievable spectacle. Three bald eagles went up against 3 ospreys in a full-on battle for the skies … all right above the new osprey nest on the way to Burying Hill.

“They screeched, swerved, swooped, dove, teamed, ganged, isolated, regrouped and went at it again and again. My measly iPhone photo [below] doesn’t do it justice. It was jaw-dropping.

“I caught a hint of this growing local rivalry a few times over the past few days, but nothing like the epic battle now.

“I am sure there will be more. Fingers crossed for all involved, especially our new nesting pair. So far, it seems they have been able to defend themselves nicely.”

Nico copied Patrick Comins, executive director of the Connecticut Audubon Society. He replied:

“This is something we will see more and more of, especially with the overlapping hunting territories of the nesting eagle pair and many ospreys. Bald eagles regularly harass osprey, steal their prey, and occasionally kill or injure ospreys in the process.

“But both species treat each other with some degree of respect, because each can cause damage to the other.”

(Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

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Now there are 3.

Easton has joined the Westport Weston Health District.

Which means it needs a new name. Suggestions (beyond “Westport Weston Easton Health District,” I guess) are welcome. Email publichealth@wwhd.org.

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The only thing better than al fresco dining may be doing it with the best local bounty. Oh, yeah … with chef Alison Milwe Grace in charge.

The popular caterer works her magic at Wakeman Town Farm on June 12 (6 to 9 p.m.). The menu for the WTF fundraiser (for educational programs) includes chilled spring pea and basil soup, spring vegetables, spring lamb chops with mint chimichurri or herb-dusted salmon over asparagus, with lemon-thyme berry trifles. BYOB adult beverages.

Guests can stroll the grounds and gardens, visit the animals, and enjoy acoustic music.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

Alison Milwe Grace, at Wakeman Town Farm.

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And finally … there was no Billboard Hot 100 on May 14, 1920 (the day, noted above, that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald signed their Westport lease). It started August 4, 1958.

However, there are records kept of the top records of 1920. The most popular song that year was Al Jolson’s “Swanee.” “How I love ya, how I love ya …”

The rest of the top songs include a few folks I’ve heard of (Paul Whiteman, Eddie Cantor, Jascha Heifetz, Sergei Rachmaninoff). But 2 titles caught my eye, for different reasons.

There was this topical tune, “Prohibition Blues” …

… and this one: “My Little Bimbo Down on the Bamboo Isle.” It would never fly today, 101 years later:

Roundup: COVID Testing, College Help, Gatsby in Connecticut, More


A reader writes:

“I just got myself and my kids tested at St Vincent’s Medical Center drive-thru at 47 Long Lots Road.

“I called 860-972-8100 this morning, got an appointment (no symptoms, no suspected contact, just routine — I wanted a baseline before school starts).

“We drove straight over (they are open 8 a.m. to noon). There was no line, no cost, just a gentle nose swab. They said results would be available in 3-5 days. We got ours in 1 day!

“Boom! Easy! In my opinion, we should/could all be doing this before school starts.”


Since 1952, STAR Lighting the Way has helped people of all ages impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities live full, independent  lives.

They’re now launching a broader multi-lingual program for children experiencing, or at risk of, developmental delays. It expands services from birth through age 5, with additional options for children up to 8.

It includes direct coaching intervention by licensed occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapists, and special education teachers; developmental evaluations and consultations; transition to school support; group activities (birth to age 5) like feeding, movement, play and music groups, plus additional services (6 to 8) including behavioral supports, assistive technology, translation and family supports.

For more information, email Barbara Fitzpatrick (starrubino@starct.org), or call 203-855-0634.


There’s a new college counseling service in town. And the counselors are not even out of college.

Nishika Navrange and Genevieve Demenico are 2019 Staples High School graduates. Both are products of the entire Westport school system. They were presidents of Staples’ Science Olympiad team and members of numerous honor societies. They attend NYU and Georgetown Universities (right now, online). So they know high school — and college.

Through Zoom and outdoor, socially distanced meetings, they offer essay help (“it’s a narrow way of writing, and we help keep the student’s personal voice,” they say), Common App advice, and counsel on where to apply.

Because they know students at “nearly every popular school,” Neshika and Genevieve can connect high schoolers with current collegians, for a personal connection and even (when they resume) a college tour.

For more information, email ctcollegeconsultants@gmail.com.

Genevieve Demenico and Nishika Navrange.


