Edith Bouvier Beale
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Edith Bouvier Beale
|Died||January 14, 2002 (aged 84)|
Bal Harbour, Florida, U.S.
|Resting place||Locust Valley Cemetery, Locust Valley, New York, U.S.|
|Other names||Little Edie|
|Citizenship||United States of America|
|Occupation||Socialite, fashion model, Cabaret performer|
|Known for||Grey Gardens|
|Parent(s)||Phelan Beale, Sr.|
Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale
|Relatives||Phelan Beale, Jr. (brother)|
Bouvier Beale (brother)
Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale (November 7, 1917 – January 14, 2002) was an American socialite, fashion model and cabaret performer. She was a first cousin of Jacqueline Onassis and Lee Bouvier Radziwill. She is best known for her participation (along with her mother, with whom she lived) in the 1975 documentary film Grey Gardens by Albert and David Maysles.
Beale was born in New York City, the only daughter of Phelan Beale, a lawyer, and the former Edith Ewing Bouvier (known as "Big Edie"), the daughter of her father's law partner, John Vernou Bouvier Jr. She was born at 917 Madison Avenue (now the site of the Carlyle Hotel). She had two brothers, Phelan Beale, Jr. and Bouvier Beale, and had a privileged upbringing. Beale attended The Spence School and graduated from Miss Porter's School in 1935.
Known as "Little Edie," Beale was a member of the Maidstone Country Club of East Hampton. She had her debut at the Pierre Hotel on New Year's Day 1936. The New York Times reported on the event, where she wore a gown of white net appliqued in silver and a wreath of gardenias in her hair.
While Beale was young, her mother pursued a singing career, hiring an accompanist and playing at small venues and private parties. In the summer of 1931, Phelan Beale separated from his wife, leaving Big Edie, then 35 years old, dependent on the Bouviers for the care of herself and children. In 1946, he finally obtained a divorce, notifying his family by telephone from Mexico.
In her youth, Little Edie was a clothes model at Macy's in New York and Palm Beach, Florida. She later claimed to have dated J. Paul Getty and to have once been engaged to Joe Kennedy, Jr. (although in reality she only met him once). During the 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy, she told Joe Kennedy, Sr. that, if young Joe had lived, she would have been First Lady instead of Jackie. In her youth, Beale ran away to Palm Beach, where she was found by her father and brought home.
From 1947 to 1952, she lived in the Barbizon Hotel for Women. When she was in her late 30s, Beale developed alopecia totalis which caused her body hair to fall out and prompted her to wear her signature headscarves. Beale's cousin, John Davis, claims Beale once climbed a tree at the house and set her hair on fire, suggesting Beale might have contributed to her own baldness.
In October 1971, police raided Grey Gardens and found the 28-room house "full of litter, rife with the odor of cats and in violation of various local ordinances". The Suffolk County, New York Board of Health prepared to evict Beale and "Big Edie" due to the unsafe condition of the property. Following the publicity, Beale's family paid a reported $30,000 to refurbish the property, settle back taxes, and give Beale and "Big Edie" a stipend (the two women's trust fund income had run out some years before). The eviction proceedings were dropped.
Beale's cousin, Lee Radziwill, hired documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles in 1972 to work on a film about the Bouvier family. At the outset, the brothers filmed Beale and "Big Edie". The original film project was not completed, and Radziwill kept the footage that had been shot of the Beales. However, the Maysles brothers were fascinated by the strange life the two women led. After raising funds for film and equipment on their own they returned and filmed 70 more hours of footage with Beale and Big Edie. The resulting film, entitled Grey Gardens (1976), is widely considered a masterpiece of the documentary genre. It was later adapted as a 2006 musical of the same name, in which the characters Lee and Jackie Bouvier appear as visiting children in retrospect. An HBO television movie based upon the documentary and surrounding story of the Beales' lives, also called Grey Gardens, appeared in 2009.
After her mother's death in February 1977, Beale attempted to start a cabaret career at age 60 with eight shows (January 10–14, 1978) at Reno Sweeney, a Manhattan night spot at 126 W. 13th Street. The club kept the bad reviews from her (The New York Times, on January 12, 1978, called it "a public display of ineptitude"), and she faced two new audiences per night, even through a fever and recent cataract surgery. She continued to live in Grey Gardens for about two years, according to her mother's wishes, holding out against selling the house as a teardown. In 1979, she sold the mansion to Ben Bradlee, then the executive editor of The Washington Post.
