For Jenny Allen, She and Her House ‘Were Sort of in This Together’

Nearly 40 years ago, Ms. Allen landed on this island, and in this house, on assignment from Life magazine to profile Mr. Feiffer, who had written the screenplay for “Popeye,” the Robert Altman film, out in 1980. She was 25 and Mr. Feiffer 52, and when he asked her to dinner, Ms. Allen, hewing to the journalist’s code of ethics, waited until after the piece was published to say yes. (Chronically self-effacing, Ms. Allen was also mystified as to why Mr. Feiffer might have been interested in her.)

Photo

A cozy corner of Ms. Allen’s house near Lambert’s Cove on Martha’s Vineyard.

Credit
Gabriela Herman for The New York Times

When they married three years later, Mr. Feiffer’s island posse — Lillian Hellman, John Hersey, Mrs. Graham, among others — mostly welcomed Ms. Allen, despite the age difference, though Ms. Hellman, Ms. Allen said, took some time to thaw. “Jules was one of the men she flirted with and whose wives she had no interest in,” Ms. Allen said. “She would invite him for dinner, but not me. She’d say, ‘I don’t have enough chairs.’”

It was Mrs. Graham’s habit to invite Ms. Allen and Mr. Feiffer to one lunch and one dinner each summer, events that Ms. Allen looked forward to, for the very rich and very formal French food that other island women would make fun of, and Mrs. Graham’s Old World hostess touches, like the gleaming silver cigarette cups on the dinner tables.

“She was wonderful to women,” Ms. Allen said of Mrs. Graham. “She always asked, ‘How are you doing? How are your children?’ She was interested in the life of women. I think she had a feeling from her years of being a wife that she wanted you to feel seen.”

There was the alcoholic who visited their house almost daily. It turned out he…

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