If you wondered why Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange were so tight at the 2009 Golden Globes, it is because they star in what might be the best performances of their lives in the new HBO Movie Grey Gardens scheduled to premiere in April 2009. Grey Gardens is the true story of the bizarre, eccentric, schizophrenic, yet loving relationship of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and first cousin, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie).
The HBO movie Grey Gardens is written, directed, and produced by Michael Sucsy. Drew Barrymore stars as Little Edie, Jessica Lange stars as Big Edie, and Jeanne Tripplehorn stars as Jackie Kennedy Onassis. According to one viewer who has seen the unedited version of the HBO movie, it is brilliant and “knocks it out of the park.” Viewer Robbie Turner says you can hardly tell the difference between the real Edie Beales and Drew and Jessica. Click here to watch the Grey Gardens 2009 HBO Movie Trailer (original version).
Edith Ewing Bouvier was the sister of John “Black Jack” Bouvier, Jacqueline’s father. She married prominent New York lawyer, Phelan Beale, and later gave birth to Edith Bouvier Beale. Big Edie was a singer and had actually made some records that were deemed promising. Little Edie was a beautiful magical debutant in New York’s high society and an aspiring poet, actor and dancer.
When the Beale’s divorced and Big Edie was ailing, she summoned Little Edie to come live with her and help take care of her. The two Edie’s would spend the next 24 years slipping into mental illness, feeding off each other’s inability to cope with the injustices that life dealt them, and yet in a haunting way, developing a loving relationship that was endless.
The true story of Grey Gardens first developed a cult following in 1973 when national news broke of the health department raid on the Beale’s 28-room East Hampton Long Island mansion called Grey Gardens. The Suffolk County Board of Health found Big Edie and Little Edie living in filth and poverty with over 40 cats, several raccoons, countless fleas, no running water, and the historic Hampton mansion in disrepair. Click here to view a clip from the documentary showing Big Edie and Little Edie in their bedroom. Little Edie protested by announcing that this raid was an invasion of privacy and by asking, “Do you know, they can get you in East Hampton for wearing red shoes on a Thursday?”
The board ordered the Beale’s to clean up the mansion or be evicted at which point Jackie O and her sister, Lee Radziwill had to step in and help. When the scandal broke about Jackie O’s “secret” reclusive, poverty-stricken relatives, high-society people understood why the famous Bouvier sisters would have nothing to do with the Beale’s prior to the public condemnation of Grey Gardens. But, many people wondered why Jackie O and Lee, who used to live down the road at Lasata, did not help their blueblood family members sooner.
Perhaps the answers to that question came in the making of the 1975 Albert and David Maysles documentary called Grey Gardens, starring Edith Bouvier Beale and Edie Beale. Some people watched the film as many as 14 times, analyzing the pathetic path of two wonderful people’s mental demise and fearing that maybe we were not really unlike them. Both the Edie’s were intelligent, once-prominent, fashionable ladies who now slept on garbage-covered mattresses in a small room reeking from the smell of cat urine.
Click here to view a clip from the documentary showing Little Edie talking about her college education and how she failed to please her father.
Click here to view a clip showing Little Edie dancing and talking about her fashion sense, accompanied by music from Madonna.
Click here to see a video with Albert Maysles celebrating the 30th anniversary of the documentary.
I remember when the story of Jackie O and Lee’s “secret” reclusive relatives hit the news and when the chilling Grey Gardens documentary was released in 1975. It made a lasting vivid impression on me since my own mother had recently disowned me for “living in sin” with my boyfriend. Mothers and daughters everywhere were wondering in horror if they would end up like Big Edie and Little Edie. The mother-daughter Edie’s fought about everything, but supported each other’s fantasies for being a singer or an actress, before slipping back into thoughts of past resentments and how life deprived them of their dreams. Big Edie died in 1977, the year my own daughter was born. By this time, I had seen the movie 3 times, studied it in hypnotic disbelief, and swore that this would never happen to my daughter and me. I spent the next five years living in fear that I could not prevent it.
In an ironic twist, the 1975 movie was supposed to be about the childhood life of Lee Radziwill who asked the Maysles to make a documentary that would include 40 things about Lee’s life. Lee introduced number 34 to the Maysles: Edith Beale and Little Edie. When the film was screened for Lee, she appeared to be outraged by Edie’s contribution and Lee confiscated the negatives and cancelled the project. The Maysles decided instead to make a documentary about the twisted lives of the mother-daughter fall from glory. Edith later proclaimed complete satisfaction in a Beale upstaging a Bouvier.
Little Edie died on January 14, 2002 at the age of 84. This would be one year after the 25th anniversary of the documentary Grey Gardens that she said was her and her mother’s “breakthrough to something beautiful and precious called life.” Sadly, Little Edie would not see her own dream of being a New York actress and dancer fulfilled when the full-length musical Grey Gardens opened on Broadway in November 2006. The show was the first Broadway adaptation of a documentary film and in 2007 won a Tony Award for Best Costume design. The Broadway show’s stars, Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, each won 2007 Tony Awards for their performances as Big Edie and Little Edie.
For those of us who are now in our 50’s, we are confident that our mental state is healthier than that of Big Edie and Little Edie. Despite our own regrets in life, the unfair cards dealt to us in life, the family members who disown us, the careers that we never had but wanted, the dreams we still have but no hope of achieving, and not having any money, we will be O.K. Or, will we?
Pressure of Grey Gardens Gives Barrymore the Jitters
Grey Gardens 2009 HBO
Grey Gardens 1975 Documentary
Grey Gardens: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical
The Eccentric Lives Of the Edie Beales Gets New Viewing
The New York Times
Grey Gardens to Open on Broadway
Grey Gardens Closes on Broadway
Grey Gardens, The Official Fan Site