Friday, November 24, 2017

Forever Edie

Why Edie Beale and Grey Gardens?  What is there about the person (or persons as there are two Edies) and the place, their once-glorious-then-ramshackle-finally-restored home in Easthampton, NY?

Grey Garden's estate sale last week by Durell Godfrey

The Beales and the house have been in the public arena for years. Edie Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, known as Little Edie, were Jackie Kennedy's aunt and cousin on the Bouvier side (Jackie's father). In 1971 Jackie stepped in to address complaints about the place from Easthampton's town fathers. Once a beautiful mansion in the tony summer enclave for elite New Yorkers, it had gone to rack and ruin along with its two inhabitants.

Last week the owner of the restored Grey Gardens, journalist Sally Quinn, held a sale that drew fans from far and wide. They weren't there for mementos of Sally or her late husband, Ben Bradlee. The draw was the house itself and items that had belonged to the Beales.

The Edies in somewhat better days

At the very least, Edie and Little Edie were eccentric. They were most probably mentally ill. But they were happy. As seen in the Maysles' 1975 documentary, it might have been a warped mother/daughter relationship, but the bonds were strong. They depended on and were dependent on each other. They never saw anything amiss in the way they lived— in perfect squalor with multiple cats and raccoons. When Little Edie was finally persuaded to sell Grey Gardens  in 1979 she declared all it needed was a coat of paint.

There are at least 8 books written about Little Edie and Grey Gardens. This one, "Edith Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens", is one of my favorites. It's a sympathetic look at her life with many pictures. She obviously always loved fashion and had the tall, rangy figure of a "woman who wore clothes well". By the time of the Maysles' film, she had honed her style to what suited her and made her happy. This in itself is a lesson we can all learn.

That mink coat, worn oh so casually over everything (even a leotard). Those head wraps to erase thoughts of any Bad Hair Day. Her mixing of genres and patterns— not easy to do as anyone who's tried may have realized. She had the absolute conviction of a woman who loved to dress up, knew when she had gotten it right and acted accordingly. She put herself out there and totally forgot what she was wearing.

The documentary has always made me somewhat uneasy. We are never sure how to view them, though they are a fascinating pair. Showtime 's "Grey Gardens", with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, is such a good companion piece it might almost need to be seen first.


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