Grey Gardens  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Grey Gardens is a 1975 documentary film by Albert and David Maysles. Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer also directed, and Susan Froemke was the associate producer. The film depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive socialites, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived at Grey Gardens, a decrepit mansion at 3 West End Road in the wealthy Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, New York. The film was screened at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival but was not entered into the main competition.

In 2010 the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (1895–1977), known as "Big Edie", and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (1917–2002), known as "Little Edie", were the aunt and the first cousin, respectively, of former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at Grey Gardens for decades with limited funds in increasing squalor and isolation.

The house was designed in 1897 by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe and purchased in 1923 by "Big Edie" and her husband Phelan Beale. After Phelan left his wife, "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" lived there for more than 50 years. The house was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, the cement garden walls, and the sea mist.

In the fall of 1971 and throughout 1972, their living conditions—their house was infested by fleas, inhabited by numerous cats and raccoons, deprived of running water, and filled with garbage and decay—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 Radziwill 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. Their direct cinema technique left the women to tell their own stories.



"Big Edie" died in 1977 and "Little Edie" sold the house in 1979 to former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his wife Sally Quinn for $220,000, who promised to restore the dilapidated structure (the sale agreement forbade razing the house). "Little Edie" died in Florida in 2002 at the age of 84. According to a 2003 article in Town & Country, after their purchase, Bradlee and Quinn completely restored the house and grounds.

Jerry Torre, the handyman shown in the documentary, was sought by the filmmakers for years afterward, and was found by chance driving a New York City taxicab. He is now a sculptor at The Art Students League of New York and a documentary is being made about his life by Jason Hay and Steve Pelizza of Aggregate Pictures.

Lois Wright, one of the two birthday party guests in the film, has hosted a public television show in East Hampton since the 1980s. She wrote a book about her experiences at the house with the Beales.

In 2006, Albert Maysles made available previously unreleased footage for a special 2-disc edition for the Criterion Collection. It included a new feature titled The Beales of Grey Gardens, which also received a limited theatrical release.

Walter Newkirk, a longtime friend of Little Edie, interviewed her during his college days. A CD of the interview is titled Little Edie Live! A Visit to Grey Gardens. It was followed with a scrapbook memoir of their friendship entitled memoraBEALEia (2008).


  • The documentary was adapted into a full-length musical, Grey Gardens, with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. Starring Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, the show premiered at Playwrights Horizons in New York City in February 2006. The musical reopened on Broadway in November 2006 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, and was acclaimed on more than 25 "Best of 2006" lists in newspapers and magazines. The production won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design, and Ebersole and Wilson each won Tony Awards for their performances. The Broadway production closed on July 29, 2007. It was the first musical on Broadway ever to be adapted from a documentary.
  • A Few Small Repairs by David Robson, a play loosely based on the women of Grey Gardens, premiered to good reviews in Philadelphia in March 2007; it was subsequently performed in the summer of 2009 at the annual Pick 'n' Mix Festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland by Skewiff Theatre Company.
  • Little Edie & The Marble Faun by David Lally, was a play written for The Metropolitan Playhouse's Annual Author Fest, "Hawthornucopia", which ran from January 14–27, 2008 in New York, NY. The play was inspired by the documentary and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun.
  • Grey Gardens, an HBO film, stars Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as the Edies, with Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy, and Daniel Baldwin as Julius Krug. Directed and co-written (with Patricia Rozema) by filmmaker Michael Sucsy, filming began on October 22, 2007 in Toronto. It flashes back and forth between Little Edie's life as a young woman and the actual filming/premiere of the 1975 documentary. It first aired on HBO on April 18, 2009, won six Primetime Emmys, and two Golden Globes.

References in other works

Grey Gardens has been referred to in many other works, including the television shows:

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Grey Gardens" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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