Saturday, January 24, 2009

Grey Gardens: What could have been reality tv's finest moment.

First, grab a vodka gimlet. This is a long post. My apologies...


One of my all-time favorite train wreck type viewing pleasures is the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens, about Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale, aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and her sister, (once Princess) Caroline "Lee" Bouvier Radizwill. (Gah. That was a lot of names to type.)

The documentary is named for the dilapidated 28- room beach house the two shared along with raccoons, legions of cats (and a variety of other unsavory house guests of the scurrying kind) on West End Avenue in East Hampton's Georgica Pond area.

Grey Gardens ca. 1915

To give you a frame of reference - if the Beales were alive today, their neighbors would include Steven Spielberg, billionaire Ron Perelman and until recently, Martha.

The eccentric (read: crazy) mother daughter duo lived in the rambling house in almost total isolation. Their bizarre and rather unhealthy lifestyle was brought to light after a series of visits by the Suffolk County Health Department lead to a New York Magazine cover story in 1972. It was only then, that their more famous relations provided the necessary funds to repair the home in order for it to meet Village codes. (!)

Little Edie in the mink and Big Edie seated, in a still from Grey Gardens, 1975

Their story prior to 1975 is way more interesting than the living in Easthampton squalor.
Little Edie claiming that had Joe Kennedy, Jr. not died in the war that she would have married him and become First Lady - not cousin Jackie...Big Edie pulling her out of school for two years claiming that she was too ill to attend but taking her on a shopping trip to Paris and the legend that Little Edie lit her own hair on fire so that she would never be beautiful to anyone but her beloved mother...this also lends an explanation (albeit, murky) to the ever-present head kerchief.

If you are wondering where I am going with this...we've arrived.

Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange recently worked the red carpet at the Golden Globes, drumming buzz for their HBO movie, Grey Gardens to air in April 2009, based on the lives of the Beales.


This is not the first act of homage to the grande dames of Grey Gardens - although I'm sure it required more hairspray to promote (Drew, I'm talking to you dear) than any of the other productions. The most critically acclaimed was a Tony award winning musical starring Christine Ebersole.

Something tells me that neither Drew or Jessica are Emmy or Golden Globe bound for their portrayals. But, I've been wrong before...(Brad and Jen are going to be together forever - the tattoo on your ring finger kind of together forever.)


Grey Gardens restored , 2003.

Big Edie died in 1977 and Little Edie sold the house for mere pennies in 1979 to Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn. The couple have completely restored the home and grounds.

The Beales never made a dime off of the documentary, but did become (in)famous. It makes me think if this were to happen today, they would have a reality show, at least two appearances on Oprah and Nate Berkus would be re-doing their kitchen complete with a cat door.

Sometimes truth is much more entertaining than fiction.

Thanks for indulging me...Stay tuned.
Coming up next: DIY with the Anchorman.

5 comments:

Legallyblondemel said...

You are too right - these two absolutely would have been made into a reality TV show today, assuming they would have consented.

Thanks for the reminder about this pair; Kennedy follower that I am, I'm shocked that I had forgotten about them. Will have to track the documentary down, as I can't quite imagine Drew Barrymore's version doing them justice, even with excessive hairspray. Ahem.

Ainslie Place said...

This is one of those stories where you can't look away. I really must find the documentary too. I knew most of the story but had not heard the part about Little Edie setting her own hair on fire.

What I really wish, instead of Drew & Jessica's movie, is that the Broadway show with Christine Ebersole had been taped for "Great Performances."

I knew Ben Bradlee & Sally Quinn had bought Grey Gardens. I'm going to be catty and say that Sally wanted it because of the provenance, i.e., Kennedy connection. I don't have much use for Sally Quinn.

a. @ coterie said...

I love Grey Gardens ;-)

The Doctor's Wife said...

My brother suggested I watch this last April (always ahead of the times, that one). I have to admit...I fell asleep. What a couple of nutty nuts! I can't wait to see the new version!

Happy Homemaker said...

Nothing like a hermit mother/daughter pair with cats! I'm still scarred from watching Cybil in psych. class.