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Grey Gardens

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Grey Gardens
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Maysles
Albert Maysles
Ellen Hovde
Muffie Meyer
Produced byAlbert Maysles
David Maysles
Susan Froemke (associate producer)
StarringEdith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale
Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale
CinematographyAlbert Maysles
David Maysles
Edited byEllen Hovde
Muffie Meyer
Susan Froemke
Portrait Films
Distributed byPortrait Films
Release dates
  • September 27, 1975 (1975-09-27) (NYFF)
  • February 19, 1976 (1976-02-19) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$36,923 (2015 release)[2]

Grey Gardens is a 1975 American documentary film by Albert and David Maysles. The film depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive, 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.[3]

Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer also directed, and Susan Froemke was the associate producer. The film was edited by Hovde, Meyer and Froemke.[4]

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",[5][6] and in the 2014 Sight and Sound poll film critics voted Grey Gardens the tenth-best documentary film of all time.[7] In November 2012, it topped the list of 100 greatest documentary films of all time by PBS through public voting.[8]




Map of East Hampton; the Beales lived at Georgica Pond in the southwest of the village.

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.[9]

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 concrete garden walls, and the sea mist.[10]

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[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]



Albert and David Maysles came into contact with the Beales in 1972 after Lee Radziwill suggested they make a documentary on her childhood in East Hampton and took them with her on a trip to Grey Gardens. The initial film was funded by Radziwill but was eventually shelved and the footage was lost. The Maysles brothers returned in 1974 without Radziwill's support to film Grey Gardens.[13]





"Big Edie" died in 1977, and "Little Edie" sold the house in 1979 for $220,000 (equivalent to $924,000 in 2023) to Sally Quinn and her husband, longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee,[14] who promised to restore the dilapidated structure (the sale agreement forbade razing the house). The couple restored the house and grounds.[15] "Little Edie" died in Florida in 2002 at the age of 84.[16]

Jerry Torre, the teenage 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.[17] 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.[18]

Lois Wright, one of the two birthday party guests in the film, hosted a public television show for 30 years in East Hampton from the early 1980s to December 2018.[19] She wrote a book about her experiences at the house with the Beales.[20]

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.

Previously lost footage shot in 1972, using 16mm film, featuring Lee Radziwill visiting with the Beales, was released in 2017 as That Summer.[21]

Quinn and Bradlee resided in the restored Grey Gardens for 35 years until Bradlee's death in 2014, after which Quinn found the home "too sad" to occupy alone. For the next several years, the property was available to rent until Quinn sold it in 2017. Prior to the sale, Quinn was forced to sell the remaining furniture originally belonging to the Beales, citing a lack of space. As of 2017, fashion designer Liz Lange is the owner of Grey Gardens. Lange and her husband have extensively remodeled the house, including lifting the house on stilts to create a basement in the existing crawlspace. The gardens surrounding the property have also been remodeled.[22]



Ethical questions have been raised about Grey Gardens since its release. In 1976, Walter Goodman wrote in The New York Times that "the film presents [the Beales] as a pair of grotesques," and asked "why were they put on exhibition this way?"[23] In 2014, in conversation with Alex Simon for The Hollywood Interview, Albert Maysles was asked specifically about the issue of exploitation: "Grey Gardens was very controversial when it was initially released, with some circles feeling you and David were exploiting these two women who seemed to be mentally ill." Maysles replied that "as someone with a background in psychology, I knew better than to claim [the Beales] were mentally ill. Their behavior was just their way of asserting themselves. And what could be a better way to assert themselves than a film about them asserting themselves? Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just them. They were always in control."[24] Nevertheless, the matter has continued to be the subject of debate, with some commentators coming down on the side of exploitation, others on the side of empathy.[25][26] In at least one case, it was concluded that both exploitation and empathy were to be found in the film.[27]

