I had been anticipating the release of the film Grey Gardens featuring Jessica Lang as Edith "Big Edie" Beale and Drew Barrymore as Edith "Little Edie" Beale. Two actresses I greatly admire. I alas do not have HBO and didn't have access to the HBO released film. A friend recorded the film for me and wow was it amazing. The film is scheduled for dvd release on July 14th. I can hardly wait! I also plan on purchasing the original documentary which the film was based on.
The women did an outstanding job portraying two eccentric women dreaming of careers in the limelight without ever really pursuing it. Two charming ladies who chose to live together for decades in a 28 room mansion, indulging each other's ideas, charms an idiosyncracies.
"Little Edie" (lestercat.net)
Grey Gardens is a 1975 Albert and David Mayseles documentary film. The film depicts the lives of socialite mother Edith Beales, and daughter of the same name. The two lived in a mansion at the wealthy neighborhood of East Hampton, New York. The film went on to screen at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but was never entered into the main competition.
"Big Edie" (nymag.com)
Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
The house they lived in was purchased in 1923 by Phelan Beale and his wife Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale. After Phelan Beale left his wife, Edith and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale lived there for decades.
From 1971 to 1972, the mother and daughter pair allowed their living conditions to become deplorable. When Phelan Beale left his wife she was left with an alloted amount of funds which ran out. Their home was infested with fleas, multiple cats and raccoons, had no running water, and was full of garbage and decay. The National Enquirer and New York Magazine ran stories and photos of their home bringing media attention to their circumstances. A series of inspections or "raids" as the Beales called them by the Suffolk County Health Department. The Beale women faced eviction but were saved by Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill. They provided the necessary funds to repair the house.
Albert Maysles made available previously unreleased footage for a special 2-disc edition for the Criterion Collection. It included a new feature titled The Beales of Grey Gardens, which also received a limited theatrical release.es came interested in their story and received permission to film a documentary about the women. In addition to the 1975 film, In 2006,
Lois Wright, one of the two birthday party guests in the film stayed with the Beales for a time and wrote a book about her experiences.The original documentary and HBO film both share the story of two women who in my opinion are invested in a co-dependent relationship. I think this is actually part of the reason that the Beales story is has developed such a cult following. I had no idea just how popular these woman have been. I have found websites dedicated to the two and official scrapbooks sold in stores.
The women chose to remain at Grey Gardens when they had the opportunity to leave. Little Edie chose to remain with her mother rather than live elsewhere or pursue her ambitions. Both women appeared to feel the weight of living in a man's world and for whatever reasons let fear prevent them from flourishing.
As a clinical social worker (and advocate of those with mental illness) I am often so intrigued with human behavior. This is what draws me to these women. It lead me to a larger question. What exactly is eccentricity? No, one is diagnosed as an eccentric. You won't find it in the DSM-IV-TR (diagnostic statistical manual - of mental disorders). It is my opinion however, that it is possible to have characteristics of mental illness within some eccentricities. At times perhaps just a lack of awareness. Or even a daring uniqueness. Sometimes a delightful uniqueness that can be admired and learned from. I can certainly tell you that throughout my own experiences in working with mentally ill individuals....they are my heroes. Such troopers. And there have been several occasions where I have considered myself lucky to be in the presence of such brave people. Several occasions where in particular I've felt grateful for little old manic ladies (I'm am not making suggestions or diagnosing these women in any way).
When I watched the HBO film I was reminded of a story I read in LA Weekly magazine late last year. I continued to think of this story at various spots in the film. Although, the tales are very different, I found it quite interesting to compare and contrast their circumstances and seeming personalities.
(drawing by Chris Rahn)
This is the story of two 78 year old mentally ill identical twins living in the Palisades in southern CA. The Palisades is a beachside town west of Los Angeles. Residents of the cozy suburb rank in approximately $200,000 a year. The chamber of commerce even sports a t-shirt in their window with wording that boasts, "If you're rich, you live in ; if you're famous, you live in ; and if you're lucky, you live in ."
It turns out that the twins, Marjorie and Margaret Barthel are being sued for rat infestation of the neighborhood. The women were purposefully feeding the rats, causing approximately, tens of thousands of new rats to the Los Angeles westside.
It is reported that the women rarely left the house and never at the same time. When one of them did go out, she wore heavy clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and large glasses and carried shopping bags filled with dog food. This confused some as they hadn't owned dogs in years. At one point they did own dogs - dozens of them - and cats. Eventually the rat exterminator discovered the rat population eating and drinking from pie tins full of dog food and milk.
Inspectors warned the sisters of their violations only to be met with excuses. The sister would often state that they were either selling the house and moving or had already called pest control.
“Since 1958, we’ve had rats,” Marjorie said, during her deposition in May. “I’ve lived with rats since 1958, honey.... When I got the house in , that’s the day I started feeding all the animals. And I fed them as long as I lived there.”
While it is clear that these women should not have been feeding their rats, they felt they were doing God's work. They also appeared (though I have no way of knowing) to be content. Content to live the remainder of their lives together and to live in a decrepit home. I do not know what became of them in the end.
The Beales women also lived together in squalor. Due to mental illness, or lack of awareness or even daring uniqueness they lived together till the end.
After their purchase, Bradlee and Quinn had the house and grounds completely restored. Philanthropist Frances Hayward currently rents the home 11 months out of the year from the Bradlees.
I will continue to be interested in the Beales women. I may be posting more thoughts and information on them in the future. It is my hope that anyone who watches the film will ponder their own notions of what mental illness, eccentricity, and individuality can be.