TNB Night Owl–The Beales of Grey Gardens

With most of us a good two months or more into quarantine, we’re trying to figure out how to deal with our family dynamics. It’s not easy learning to live in isolation. We are surrounded by our families, seeing a tiny number of faces, visiting a tiny number of places. Now imagine doing this for decades–and by choice. Welcome to the world of Big and Little Edie Beale.

The Beales were first the subjects of a 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles called simply GREY GARDENS. The name referred to their Hamptons mansion where the two lived together for decades. The mother and daughter were aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and, many years ago, lived the lavish lifestyle one would expect of Jackie Kennedy’s family.

Time changes things. Big Edith became estranged from her husband and retreated away from society. Little Edie set out to become an artist, or poet, or actress, or dancer, or any sort of creative type. Life knocked down those ambitions. After a handful of failed relationships, Little Edie retreated to Grey Gardens to “take care of her mother.” Who ultimately was taking care of who is not so cut and dried.

The two women continued their isolated lives. Their eccentricities made them the black sheep of the family and they became more and more ignored. The glorious mansion slowly started to crumble due to disrepair. The once lavish garden grew over to a massive pile of weeds. The women rarely left the home, staying inside with their cats and occasional raccoon.

Despite their isolation and agoraphobia, the women have larger-than-life personalities. Big Edie was born to be a matriarch and carries herself with an air of dignity–even when refusing to get out of bed. Little Edie is still passionately artistic. Her daily “costume” was carefully considered. Sometimes when she grew bored of her wardrobe she’d repurpose a sweater as a skirt, or a skirt as a head scarf. She would perform song and dance numbers on the crumbling porch for the enjoyment of the Maysles. And, while the two women constantly bickered, one could not imagine them ever living without each other.

There was so much footage left over from the original documentary that, thirty one years later, the Maysles edited it together for THE BEALES OF GREY GARDENS (2006). These little scenes are glimpses at the queens of social distancing and the strange affection they shared for life and each other.

Question of the night: How has your family been spending their quarantine?

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