Grey Gardens is a 1975 American documentary film by Albert and David Maysles. The film depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive, formerly upper class women, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived in poverty at Grey Gardens, a derelict 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". In a 2014 Sight and Sound poll, film critics voted Grey Gardens the joint ninth best documentary film of all time.
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 US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at the Grey Gardens estate 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.
Throughout the fall of 1971 and into 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 house, 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.
Albert and David Maysles initially came into contact with the Beales after Lee Radziwill suggested they make a documentary on her childhood in East Hampton and brought them with her on a trip to Grey Gardens. According to Ellen Hovde, the initial film was being funded by Radziwill; when the Maysles attempted to show her their early footage of the Beales to convince her that a documentary about them was a better idea, Radziwill confiscated their negatives and withdrew her funding.
The Maysles brothers shot and recorded all the footage themselves. Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer received co-directing credit for their editing work.
"Big Edie" died in 1977 and "Little Edie" sold the house in 1979 for $220,000 ($742,000 today) to Sally Quinn and her husband, longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, 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. A 2003 article in Town & Country confirms that Quinn and Bradlee completely restored the house and grounds.
Jerry Torre, the teenaged handyman shown in the documentary (nicknamed The Marble Faun by "Little Edie"), was sought by the filmmakers for years afterward, and was found by chance in 2005 driving a New York City taxicab. A 2011 documentary, The Marble Faun of Grey Gardens by Jason Hay and Steve Pelizza, showed that he was then a sculptor at The Art Students League of New York.
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, Maysles made available previously unreleased footage for a special two-disc edition for the Criterion Collection. It included a new feature titled The Beales of Grey Gardens, which also received a limited theatrical release.
The documentary, and the women's story, were adapted as 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 re-opened on Broadway in November 2006 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, and was included in 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.
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. First aired on HBO on April 18, 2009, the film won six Primetime Emmys. and two Golden Globes.
In 2008, "Little Edie & The Marble Faun" premiered as part of the Metropolitan Playhouse's Annual Author Festival. In a mashup between Grey Gardens and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Marble Faun", the relationship between Little Edie, Big Edie and Jerry was explored.
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American band Six Gallery has a song "Edie and the Marble Faun," the lyrics of which talk about the documentary.
Grey Gardens has been mentioned on RuPaul's Drag Race more than once: in season 4, contestant Sharon Needles dressed as Edie for a cat-themed magazine cover; and in season 5, episode 5: "Snatch Game", contestant Jinkx Monsoon participated in a Match Game–style challenge impersonating Little Edie.
In 2015, the IFC series Documentary Now! features a Grey Gardens parody called "Sandy Passage." The episode was written by Seth Meyers and stars Bill Hader and Fred Armisen as "Little Vivvy" and "Big Vivvy."
In part 3 of Bravo's Season 6 The Real Housewives of New York reunion episode, host Andy Cohen suggests to cast member Sonja Morgan "...you have a little Grey Gardens in you". To which she replies "If you want to say Grey Gardens, I love that, because you know what? Edie Beale and her mom, they were charming, talented, sensitive...". Her castmate Luann de Lesseps replies to this with "They were mentally ill."