Little Edie and Big Edie were related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale were the aunt and first cousin of the former first lady. Grey Gardens, the Long Island home of the Beales, was almost shutdown by the health department and the story made national headlines. The house was decaying and did not have running water. It was also full of garbage, raccoons and cats. Onassis and her sister, Lee Radziwill, paid for the house to be brought back to living standards.
This is a riches to rags story
These women were wealthy socialites with privileged upbringings. Little Edie was born on Madison Avenue and was a drop-dead gorgeous fashion model as a young woman. She really could’ve been married to a president or movie star. Big Edie also came from a privileged upbringing. Before pursuing a career as a singer, she was considering being a surgeon. She married a wealthy lawyer. When they divorced, Big Edie retained the 28-room Grey Gardens house and received child support, but no alimony. Her parents mainly cut her out of their wills. To see these women living in squalor is bizarre, especially since they still talk and act like they are part of Camelot.
Little Edie is a fashion icon
There is just something about those headscarves! They always match her outrageous outfits and have a pendant on them. It’s an unmistakable look that has been imitated in TV shows and magazines. Edie started covering her head after developing alopecia totalis, but definitely made the most of it. Seeing her in the artwork is what draws many people to the film. Her attire in the film is strange, but fabulous. Even the way she reads books with a magnifying glass is endearing.
It’s a cult classic
This is one strange film. There really isn’t anything comparable to it. As far as documentaries go, it doesn’t get much better than this. If you are a connoisseur of cult classics, you have to see Grey Gardens. Before it came out on DVD, this was a film people passed around on VHS. Theaters around the world still show it. Don’t be surprised if members of the audience are quoting some of the lines. Some of them may even show up with a headscarf, dressed like Little Edie.
Grey Gardens is visually stunning
This film truly deserves the careful restoration treatment. The footage of a decayed mansion in East Hampton is haunting, but beautifully shot. The color schemes are gorgeous throughout the entire film. The exotic outfits, bright wallpaper, trees, shadows, and ocean are all gorgeously shot in raw, grainy colors. There are scenes in this film that must have influenced Wes Anderson.
Big Edie and Little Edie get in some crazy arguments! One minute they are singing, the next they are shouting at each other. Almost everything Little Edie says has a dramatic flair to it. She is theatrical when happy and has a lot of gumption when serious. Sometimes she will address someone casually and then turn to the camera and whisper something like, “This is the revolutionary costume, I never wear this in East Hampton.”
Grey Gardens is insanely quotable
Every other thing Little Edie says is quotable. Here are just a few choice quips:
“I think this is the best costume for the day.”
“Mother wanted me to come out in a kimono so we had quite a fight!”
“I thought I was the cat’s pajamas in that!”
“I only care about three things: the Catholic Church, swimming and dancing.”
“It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.”
“I got fat not wearing clothes for two years.”
Grey Gardens has influenced pop culture
Rufus Wainwright and Stars wrote songs about the film. At least two other documentaries were made about these women. Little Edie starred in a Broadway play and there was also a Broadway musical based on Grey Gardens. The film has been the focus of countless stories in newspapers and magazines, as well as books. There was even a television film based on this story starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. Characters on TV shows have impersonated Little Edie.
Albert and David Maysles
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These brothers made some of the greatest documentaries of all time. In addition to Grey Gardens, they made Salesman, a documentary that is as troubling as Glengarry Glen Ross or Death of a Salesman. Another classic is Gimme Shelter. The documentary is infamous for showing a member of the Hell’s Angels stabbing a fan at a Rolling Stones concert. But it’s really about the death of the 1960s and the beginning of the sordid '70s. The Maysles made many other great films with subjects like The Beatles, Marlon Brando, Muhammad Ali and Truman Capote.
The universal theme of living in the past
Almost every conversation is about better times. Decades removed from high society, Little Edie and Big Edie are constantly talking about the past, often arguing about it. Both women reminisce about how beautiful and fashionable they once were. Both women make reference to relationships that didn’t last. Big Edie still believes she can make it as a singer. Little Edie believes she missed her shot at showbiz by moving in with her mother.
Grey Gardens plays at Texas Theatre on Saturday, June 6 at 9pm and Sunday, June 7 at 6:30PM.