Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grey Gardens And "Little Edie" Beale

Above images from the 1920's

If the walls of Grey Gardens could talk, they would resound in laughter, and the cries of the dramatic and curious souls that once roamed it's halls. This grand estate, nestled in the upper crust town of East Hampton, New York, was home to Edith Ewing Bouvier and Phelan Beales. They purchased the home, in 1923, and with it's beautiful gardens and close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, it was an idyllic retreat.
Unfortunately, in 1931, Phelan walked out on his wife, and three children. Thus, leaving "Big Edie" all alone with only her family to rely on for help and support. She once had big dreams of a career in the entertainment industry, but those proved to be elusive.
Her only daughter, "Little Edie", was born in November of 1917. A first cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, "Little Edie" was quite the busy young socialite. Having attended the some of the best schools in Manhattan, and making her debut at the Pierre Hotel in 1936, she led a very privileged life. She modeled clothes for Macy's, and had a constant appetite for being famous someday, even linking herself, personally, to several prominent gentlemen. Although, many of these liaisons never seemed to have their roots in reality.

A young "Little Edie"

In July of 1959, "Little Edie" would return to Grey Gardens to live with her mother, a temporary move, that lasted twenty years.
After the caretaker for Grey Gardens passed away, in 1963, the maintenance of such a large estate and the surrounding property fell into disrepair. Both "Big" and "Little Edie" preferred to live amongst the growing vines and ever encroaching clutter and garbage. A sad commentary, on the lives that once were so grand.
In 1971, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis came to their rescue, and offered a large sum of money, and services to help restore the rundown estate, after the town threatened to evict the women, due to unsanitary, and dangerous living conditions. It was a quick fix, that lasted for a short while, and soon the property spiraled downward, into further decay.

"Little Edie" at Grey Gardens, circa 1970's

In 1975, the brothers, Albert and David Maysles, shot "Big" and "Little Edie" to fame with a documentary about Grey Gardens. It was a unique perspective into the lives of two very unusual, and eccentric women. Here is an interview, with Albert Maysles, on the 30th anniversary (4 years ago), of the film, hosted by Jenny Mayer of Plum TV.

The fascinating story of Grey Gardens, was made into a Broadway musical, and further explored in the 2009, HBO film of the same name, starring Drew Barrymore, and Jessica Lange.
Grey Gardens is a fantastic estate, that, over these many years, has seen it's share of heartache, and neglect. The present owners have since restored the grounds and the home to it's present glory, retaining the charm and character of this fine property.
Below, are some photos from a real estate listing this past winter, for a summer rental at Grey Gardens... will we see you there? Ciao! -Al

Photos courtesy hamptons.curbed.com


  1. Oh my, what a beautiful transformation. Thanks for sharing this bit of history along with the pictures and video, which make it come alive. I'm going to look for the movie. ~ Abby

  2. Nice article. I found the movie about the two eccentrics depressing. Good to see the pictures of the restored property. It looks to be a pleasurable place once again.

  3. Wow, how interesting. Thanks for sharing that historical bit. To answer your question from my blog, I don't line my matte white pottery, I just occasionally put flowers in them with reckless abandon. :-)

    Thanks for stopping by to say hello,

  4. What in intreesting story. Lovely that the house has been restored to it former glory.
    Best Carolyn

  5. Oh how I wish!!!!
    Great post, I'm so fascinated with this house and those women!!!
    Thanks for your honesty about the painting. I too have mixed emotions about it.
    As for those others... they won't call me back. I talked to someone there who told me they were being researched and taken to several auction houses. She threw out a $1,000 figure and I responded "each?" and she didn't respond, so I've let them go mentally. You are so sweet to follow up with me :)
    I guess they weren't meant to be mine.
    If only they had ended up at a different thrift shop. I swear these days it's hard to find a serious treasure with the internet and all the wealth of info at our fingertips. I guess it works both ways...
    How's your summer going?
    It's like winter here :(



  6. I stumbled upon this movie last year & loved it. Drew Barrymore is a fabulous actress.....
    The house sure did decay over the years.I for one love the history of old homes..... Our house was built in 1865 & has housed many, many generations....Hopefully many, many more after me!!

  7. I actually seen some of the documentary footage that the bothers shot of the two Edies! It was pretty gross! I think little Edie was touched in the head! Through out the documentary the two Edies argued the whole time! And there were cats everywhere, even showed one doing it business on BIg Edies bed! I only watched because I couldn't believe my eyes! They were in a sad state for sure!