Monday, August 20, 2012

Gray Gardens

Many of you may have seen both Gray Gardens documentaries or know all too well the story of Edie Bouvier Beale.  Not sure why I was thinking about her today.  But if you don't know the story, well here it goes.  And by all means see both movies!

 Edie Beale was born in 1917 in New York, the first cousin of Jackie Kennedy.  She grew up in wealth in New York and on Long Island and was considered one of the beauties of her day.  She made her debut in New York, attended the Spence School and Miss Porter's.  She was a free spirit to say the least and could have led a life of wealth and privilege by marrying well into the society in which she grew up.  But Little Edie as she was known took a decidedly different path. It is rumored that she dated Howard Hughes and young Joe Kennedy among others.  She modeled in her youth. 

In 1931 her father divorced her mother who was known for her eccentricities to say the least.  After the Depression her family lost much of its wealth and Edie and her mother, Big Edie, decided to stay in their house on Long Island, Gray Gables.  Edie lived in New York for a few years, wanting to be an actress and a show girl, but that was not to be.  She returned to the Hamptons to live most of her life with her mother in a decaying Gray Gables.

 In 1975 a documentary was made by the Mayles brothers, Gray Gables, and if you have not seen it by all means see it!  The movie features the quirky daily lives of the mother and daughter as the two live in a filthy house full of racoons and a large number of cats.  The photo above is from the movie.

In 1971 Jackie Kennedy came to the rescue when the local health department tried to shut the house down.  She offered a large sum of money to clean out the house and make needed repairs carting away over 1000 bags of garbage.

 Little Edie looks at the movie poster.

 Big Edie in the house next to a portrait left over from finer days.

Little Edie singing with Big Edie in the background.

Little Edie in all the trash in the house, with the cats.

 Big Edie and Little Edie and more cats.

 How the house once looked.

The house has a happy ending.  In 1979 Little Edie sold the house for $220,000 to Ben Bradlee and his wife Sally Quinn.  The couple restored the house to its former splendor.  Quinn has said that Little Edie walked out the door and handed her the keys leaving the house with all its contents including many treasure troves of old letters and relics from a grand past.

Big Edie died in 1977 while living in the house.  Little Edie moved to New York and later to Florida after selling Gray Gables.  Little Edie died in 2002.

The documentary was made into an HBO movie (also worth seeing) starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore (2009) and a musical was produced for Broadway.  The story is tragic in some ways but in other ways demonstrates a devotion between mother and daughter that is rare if not a little unsettling.  Little Edie appears to be happy in the documentary and lived to be 84. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and sad story. Hoarding before it had a name. However, the Quinns have done a beautiful job of restoring the old house.


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