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The Edies of Grey Gardens

(1895-1977, 1917-2002)

By Jen Houston

Why We Should Care: Once members of the most exclusive American social circles, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale resigned themselves to recluse in a dilapidated West Hampton manor dubbed ‘Grey Gardens’ after years of failed relationships and attempts at stardom. Eventually the ladies were living in just three rooms of the 28-room mansion, spending most of their time in a tiny bedroom which had little more than two beds, a radio and a fridge.

Family Ties: Big Edie was aunt to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and Little Edie was the first lady’s first cousin. In 1972, after shocking exposes by National Enquirer and New York Magazine (and a subsequent order to clean-up or get out by the Suffolk County Health Department,) Jackie and Aristotle Onassis funded the clean-up and repair of the property.

Hard-Knock Life: Big Edie’s husband, Phelan Beale, had abandoned the family in 1926 and he officially divorced her in 1931 – by telegram from Mexico. Little Edie boasted that she would have married the late Joe Kennedy Jr., JFK’s older brother, had he not been killed in WWII. As the oldest, Joe Jr. was the Kennedy’s original shoe-in for president, and Little Edie assumed she would have become first lady; she even impolitely stated her botched ambitions to Joe Kennedy Sr. at John’s inauguration. Instead of first lady, she became ‘cat lady,’ populating Grey Gardens with dozens of flea-ridden friends. Big Edie died in 1977 after a fall in the home. Little Edie sold the property in 1979 under a no-teardown clause. She then attempted a stage career, but got terrible reviews. Little Edie then lived in various residences (including a stint in Montreal during the ’90s) until 2002, when she died of a heart attack.

Hottest Hook-Up: During the years the ladies spent at the mansion, their hottest date was with a bucket of ice cream – they spent an exorbitant $150.00 a month on the frozen treat.

For Her Biopic We’d Cast: An HBO film, Grey Gardens, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore aired this past April, garnering an impressive 17 nominations for this year’s Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actress nods for both women. We prefer the fallen socialites playing themselves though, as documented in 1975’s Grey Gardens, a disturbing and intriguing glimpse into the squalid life on the property.

In Her Own Words: “All it needs is a coat of paint.” – Little Edie to the buyers of Grey Gardens in 1979, which was littered with cat feces and even dead raccoon skulls.

Style Best Described As: Better see for yourself… watch Little Edie’s description of the perfect ‘day outfit’ here.

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