In his article, Goodman also pointed out that the Beales were represented in negotiations with the Maysles by their family lawyer and that they were "paid for their cooperation and are due to participate in any profits."[23] Adam White, writing for The Telegraph in 2018, reported that "[The Beales'] reasoning for allowing the cameras in was also practical: they were in dire need of money."[28] In the context of documentary making, paying one's subjects has long been a source of ethical debate in terms of how it impacts the final work.[29]



Musical theatre


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.[30] 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.[31] The production won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design, and Ebersole and Wilson each won Tony Awards for their performances.[32] The Broadway production closed on July 29, 2007.[33] It was the first musical on Broadway ever to be adapted from a documentary.[34]

Television film


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.[35] 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[36] and two Golden Globes.[37]

References in other works


On Rugrats, season 2, episode 15, "The Case of the Missing Rugrat", Tommy is misplaced by Grandpa and "adopted" by two elderly eccentric sisters living in a mansion named "Grey Gardens."

The Rufus Wainwright song "Grey Gardens", from his 2001 album Poses, contains a sample of film dialogue as well as additional film references in the lyrics.

The Canadian rock band Stars song "The Woods", from their 2003 album Heart, contains samples of dialogue from the film.[38][39]

The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers (2009) featured a joke by comic impressionist Mario Cantone that Joan and her daughter Melissa starred together in a TV movie titled Grey Gardens.[40]

On NBC's The New Normal, season 1, episode #2: "Sofa's Choice" (2012), a character impersonates Little Edie.[41][42]

In the Season 5 episode "Mrs. Donaghy" on NBC's 30 Rock, Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon does an impersonation of Little Edie. She later explains: "It [was] my imitation of Drew Barrymore's impression of that crazy lady."[43]

On RuPaul's Drag Race, season 4 contestant Sharon Needles dressed as Little Edie for a cat-themed magazine cover; season 5 contestant Jinkx Monsoon impersonated Little Edie on Snatch Game.[44]

In 2015, the IFC series Documentary Now! featured 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" respectively.[45]

In the opening scene of "A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving", a season 3 episode of Gilmore Girls, Lorelei and Rory are watching the documentary.[46]

