Was Billionaire Howard Hughes a Member of Westchester Country Club?

Plus, a web series potentially shot in Westchester, and the ballad of Old Bet.


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Billionaire Boys’ Club

Q: A friend told me that Howard Hughes was a member of Westchester Country Club. Is this true? — Chess Berryhill, Armonk

A: You can find many Internet sources that claim the billionaire aviator was indeed a member of the Westchester Country Club. Hey, if it’s on Wikipedia, it must be true, right? Well...

I talked to the PR department at WCC. They told me there is no record of Hughes ever having been a member. Patrick Raftery, my buddy at the Westchester Historical Society, said he has nothing to support that claim, and Hughes biographer Douglas Wellman seconded that assertion.

Before he was the great aviator, movie producer, entrepreneur, and real estate tycoon, Hughes aspired to be the best golfer in the world, as he’d written in his personal journal. Reports were that he was a 3 handicap and liked to play with the golf superstars of his era, like Gene Sarazen, as well as with his movie-star paramour, Katharine Hepburn.
 

Hunter Canning (left) and Sasha Winters, stars of the Web series Whatever This Is.

Courting Cortlandt

Q: Someone told me about the Web series Whatever This Is. I found it on YouTube and thought it was very funny. The second episode was about Westchester. Do you know if they actually shot here? — Jesse Redekin, Bedford Village                             

A: Whatever This Is is a modern sitcom that follows some 20- and 30-somethings living in Brooklyn who are trying not to starve while they work at their careers as video production assistants. Sam is a PA living with his girlfriend, Lisa, a would-be nanny to a lesbian couple. They live with Ari, also a PA, who is gay and may have feelings for Sam.

In the episode “Westchester,” the crew is filming a tacky music video of a spoiled, upstate 19-year-old who dreams of being the next Beyoncé. Her wealthy, disconnected, racist father hires the video company to indulge her so that his little monster can get whatever she wants. Westchester is sort of depicted as an incredibly rich, self-indulgent, elitist, and snobby community.

The episode was shot in Cortlandt Manor, but writer-director Adam Goldman wants folks to know he harbors no animosity toward our county, despite its portrayal.

“This is a show about being broke. The episode wasn't so much about Westchester County as it was about our characters being pushed up against wealthy people. When we were thinking about what would be a logical place where a rich parent could spend the money for his daughter to get a video shot that was close to Brooklyn, we thought of Westchester,” Goldman says.

The show was funded by Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing website. They raised $171,446, which funded the six episodes that were shot. There is no more funding, so they don’t expect any more episodes. The Outs, another Web series by the same folks, has been picked up and funded by Vimeo.
 

The old Bet memorial in Somers.

A Trunk-ated Tale

Q: I read an article about the best places to swim in the world, by folk musician Loudon Wainwright III, who was from Bedford. He listed Lake Waccabuc in his top 10 but also mentioned that a famous elephant, Old Bet, died and was buried in the bottom of the lake. True story?

A: As poignant a notion as that might be, it’s not even close to the truth.

Old Bet is often described as the first elephant brought to the US, though she was actually the second. She came to the States in 1804 and was bought by a Somers farmer named Hachaliah Bailey. Bailey realized he could make more money charging his neighbors to see Bet than he could from farming. He developed a traveling menagerie, with Old Bet as the star.

Unfortunately, this sweet bit of Americana ends badly. A crazed farmer in Maine who thought it was evil to charge poor people to look at animals shot and killed Old Bet in cold blood. She was buried in Maine.

The Elephant Hotel features a loving memorial to Old Bet in its courtyard.
 

Writer’s Note

I learned subsequent to press time that the 1954 Siata 200 CS referred to in September’s Any Questions is actually owned by Walter Eisenstark, who inherited it from his father, Julius. As for that broken turn-signal switch, Walter says that TV’s favorite puffy-shirt pirate broke that off himself, so don’t blame
the car. -TS

 

Have a question about the county? Email edit@westchestermagazine.com. Subject line: Any Questions?

 

 

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