Beale moved to Bal Harbour, Florida in late 1997. She was found dead in her apartment on Monday, January 14, 2002, aged 84. The inscription on her grave marker reads: "I came from God. I belong to God. In the end—I shall return to God."
Interest in the Beales' story has produced a variety of publishing and media projects and has yielded various mentions in popular culture. These include:
- The original 1975 Maysles brothers' documentary, Grey Gardens.
- The musical Grey Gardens: A New Musical debuted off-Broadway in March 2006, starring Christine Ebersole, and played on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre November 2, 2006 – July 28, 2007 for 300+ performances. Little Edie was portrayed in the first act by actresses Sara Gettelfinger (off-Broadway) and Erin Davie (on Broadway). Ebersole played Little Edie in the second act. Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson won Tony Awards.
- Grey Gardens, the 2009 Emmy Award–winning made-for-television movie for HBO, starred Jessica Lange as "Big Edie" and Drew Barrymore as "Little Edie". It was directed and co-written by filmmaker Michael Sucsy. Lange won an Emmy for her performance.
- In the 2011 episode of 30 Rock titled "Mrs. Donaghy," Liz Lemon (portrayed by Tina Fey) does an impression of Drew Barrymore's impersonating Little Edie.
- Musician Rufus Wainwright wrote a song titled "Grey Gardens", which appears on his 2001 album Poses. The song's narrative is partly composed of references to the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens and to Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice (or to Luchino Visconti's film of the same title).
- The Spring 2010 issue of the online literary journal BigCityLit features a pantoum by American poet Joel Allegretti called "The Belles of Grey Gardens", which is made up entirely of dialogue from the Maysles' documentary.
- In a February 2013 episode of RuPaul's Drag Race, Little Edie was imitated by drag queen Jinkx Monsoon. Inspired by that episode, Jinkx Monsoon and Peaches Christ mounted a live 90-minute musical drag parody of Grey Gardens titled Return to Grey Gardens.
- The first episode of the IFC mockumentary series Documentary Now! spoofed Grey Gardens in 2015 with Fred Armisen and Bill Hader as mother and daughter in "Sandy Passage."
- A new documentary film, "That Summer"  released in 2018, which contains the "prequel" footage to Grey Gardens, filmed in 1972.
- Douglas Martin (January 25, 2002). "Edith Bouvier Beale, 84, 'Little Edie', Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
Edith Bouvier Beale, once a successful model and aspiring actress who later lived a Gothic life in Grey Gardens, a dilapidated 28-room house in East Hampton, New York, with her mother and dozens of cats, raccoons, and opossums, was found dead in her small apartment in Bal Harbour, Florida, on January 14. She was 84. Her nephew Bouvier Beale Jr. said the Dade County coroner attributed the death to a heart attack or stroke resulting from arteriosclerosis. Her cousin John H. Davis said she appeared to have been dead for five days.
- "A Return to Grey Gardens", nymag.com, October 29, 2006.
- Grey Gardens DVD (2009). HBO. Audio commentary with executive producers Michael Sucsy, Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Rachael Horovitz.
- Wolfgang Saxon (February 7, 1977). "Edith Bouvier Beale, Recluse, Dead at 81. Aunt of Mrs. Onassis Was Subject of the Documentary Movie 'Grey Gardens' in 1973". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- Woodman, Sue (2002-02-09). "Obituary: Edith Bouvier Beale". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
- Rohter, Larry (2009-04-07). "'Grey Gardens,' Back Story Included, on HBO With Drew Barrymore". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
- Judith Mead (May 7, 2006). "Big and Little Edie Lived Here". The New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- Mank, Gregory William (August 22, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 0786479922.
- "So How Good Is Tina Fey's Grey Gardens Impression?". Vulture. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "the rivers of it, abridged". BigCityLit.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
- "Jinkx Monsoon To Star In 'Return To Grey Gardens' With Peaches Christ".
- "Watch: Bill Hader and Fred Armisen Hilariously Parody 'Grey Gardens'". IndieWire. Retrieved 26 May 2019.
- "That Summer, IMBD Entry".
- My Life at Grey Gardens: Thirteen Months and Beyond by Lois Wright (2005). ISBN 0-9777462-0-8.
- Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway, a documentary by Albert Maysles about the making of the musical Grey Gardens.ISBN 2-916954-06-6