“Gatsby in Connecticut” — the video by Robert Steven Williams chronicling F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Westport, and its impact on his classic novel (with Sam Waterston as the writer, and voiceover by Keir Dullea) — is now available to rent, download or buy.

It’s available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, Vimeo, Microsoft Xbox and YouTube, and via most cable providers. Click here for the trailer.

And click here to read an insightful review from The New Yorker. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)


And finally … what was the most popular song of 1920, the year F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in Westport (as noted above)? It was “Swanee” by Al Jolson — shown here in what to our eyes, 100 years later, is jarringly inappropriate blackface.

Great Gatsby: Great Neck Fires Back

Westport has laid out a strong case as the setting for “The Great Gastsby.”

Great Neck is firing back.

Westporters know the story: historian Deej Webb and filmmaker Robert Steven Williams say that F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgeralds’ 1920 sojourn here informed not only the author’s physical description of Jay Gatsby’s mansion, but also much of the novel’s emotional power.

They also believe that Westport influenced nearly all of Fitzgerald’s ouevre.

Not so fast, Long Island counters.

“Everyone knows that Great Neck was the setting for ‘The Great Gatsby,’ don’t they?” a flyer from that town’s historical society asks.

And then answers: “Apparently, not everyone!”

“There are those who believe that Fitzgerald was really talking about — of all places — Westport, Connecticut,” the Great Neck Historical Society explains.

After mentioning Webb and Williams’ PBS film and companion book — plus stories in the New York Times, Newsday and more — the GNHS announces that the duo will discuss their findings and answer audience questions at a “special presentation.”

It’s this Sunday (October 21), 1:30 p.m. at the Great Neck Public Library main branch. GNHS president Alice Kasten will “defend” — their word — Great Neck’s “historical and literary honor” (ditto).

She recently took Webb and Williams on a Great Neck tour, “pointing out details to substantiate the long-held belief that Fitzgerald was writing about Great Neck and Port Washington.”

“They even interviewed me for their film,” she says. “I showed them how Fitzgerald had to be writing about our hometown.”

The GNHS calls this a “bound-to-be-controversial program.” It’s free, and open to the public.

Which means Westporters — defending our own honor — can pack the house. Click here for directions!

(Hat tip: Marcia Falk)

Great Scott! Annual Gatsby Day Is Proposed

On May 14, 1920, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald signed a lease to rent 244 Compo Road South.

Deej Webb — whose film and book about the famous couple’s wild time in Westport has shined a light on both their literary legacy, and our town’s Jazz Age days (naked swims at Compo Beach!) — wants to make May 14 an annual holiday.

It would be called “Great Gatsby Day.”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Photoshopped in front of their Westport home.

The 1980 Staples High School graduate/history teacher/amateur historian is circulating a petition. Citing Westport’s influence on “The Great Gatsby” (and other Fitzgerald novels), it says:

We want to insure that the town celebrates and treasures its connection with the Fitzgeralds and the book.

Furthermore, in times of rapid change we wish to ensure that this town’s marvelous history is not lost.

Webb envisions events at the Westport Historical Society and Westport Library; a tie-in with the Longshore flapper party; a walking tour of Longshore-influenced scenes from “Gatsby” and “The Beautiful and the Damned,” and more.

He’s open to other ideas from the community too.

Maybe another naked swim at Compo?

(To view — and sign — the petition to make May 14 “Great Gatsby Day in Westport,” click here.)

Friday Flashback #93

Earlier this week, I posted a story about Deej Webb’s great new book about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s memorable 1920 sojourn in Westport. The central thesis is that those 5 months influenced everything else the famous author wrote — including “The Great Gatsby.”

Webb’s “Boats Against the Current” is filled with fascinating photos — notably several of Frederick E. Lewis’ 175-acre property that later became Longshore.

There were references too to Lewis’ lighthouse. It may have inspired some of the scenes in The Great Gatsby.

I’ve posted the photo below before. But I erroneously identified it as showing a big bash at Longshore. In fact — according to Webb — this is “a glittering summer party, complete with band, at the Lewis estate.” It certainly does look Gatsby-esque.

There’s also this fascinating map, drawn in 1921 by noted artist John Held.

Held included the lighthouse (right above the words “Long Island Sound”).

Check out the enormous boat sailing up the Saugatuck River, just south of downtown.

And — if you’re really eagle-eyed — you’ll notice that Held misspelled Bridge Street as “Brigde.”

What else stands out? Click “Comments” below.

Filmmakers Fight To Save F. Scott’s Home

In 1920, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent a memorable summer in Westport.

