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A Return to Grey Gardens

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After my story, it was in fact Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who came to their rescue with a $25,000 check for a cleanup, on the condition the town would let them stay. In 1975, the Maysles brothers persuaded the Beales to vamp for the film that would become a cult classic (hard as it may be to fathom, the house as seen in the documentary was actually tidier than when I’d visited it). The ladies hoped to get money from the deal, says Eva, though they never saw a penny. It did, however, make them famous.

When Big Edie died two years later, no one believed that Little Edie could survive their folie à deux by herself. But her optimism was only part delusional. It also helped her to live another quarter-century on her own. She held out against selling Grey Gardens as a teardown, until, in 1979, Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee promised to restore it and paid $220,000.

Little Edie called to tell me she was ready to move back to New York, at last. Her exhilaration made her sound 19 again. A brief splash singing in Manhattan cabarets delighted her, no matter how the critics mocked it. She later moved to Bal Harbour, Florida, and swam every day until close to her death at the age of 84.

Had the two prisoners of Grey Gardens not been born in a prefeminist era, I believe they could have become stars. Certainly, that’s what Little Edie had in mind when she titled the childhood composition book in which she wrote poetry: Edith Beale, Celebrated Poet, Author and Artist.


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