57 Nyack Pretty Penny

A card on Hopper House's front desk informed me that it was the one hundredth anniversary of actress Helen Hayes's birth year. She lived just a few houses north on the other side of the street in a house she and her husband playwright Charles MacArthur called "Pretty Penny."

At the urging of his dealer Rehn, Hopper painted a canvas of Pretty Penny just before World War II. It was the only work he ever did on commission. Pretty Penny (now in the collection of Hayes's alma mater Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts) was also painted on the spot, whereas Hopper almost always painted from memory in the studio. When I saw the house that day, the front yard's pine tree prominent in Hopper's painting was noticeably bigger. It had also been joined by a line of other pines and a high brick wall with security gates and cameras to thwart prying eyes.

Pat at the desk had told me, "Story about Pretty Penny was that Helen and Charlie were looking for houses here, and they called it Pretty Penny because it cost so much: $38,000. She threw great parties and gave everyone who came a rose. Rosie O'Donnell just bought it for one or two million. She owned all the way to the river, and she sold off to the river. The town wanted to have a historic district and she really didn't want it. She would not allow people to come down to the river."

Down the street from Pretty Penny sat a house where Carson McCullers, author of award-winning Broadway plays like Member of the Wedding, had lived. The house is a worthy subject for Hopper, with gables, bay windows, and a mansard roof. As I regarded it, a station wagon parked in front, and a woman got out carrying a load of laundry. I asked if she lived in town, and she said she lived in the house.

"People in Nyack aren't isolated," she insisted. "Just the opposite. We moved here because it's got such a thriving nexus. It is Main Street," she concluded, and took the laundry inside.

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