Edith "Little Edie"
Bouvier Beale (November 7, 1917 – January 14,
2002) was an American socialite, fashion model and cabaret performer.
She was a first cousin of
Jacqueline Onassis and Lee Bouvier
Radziwill. She is most known for her participation, along with her
mother, with whom she lived, in the 1975 documentary film Grey Gardens
by Albert and David Maysles.
1 Early life
2 Grey Gardens
3 Later life
7 Further reading
8 External links
Beale was born in New York City, the only daughter of Phelan Beale, a
lawyer, and the former
Edith Ewing Bouvier
Edith Ewing Bouvier (known as "Big Edie"). She
was born at 917 Madison Avenue (now the site of the Carlyle Hotel).
She had two brothers,
Phelan Beale, Jr. and Bouvier Beale, and had a
privileged upbringing. Beale attended
The Spence School
The Spence School and graduated
Miss Porter's School
Miss Porter's School in 1935.
She was a member of the Maidstone Country Club of East Hampton. She
had her debut at the Pierre Hotel on New Year's Day 1936. The New York
Times reported on the event, where she wore a gown of white net
appliqued in silver and a wreath of gardenias in her hair.[citation
While Beale was young, her mother pursued a singing career, hiring an
accompanist and playing at small venues and private parties. In Summer
Phelan Beale separated from his wife, leaving Big Edie, then 35
years old, dependent on the Bouviers for the care of herself and
children. In 1946, he finally obtained a divorce, notifying his family
by telephone from Mexico (his daughter described it as a "fake Mexican
divorce" since it was not recognized by the Catholic Church).[citation
In her youth, Little Edie was a clothes model at
Macy's in New York
and Palm Beach, Florida. She later claimed to have dated J. Paul Getty
and to have once been engaged to Joe Kennedy, Jr. (although in reality
she only met him once). During the 1961 inauguration of John F.
Kennedy, she told Joe Kennedy, Sr. that, if young Joe had lived, she
would have been
First Lady instead of Jackie. In her youth, Beale ran
away to Palm Beach, where she was found by her father and brought
From 1947 to 1952, she lived in the Barbizon Hotel for Women. She
believed she was on the verge of a big break into films in 1952 when
she was 34. She said she had offers from
MGM and Paramount, and that
her dance career was set to take off. She also said that wealthy men,
Howard Hughes and J. Paul Getty, had asked her to marry them.
According to Edie Beale's diaries and letters that she left to the
executor of her estate, her nephew Bouvier, she had an affair in the
late 1940s with Julius Albert Krug, the U.S. Secretary of the
Interior, who was married. The relationship is depicted in the 2009
HBO bio film Grey Gardens. "Big Edith" Beale alludes to "that married
man" during an argument with her daughter in the documentary in which
she says, "That married man was not going to give you any chance at
all." When she was in her late 30s, Beale developed alopecia
totalis which caused her body hair to fall out and prompted her to
wear her signature headscarves. But Beale's cousin John Davis claims
Edie once climbed a tree at the house and set her hair on fire,
suggesting Beale might have contributed to her own baldness.
Grey Gardens, Joseph Greenleaf Thorp, architect, 1897. Landscape by
Anna Gilman (Mrs. Robert C.) Hill. Robert C. Hill acquired the house
and four acres and half in 1913; Edith
Bouvier Beale owned the house
from the 1920s
Sickly, alone, and draining money, Beale's mother began to beg her
daughter to return to the East Hampton estate in March 1952.[citation
needed]On July 29, 1952, Beale returned to live with her mother in the
East Hampton estate
Grey Gardens (at 3 West End Road). The home had
been purchased for Big Edie in 1923 when it still had one of the
finest gardens on the East Coast.
In a 1980 letter to her nephew
Bouvier Beale Jr., Beale claimed that:
"When my Grandfather died (in 1948), he left $65,000 in trust. Jack B.
("Black Jack" Bouvier, Big Edie's brother and a Wall Street broker)
had only one objective—to grab the Bouvier fund to invest for his
daughters (Jackie and Lee) and he did. He was supposed to take care of
Mother." Instead, Big Edie ended up with $300 per month. Mother and
daughter reportedly remained independent by selling their Tiffany
silver item by item.
After the 1963 death of the Beales' caretaker and handyman Tom "Tex"
Logan, and a burglary in 1968, the women lived in near isolation and
eventually poverty. On October 22, 1971, inspectors from the Suffolk
County Health Department raided the house and discovered that it
violated numerous building regulations. The story became a national
scandal. Health Department officials said they would evict the women
unless the house was cleaned.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis came to the
rescue, paying $32,000 to clean the house, install a new furnace and
plumbing system, and cart away 1,000 bags of garbage.
The Beales then rose to fame as a result of the Maysles brothers' 1975
documentary film Grey Gardens. The film revealed the strong and
dysfunctional ties between Mrs. Beale and Little Edie as well as
showcased the reclusive pair's daily rituals of song, recollections,
arguments, and reconciliations. Beale and her mother were each paid
$5,000 for the documentary, which featured their daily lives,
including songs and dances. They never did obtain a
percentage of the film profits as originally allegedly promised by the
Maysles brothers. The film was screened for the two
Edies in the upstairs hall of
Grey Gardens in 1975.
After her mother's death in February 1977, Beale attempted to start a
cabaret career at age 60 with eight shows (January 10–14, 1978) at
Reno Sweeney, a Manhattan night spot at 126 W. 13th Street. The club
kept the bad reviews from her (The New York Times, on January 12,
1978, called it "a public display of ineptitude"), and she faced two
new audiences per night, even through a fever and recent cataract
surgery. She continued to live in
Grey Gardens for about two years,
according to her mother's wishes, holding out against selling the
house as a teardown. In 1979, she sold the mansion to Ben Bradlee,
then the executive editor of The Washington Post.
