Grey Gardens

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Grey Gardens
Grey Gardens (1976 poster).jpg
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 date
  • 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's editors are credited as Hovde (who also edited Gimme Shelter and Salesman), 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] In a 2014 Sight & Sound poll, film critics voted Grey Gardens the joint ninth best documentary film of all time.[7]



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.[8]

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.[9]

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[10] 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 took 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 ($775,000 today) to Sally Quinn and her husband, longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee,[11] who promised to restore the dilapidated structure (the sale agreement forbade razing the house). The couple subsequently restored the house and grounds.[12] "Little Edie" died in Florida in 2002 at the age of 84.

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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] She wrote a book about her experiences at the house with the Beales.[16]

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. In 2018, a prequel, That Summer, shot in 1972 and using 16mm footage, was released.[17]

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 ultimately 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. Fashion designer Liz Lange is the current owner of Grey Gardens, and has extensively remodelled the house, including creating a basement in the existing crawlspace, which involved lifting the house on stilts. The gardens surrounding the property have also been remodelled.[18]


Musical theatre[edit]

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.[19] 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.[20] The production won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design, and Ebersole and Wilson each won Tony Awards for their performances.[21] The Broadway production closed on July 29, 2007.[22] It was the first musical on Broadway ever to be adapted from a documentary.[23]

Television film[edit]

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.[24] 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 [25] and two Golden Globes.[26]


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.[citation needed]

References in other works[edit]

In 1999, fashion photographer Steven Meisel shot an editorial, with the same name, featuring Amber Valletta, for Vogue Italia.[27]

Rufus Wainwright's song "Grey Gardens" appears on his 2001 album Poses.[28]

Canadian rock band Stars' song "The Woods" from their album Heart contains samples of dialogue from the film.[29][30]

In the season 3 Gilmore Girls episode, A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving, the episode begins with Lorelai and Rory watching Grey Gardens.[31]

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.[32]

On NBC's The New Normal, season 1, episode #2: "Sofa's Choice" (2012), a character impersonates Little Edie.[33][34]

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: "I was doing Drew Barrymore's impression of that crazy lady."[35]

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.[36]

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. [37]

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 " 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."[This quote needs a citation]

In 2017, episode 22 of season 8 of the television show Modern Family, features a bicyclist calling Claire Dunphy "Grey Gardens" as she exits a vintage Rolls Royce.

In 2019, episode 8 of Special season 1 is titled: "Gay Gardens", referring to the relationship the mother and son characters display within the episode.

See also[edit]


  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".
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Grey Gardens". Retrieved May 10, 2009.
  4. ^ Official website
  5. ^ "Hollywood Blockbusters, Independent Films and Shorts Selected for 2010 National Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  6. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  7. ^ "Silent film tops documentary poll". BBC News. August 1, 2014. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  8. ^ "The top houses from the movies". Daily Telegraph. London. May 2, 2012.
  9. ^ A Return to Grey Gardens, archived from the original on April 22, 2009, retrieved October 13, 2013
  10. ^ Sheehy, Gail. "The Secret Of Grey Gardens". New York Magazine. Retrieved on 20 May 2014.
  11. ^ Acocella, Joan (December 15, 2014). "Let it Go". The New Yorker.
  12. ^ Bray, Sarah (May 14, 2015). "This is What Grey Gardens Looks Like Now". Town & Country.
  13. ^ Green, Adam (March 6, 2006). "The Marble Faun". The New Yorker.
  14. ^ Smith, Melissa (June 12, 2012). "A beautiful youth, dark days, and redemption for the gardener of 'Grey Gardens'". Politico. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Wright, Lois (2007). My Life at Grey Gardens: 13 Months and Beyond, a True and Factual Book. ISBN 978-0977746217.
  17. ^ Weissberg, Jay (March 30, 2018). "That Summer Review". Variety.
  18. ^ Dangremond, Sam (December 20, 2017). "Grey Gardens Sells for $15.5 Million". Town & Country. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  19. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "'Grey Gardens' Takes Root on Broadway Beginning Oct. 3",, October 3, 2006.
  20. ^ "Grey Gardens: The Musical", PS Classics.
  21. ^ Jones, Kenneth. Will Grey Gardens Grow in London? Creative Team Has Hope Archived October 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, November 21, 2007.
  22. ^ "Grey Gardens", Internet Broadway Database, accessed December 6, 2014.
  23. ^ Gans, Andrew; Jones, Kenneth (July 2, 2007). "Grey Gardens Will Close on Broadway July 29". Playbill.
  24. ^ Fleming, Michael (February 21, 2006). "Thesps tend to 'Gardens'". Variety.
  25. ^ Emmys. "Grey Gardens".
  26. ^ Golden Globes. "Grey Gardens". Archived from the original on August 1, 2012.
  27. ^ "Vogue Italia May 1999: Amber Valletta by Steven Meisel", The Fashion Spot, August 24, 2011.
  28. ^ "'Grey Gardens' by Rufus Wainwright", YouTube video.
  29. ^ "Stars (band)", Interviewly, october 2014.
  30. ^ Noel Murray, "Logic Will Break Your Heart" (review of Heart), A.V. Club, January 12, 2004.
  31. ^ "Grey Gardens - The Gilmore Girls Companion".
  32. ^ Monez, Mindy. "Joan Rivers Roasted: The Best One-Liners". NBC News. Retrieved December 2, 2016 – via KNSD.
  33. ^ "'The New Normal' Episode 2: Nana Hates Goldie And Bebe's New Apartment (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)". September 11, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  34. ^ Louis Peitzman (September 12, 2012). "'The New Normal' Recap: A 'Grey Gardens' Episode, Already!". NewNowNext. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  35. ^ "So How Goos is Tina Fey's Grey Gardens Impression?" Willa Paskin.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ "See How Documentary Now!'s Sandy Passage Is Just Like Grey Gardens". IFC. Retrieved December 9, 2018.

External links[edit]