It’s taken a lot longer — more than 2 years — for another pair of locals to make a film about the literary-and-fast-living couple.

But the video project began even way before that.

A 1996 New Yorker story by Westport writer Barbara Probst Solomon linked Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby to this town. But the piece was “ignored by Fitzgerald scholars,” says filmmaker Robert Steven Williams. So he and Staples grad/social studies teacher/historian Deej Webb embarked on their own project.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

They interviewed more than a dozen academics. They dug into Fitzgerald’s archives at Princeton, and presented at a Fitzgerald Society Conference in Alabama. They even interviewed one of the writer’s granddaughters in Vermont — a woman who rarely speaks to anyone.

“What we uncovered was not only surprising,” Williams says. “It made us realize that the Westport Fitzgerald home was much more than just about Gatsby.”

So when clips of their film — Boats Against the Current — are shown at the Fairfield Theater Company on Monday (June 8, 7:30 p.m.), viewers will learn about much more than F. Scott, Zelda, the Roaring ’20s and Westport.

Williams and Webb draw attention to the fact that the home the Fitzgeralds rented — on Compo Road South, adjacent to the Longshore entrance — is for sale. And unprotected.

According to Williams, that means that “anyone could buy it, and make it tomorrow’s ‘Teardown of the Day.'”

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept -- and partied -- here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

Williams and Webb will discuss — using over an hour’s worth of clips — why “Westport needs to save this home.” They’ll be joined by Professor Walter Raubicheck (a Fitzgerald scholar from Pace University), and Westport Historical Society executive director Sue Gold.

After all, like Gatsby itself, the Fitzgeralds’ home is a classic.

(For ticket information, click here.)

 

Woodman, Don’t Spare That Tree!

Deej Webb identified 5 “homicidal trees” on the Merritt Parkway — big ones, with the potential to fall and kill someone.

And that was before this month’s monster storm.

The 1980 Staples graduate grew up with the mindset of most Westporters:  Suburbia = trees = wonderful.  You didn’t think about the presence of trees, any more than you questioned air or cookouts.

But on his daily commute to New Canaan — he teaches high school history there — Deej saw trees that could kill him, as easily as they killed several motorists in the past few years.

He saw CL&P crews trimming branches around power lines — but leaving enormous trees standing.  The temporary fixes seldom worked.  “Four times a year, I lose power,” Deej says.  “It’s completely preventable.”

As he looked — really looked — around Westport, he realized trees are not always aesthetically pleasing, either.  Deej says that trees block what once were majestic vistas.  As an F. Scott Fitzgerald aficionado, he knows that when the author lived on South Compo, next to what later became Longshore, there were no trees at all — the author saw clear down to the Sound and across to Long Island, providing inspiration for several “Great Gatsby” scenes.

This tree sits 2 yards from my patio. I hope it doesn't kill me.

As a student of history, Deej knows that from colonial days right through to the early part of this century, there were far fewer trees in Westport.

“What we’re seeing here today is not New England,” Deej says. “It’s a man-made arboreal paradise.”

When he discussed his counter-intuitive — if not heretical — ideas with friends, they thought he was joking.  Then they looked around, saw what he saw, and figured he was maybe half-kidding.

After last week’s storm, they stopped laughing.

“Everyone I know spent a lot of time clearing their property,” Deej says.  “And now everyone is noticing how many of their neighbors’ trees  threaten their own property.”

Deej and his friends have a few ideas.  They want to work with the town to identify dangerous trees, and find discretionary funds to cut them down.  They envision a volunteer effort involving civic groups, Staples sports teams and Boy Scouts (though, Deej notes, “you can’t really hand chainsaws to kids”).

They would like to post photos on “06880” and WestportNow.com, asking:  “Why is this tree still standing?”

They hope to petition the state to take care of dangerous Merritt Parkway trees.

Yet for all his dreaming, Deej is a realist.

“I know it’s expensive,” he says.  “And I know people in Westport have fought the removal of a single tree at Longshore.  They’ll chain themselves to trees to save them.

“The environmentalists will talk about the importance of trees’ roles in oxygen.”

So he’ll settle for this:  A townwide discussion of whether Westport is overly enamored of trees.

“Is this a crackpot idea from someone with too much time on his hands?” he asks.

“Or is it an idea whose time has come?”

(“06880” readers:  Answer those questions by clicking the “Comments” link at the top and bottom of this post.  To contact Deej directly, email him:  rnwebb@optonline.net)