How I Got Here: Alan Dershowitz

It was 1970. A memo was 
circulated around the faculty at the Harvard Law School by a New York Times reporter, Anthony Lewis, saying he was renting his house on Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks for $100 a week. I couldn’t 
afford $100 a week, so I called my brother and asked if he’d be willing to go in for $50. I had actually been to the Vineyard once on a brief 
business trip [a year] earlier, but 
just in Edgartown. I was one of the lawyers on Ted Kennedy’s side 
in the Chappaquiddick incident.
Tony Lewis had a beautiful 
West Tisbury home on the pond, and we rented it that year and the summer afterwards. It was a house with no electricity and no telephone. Can you imagine Alan Dershowitz in a house with no telephone? It 
was a long ride down a very, very bumpy road. What I would do a couple of times a day was drive 
to Alley’s [General Store] and 
use the pay phone. I was a quiet 
academic in those days and not 
a lot of people were calling me.
Most of the time we hung around at Deep Bottom Cove. There was 
a whole gang of us. And we had everything we needed. There was a vegetable garden and we were given permission to harvest it. We fished and we took a boat to the ocean beach. We were very self-sufficient. Over the years we rented relatively inexpensive places, always in West Tisbury and Chilmark. We came every summer, and usually rented for the whole 
summer on the Tisbury Great Pond 
or the Chilmark Pond. Finally in 
1990 or ’91 we were able to afford 
to buy a house.
I have a story about Mike Wallace. One year we rented a house deep in the woods down in Quansoo. Very hard to find. And we invited Mike Wallace and Mary to a party at our house. But they got lost. So they went to another house on the road and knocked on the door. It turned out the guy in the other house was there because he had some real problems with the criminal justice system. Can you imagine trying to get away from everything and a guy knocks on 
your door and says, “Hi. I’m Mike Wallace.” They thought he was 
there for an interview.
My favorite place is Lucy 
Vincent Beach. I hang out there every day. I have an umbrella and 
my little chair and I bring my 
writing and my reading and I try to sit there a few hours away from everything. Once, when Clinton 
was president, they were desperately trying to reach me on Lucy Vincent Beach and they couldn’t get me 
because the cell service doesn’t extend to the beach. When I got back, there were fifteen messages on my machine – the president wants to 
see you right away – so I got into 
my car with my bathing suit on and ran over to where he was staying. 
It’s not easy to get on Lucy Vincent Beach. You have to live in Chilmark, and the president didn’t live in Chilmark. They don’t let anybody 
on without a beach pass; they don’t care what you’re president of.
We have a lot of traditions. My wife’s [Carolyn Cohen] birthday is 
at the end of June and we always celebrate it on the Vineyard. I 
remember going out to the Red 
Cat [restaurant] and singing “Happy Birthday” to her, and suddenly from the next table comes this magnificent voice and it’s Carly Simon joining in. And that is a typical Vineyard story. July 4, my whole extended family comes up – my children, my children’s children, my brother. We load the house up with sleeping bags. We’re 
active members of the Hebrew Center and I speak there pretty much 
every year.
One of my favorite things to do 
on the Vineyard every Wednesday 
or Saturday morning is to bring my grandchildren or my daughter, who’s fourteen, to the flea market and shop around for the perfect tchachke. I have one room that my wife gives me to lay out all my flea-market memorabilia, and that room looks like it’s from the 1900s. And the other tradition is we have a book party every year. So I 
have to make sure I write a book 
so I can have a book party at the Katharine Cornell Theatre [in 
Vineyard Haven].
I know a little bit more about the Island than the average visitor because being a lawyer, people come to me with their problems. A number of 
Islanders will come up to me on the beach, or stop me in town, and ask for advice. It’s okay. And I’m a friend of Ron Rappaport, so I hear about what goes on the nine months we’re not on the Vineyard. We also subscribe to the Vineyard Gazette and read it all year and get a sense of the Island.
The only thing on the Vineyard that I think has changed for the worse for me is that I used to be able to take five-mile walks down the beach in any direction without interruption. Now you have to carry around twelve different passes. It’s like checkpoints. And that’s too bad. Without disturbing people 
you should be able to walk long, long stretches where the water meets the sand. I’ll tell you what 
we do: my wife and I get up very early in the morning and we take 
a long walk on the beach when there are no guards.
I had one bad experience on 
the Vineyard. Every year I used 
to be auctioned off at the Possible Dreams Auction [for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services]. 
In fact we used to always have a contest as to who would bring in the most, me or Arthur Lyman or 
a comparable lawyer. And I used 
to have a great time there. Well, during the year that I was involved in the O.J. Simpson case, Art Buchwald said something like, “Whoever buys Alan Dershowitz, he’ll take him home and have him watch the O.J. Simpson case on television.” At that point everyone started booing because nobody liked O.J. Simpson.
People would come over to me on the beach and say, “How could you be involved in that case?” They would attack me for who my client was. Since the O.J. Simpson case I’ve never been offered as an item. They haven’t wanted me. But I never liked O.J. Simpson. He was never my friend. It was my job and I was part of a legal team. It was disappointing that that happened 
to me on the Vineyard because I think of the Vineyard as a place where people accept me for who 
I am.