5.10.2010

{ Riches to Rags in Camelot's Backyard }



I'm really excited about this post. It's a topic I wanted to write about before this blog actually existed, because it inherently has all the traits that I wanted my Joie de Vivre posts to contain:
fun, fascinating, lovely, sometimes tragic and always romantic, extraordinary things.

I wish I could tag all relevant words on this topic, but I can't. I want to make tags like these:

Propriety and Rebellion.
Present and Past.
Wealth and Poverty.
Stagnation and Ambition.
Celebrity and Obscurity.
Freedom and Captivity.
Sparkle and Decay.
Fantasy and Reality.

(You get the idea.)

All these are contradictions, but somehow they all fuse together to become the story of

Grey Gardens.



And now is the perfect time to post, since my mom and I recently celebrated Mother's Day by seeing a local (and fabulous) production of Grey Gardens.


Last year, I read an article about an HBO movie starring
Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.
I love them both, and I love period dramas based on true stories...
so of course I had to see Grey Gardens.



A side note: I always somehow end up doing WAY too much research after I see a "true story" movie, because I just have to know more about the real people in the stories. Examples:
Miss Potter. Amazing Grace. The Other Boleyn Girl. Capote. Finding Neverland.
(Did you know the real-life inspiration for Peter Pan committed suicide?! That burst my bubble a little.)



But back to the topic at hand.



One thing that makes this story so intriguing to the public is that the two pricipal characters, mother and daughter Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and daughter Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale were aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Edith's husband, New York City lawyer Phelan, purchased the gorgeous East Hampton beach estate as a summer and entertaining home for the family. Big Edie was a beautiful free spirit, who like all wealthy wives kept a house and a busy social calendar, yes; but went against the grain of the cordial entertaining formalities (light gossip and dirty martinis) and gave live performances of her favorite songs with the help of her loyal accompanist, George Gould Strong.

Little Edie was known as "Body Beautiful Beale" and was on track to become a well-married society woman herself. She claimed to have marriage proposals from the ill-fated Joe Kennedy, Jr., and J. Paul Getty, among others.
She also had unconventional aspirations like her mother-- a dancer, or perhaps Broadway star.
But while a debutante, Edie mingled with the beautiful and wealthiest of East Coast society.



Edie, age 8 or 9


Debutante and "Body Beautiful Beale."


Spread in Italian Vouge


In 1932, Phelan left his theatrical and at times uncouth wife Edith with a small trust fund and.... Grey Gardens.
I think I see the ghosts of Miss Havisham and Estella peeking around the corner.

After a brief stint in NYC, Little Edie moved back in to take care of her mother. They would live there, alone, for decades; and the once beautiful Hamptons home fell victim to the reckless hands of Neglect, Compulsion, and Squalor. Infested with fleas, overrun by cats and racoons (and thus their carcasses and waste), filled with garbage and decay, without running water... A sparkling palace left to deteriorate quietly to an unrecognizable shell.


Big Edie rarely got out of bed; Little Edie lost her hair from alopecia. They ordered sparse groceries and at times ate "pate" meant as cat food. In the fall of 1971 and throughout 1972, their living conditions were exposed as the result of an article in the National Enquirer and a cover story in New York Magazine after a series of inspections (which the Beales called "raids") by the Suffolk County Health Department.
With the Beale women facing eviction and the razing of their home, in the summer of 1972 Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radizwill provided the necessary funds to stabilize and repair the dilapidated house so that it would meet Village codes.
Albert and David Maysles became interested in their story and received permission to film a documentary about the women, which was released in 1976 to wide critical acclaim. Using a direct cinema technique, the women were left to tell their own stories. Little Edie fashioned outfits from skirts as scarves, upside down sweaters, and vintage brooches, and reminisced about time with Joe Kennedy, Jr. and the Barbizon Hotel. Big Edie belts out some of her favorite songs and cooks corn on a hot plate next to her bed. They fight, they sing, they love. And they get their long sought-after fame, in a film that has launched a thousand franchises.

Edie at the time of the Maysles documentary, 1976
Some call it exploitation, some a train wreck you just can't look away from; others call it a celebration of individuality, contentedness, and female independence. Regardless, there's no disputing it's a cult classic and a story that intrigues many (like me) still today--
Just look at the musical, the documentaries, the coffee table books, the bobble head dolls (really-- click the link if you don't believe me), the haute couture fashion shoots and ready-to-wear collections, coloring books, buttons, fan clubs, and abundance of online websites dedicated to Grey Gardens.

Below, the HBO promo starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.
video


And one of my favorites: the real Little Edie in her own words on the "best outfit for today."
She has an enviable confidence and innovation in fashion:
"My costumes? That's a protest against having worked as a model for the Establishment, believe it or not. A lot of models feel that way. Sometimes their lives are protests against having worked as models. Besides, I didn't have time taking care of mother to get out and buy any clothes. So I used what was left of mine and mother's in the attic." - Little Edie

video


For more information on Grey Gardens, check out these great links:
http://www.greygardensonline.com/
http://www.greygardens.com/
http://greygardensnews.blogspot.com/
A house tour of Grey Gardens today: http://lxtv.com/openhousenyc/video/10233

Grey Gardens circa 2005, restored to its former glory.

Little Edie sold it after Big Edie passed away, on the condition that it not be torn down.
"All it needs is a coat of paint!"


True Glamour Never Fades.



1 comment:

  1. What a lovely post! They are fascinating people indeed. I actually went as Little Edie for Halloween in 2008 and no one knew who I was, one guy thought I was a Bulgarian peasant!

    Have a great weekend!

    ReplyDelete