See also



  1. ^ "GREY GARDENS (A)". Mainline Pictures. British Board of Film Classification. January 29, 1980. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  2. ^ "Grey Gardens (2015 re-release) (2015) - International Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Grey Gardens". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved May 10, 2009.
  4. ^ Official website
  5. ^ "Hollywood Blockbusters, Independent Films and Shorts Selected for 2010 National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  6. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  7. ^ "Silent film tops documentary poll". BBC News. August 2014. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  8. ^ "The 25 Greatest Documentaries of All Time". POV | American Documentary. Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  9. ^ "The top houses from the movies". Daily Telegraph. London. May 2, 2012. Archived from the original on May 2, 2012.
  10. ^ A Return to Grey Gardens, archived from the original on April 22, 2009, retrieved October 13, 2013
  11. ^ Sheehy, Gail. "The Secret Of Grey Gardens". New York Magazine. Retrieved on 20 May 2014.
  12. ^ "'Grey Gardens' Heroines Trapped in House". Asbury Park Press. May 16, 1976 – via Newspapers.com. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill, her sister, poured $32,000 into repairs, after which, says Mrs. Beale, Mrs. Onassis told her "We can't go on." The sanitarians were mollified; the Beale ladies, outraged by the invasion from the outside, allowed to stay.
  13. ^ a b Webb, Ralf (September 2018). "It's All In The Film: Direct Cinema, 'Grey Gardens' and 'That Summer'". The White Review.
  14. ^ Acocella, Joan (December 15, 2014). "Let it Go". The New Yorker.
  15. ^ Bray, Sarah (May 14, 2015). "This is What Grey Gardens Looks Like Now". Town & Country.
  16. ^ Martin, Douglas (January 25, 2002). "Edith Bouvier Beale, 84, 'Little Edie,' Dies". New York Times.
  17. ^ Green, Adam (March 6, 2006). "The Marble Faun". The New Yorker.
  18. ^ Smith, Melissa (June 12, 2012). "A beautiful youth, dark days, and redemption for the gardener of 'Grey Gardens'". Politico. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  19. ^ Tubatan, Mayra (February 5, 2014). "Public Access LTV Celebrates 20th Anniversary". The East Hampton Star. Archived from the original on October 20, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  20. ^ Wright, Lois (2007). My Life at Grey Gardens: 13 Months and Beyond, a True and Factual Book. ISBN 978-0977746217.
  21. ^ Weissberg, Jay (March 30, 2018). "That Summer Review". Variety.
  22. ^ Dangremond, Sam (December 20, 2017). "Grey Gardens Sells for $15.5 Million". Town & Country. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  23. ^ a b Goodman, Walter (February 22, 1976). "'Grey Gardens': Cinéma Verité or Sideshow?". The New York Times. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  24. ^ Simon, Alex (April 10, 2014). "Albert Maysles: Gimme Some Truth". The Hollywood Interview. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  25. ^ Prigge, Matt (March 6, 2015). "Review: 'Grey Gardens' is more empathetic than exploitive". Metro. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  26. ^ Davidson, David (1981). "Direct Cinema and Modernism: The Long Journey to GREY GARDENS". Journal of the University Film Association. 33 (1): 3–13. JSTOR 20687549. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  27. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (May 24, 2018). "In 'That Summer,' the Stars of 'Grey Gardens' Look More Unhinged Than Ever". Variety. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  28. ^ White, Adam (June 1, 2018). "The tragedy of Grey Gardens: was the landmark documentary actually an exploitation movie?". The Telegraph. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  29. ^ Leeman, Lisa (January 21, 2004). "Money Changes Everything--or Does It?: Considering Whether Documentaries Should Pay for Play". International Documentary Association. Retrieved March 16, 2021.
  30. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "'Grey Gardens' Takes Root on Broadway Beginning Oct. 3", playbill.com, October 3, 2006.
  31. ^ "Grey Gardens: The Musical", PS Classics.
  32. ^ Jones, Kenneth. Will Grey Gardens Grow in London? Creative Team Has Hope Archived October 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, November 21, 2007.
  33. ^ "Grey Gardens", Internet Broadway Database, accessed December 6, 2014.
  34. ^ Gans, Andrew; Jones, Kenneth (July 2, 2007). "Grey Gardens Will Close on Broadway July 29". Playbill.
  35. ^ Fleming, Michael (February 21, 2006). "Thesps tend to 'Gardens'". Variety.
  36. ^ Emmys. "Grey Gardens".
  37. ^ Golden Globes. "Grey Gardens". Archived from the original on August 1, 2012.
  38. ^ "Stars (band)" Archived December 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Interviewly, october 2014.
  39. ^ Noel Murray, "Logic Will Break Your Heart" (review of Heart), A.V. Club, January 12, 2004.
  40. ^ Monez, Mindy. "Joan Rivers Roasted: The Best One-Liners". NBC News. Retrieved December 2, 2016 – via KNSD.
  41. ^ "'The New Normal' Episode 2: Nana Hates Goldie And Bebe's New Apartment (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)". Huffington Post. September 11, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  42. ^ Louis Peitzman (September 12, 2012). "'The New Normal' Recap: A 'Grey Gardens' Episode, Already!". NewNowNext. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  43. ^ Paskin, Willa (January 21, 2011). "So How Good Is Tina Fey's Grey Gardens Impression?". Vulture.
  44. ^ Juzwiak, Rich (February 26, 2013). "This Is the Best-Ever Impression of Little Edie Bouvier Beale". Gawker. Archived from the original on November 26, 2014.
  45. ^ "See How Documentary Now!'s Sandy Passage Is Just Like Grey Gardens". IFC. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  46. ^ ""Gilmore Girls" A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving (TV Episode 2002) - IMDb". IMDb.