by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
One of Montauk’s noted residents passed away recently, after having been missing for several weeks. The 82 year old photographer spent several decades of his life traveling to the most exotic places on earth, with Africa on the top of his list. The poaching of elephants and other wildlife became a cause he cared about and his photojournalism brought these horrific events to the attention of readers around the world. Yet with all the wondrous places he visited during his lifetime, Peter Beard decided that the beauty of Montauk was where he wanted to have his home. Long time Montauk residents may remember the decades old story about Beard’s first house overlooking Ditch Plains Beach. It was disassembled and moved further east, near the lighthouse. Newspaper and television reporting described that huge portions of the house were even transported by helicopter. This was a sight for people to see at the time and those living in “Ditch” remember it well. However, the new location had a drastic event happen when in 1977 a terrible fire occurred and burned the house down. The most tragic part of the fire was that a lifetime of Beard’s work was destroyed including developing equipment and his collection that at the time was worth close to a million dollars.
Past Fundraisers: Back in 2003 and 2004 there were many fundraising events to benefit the restoration of the beautiful Montauk Playhouse that majestically stands today. Peter Beard was just one of the many people that helped to raise money for this cause. We attended his two events, covering them for the Montauk Sun. A cocktail party and auction was held at Ruschmeyer’s Restaurant and billed as Beard’s Bash. An all-star lineup hosted the event, including famed photographer, Peter Beard, his wife Nejma, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell, Olatz and Julian Schnable and Paul Morrisey. Close to 400 guests attended the gala event, including then Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. The main host, Beard, was busy most of the evening mingling and chatting with scores of attendees. The music was rocking and the DJ told the audience this night was also the birthday of rock legend Mick Jagger who turned 60! He said that Jagger was having his celebration across the Atlantic in Prague. A medley of his top hits was played, in his honor, to the delight of the crowd that filled the dance floor.
Since that event was so successful, another Beard’s Bash was held the following year and again it was well attended by enthusiastic Playhouse supporters. The Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation along with Peter Beard and his wife, Nejma hosted a terrific benefit. Other co-hosts listed on the program included Aida Turturro, who was co-starring at the time in the current award winning HBO hit series The Sopranos, playing Janice, sister of Tony Soprano. Ms. Turturro was friendly, gracious and mingled easily with guests during the evening. To this day Ms. Turturro continues to support several Montauk fundraising events. She gives freely of her time between her acting roles to participate and raise money for the Playhouse as it continues its last phase of renovations. During this 2004 party, Mr. Beard, always appeared comfortable as he circulated having conversations with friends and guests at the Bash. Over 300 people attended that year, proving Mr. Beard’s charm was the attraction and money raised that night helped move the Community Playhouse completion a bit closer to realization. The Montauk Sun and extends its sympathy to Peter Beard’s wife Nejma and his daughter Zara on the loss of their husband and father.