Beale moved to a small rental cottage in Southampton, New York, and
then to a studio apartment on East 62nd Street in New York City, where
she lived from 1980 to 1983 before moving to the Roney Plaza
Apartments in Miami Beach, Florida. She lived briefly in
the mid-1990s (to master speaking French, a skill she mentions in Grey
Gardens), and then with relatives in
Oakland, California in 1997. She
Bal Harbour, Florida
Bal Harbour, Florida in late 1997, where she remained in
quiet isolation, writing poetry and corresponding with friends and
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Little Edie died alone in her apartment on Monday, January 14, 2002,
aged 84. Her family was notified immediately of her passing. She was
scheduled to make a visit to family in California that spring but kept
putting off the trip and rescheduling, as she was deathly afraid of
the possibility of an earthquake. She never did make the trip.
She had made it quite clear that she did not want to be buried with
her mother and the Bouviers in Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in East
Hampton, and instead wanted to be buried near her brother "Buddy" in
Glen Cove. Her request was honored. Her body was
cremated, and a memorial service was held in the local Catholic church
in East Hampton. She was survived by three nephews and one niece. The
inscription on her grave marker reads: "I came from God. I belong to
God. In the end—I shall return to God."
Interest in the Beales' story has produced a variety of publishing and
media projects. These include:
The original 1975 Maysles brothers' documentary, Grey Gardens.
Little Edie Live! A Visit to Grey Gardens, a 78-minute interview with
Edie Beale at
Grey Gardens on April 22, 1976.
Two spreads in Vogue and one in Bust have been dedicated to Beale's
Ghosts of Grey Gardens, a 2005 documentary directed by Liliana
Greenfield-Sanders, about Grey Gardens' continuing legacy.
An off-Broadway musical Grey Gardens: A New Musical debuted in March
2006, starring Christine Ebersole, and played on Broadway at the
Walter Kerr Theatre
Walter Kerr Theatre November 2, 2006 – July 28, 2007 for 300+
performances. Little Edie was portrayed in the first act by actresses
Sara Gettelfinger (off-Broadway) and
Erin Davie (on Broadway).
Ebersole played Little Edie in the second act. Ebersole and Mary
Louise Wilson won Tony Awards.
Marc Jacobs created the "Little Edie" bag for his Fall 2007
Bouvier Beale of Grey Gardens, A Life In Pictures by Eva Marie
Beale, with forward by Peter Beard, and introduction by Bouvier Beale,
Jr. published in 2008.
Grey Gardens, the 2009 Emmy Award–winning made-for-television movie
for HBO, starred
Jessica Lange as "Big Edie" and
Drew Barrymore as
"Little Edie". It was directed and co-written by filmmaker Michael
Sucsy. Lange won an Emmy for her performance.
I Only Mark The Hours That Shine ~ Little Edie's Diary 1929, published
and edited by Eva Marie Beale with an introduction by Bouvier Beale,
Jr., her nephew.
In the 2011 episode of 30 Rock entitled "Mrs. Donaghy," Liz Lemon
(portrayed by Tina Fey) does an impression of Drew Barrymore's
impersonating Little Edie.
Rufus Wainwright wrote a song titled "Grey Gardens", which
appears on his 2001 album Poses. The song's narrative is partly
composed of references to the 1975 documentary
Grey Gardens and to
Thomas Mann's novella
Death in Venice
Death in Venice (or to Luchino Visconti's film
of the same title).
The Spring 2010 issue of the online literary journal BigCityLit
features a pantoum by American poet Joel Allegretti called "The Belles
of Grey Gardens", which is made up entirely of dialogue from the
In a 2012 episode of The New Normal, Shania Clemmons, played by a
nine-year-old Bebe Wood, impersonates Little Edie.
In a February 2013 episode of RuPaul's Drag Race, Little Edie was
imitated by drag queen Jinkx Monsoon. Inspired by that episode, Jinkx
Peaches Christ mounted a live 90-minute musical drag
Grey Gardens titled Return to Grey Gardens.
Documentary Now! episode "Sandy Passage" is a parody of the
original Maysles brothers' documentary.
^ a b c Douglas Martin (January 25, 2002). "Edith Bouvier Beale, 84,
'Little Edie', Dies". New York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2016. Edith
Bouvier Beale, once a successful model and aspiring actress who later
lived a Gothic life in Grey Gardens, a dilapidated 28-room house in
East Hampton, New York, with her mother and dozens of cats, raccoons,
and opossums, was found dead in her small apartment in Bal Harbour,
Florida, on January 14. She was 84. Her nephew
Bouvier Beale Jr. said
the Dade County coroner attributed the death to a heart attack or
stroke resulting from arteriosclerosis. Her cousin John H. Davis said
she appeared to have been dead for five days.
^ a b c d "A Return to Grey Gardens", nymag.com, October 29, 2006.
^ a b
Grey Gardens DVD (2009). HBO. Audio commentary with executive
producers Michael Sucsy, Lucy Barzun Donnelly and Rachael Horovitz.
^ Judith Mead (May 7, 2006). "Big and Little Edie Lived Here". The New
York Times. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
^ Mank, Gregory William (August 22, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial
Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. Jefferson, North
Carolina: McFarland. p. 48. ISBN 0786479922.
^ "So How Good Is Tina Fey's
Grey Gardens Impression?". Vulture.
Retrieved 16 May 2016.
^ "the rivers of it, abridged". BigCityLit.com. Archived from the
original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
Jinkx Monsoon To Star In 'Return To Grey Gardens' With Peaches
My Life at Grey Gardens: Thirteen Months and Beyond by Lois Wright
(2005). ISBN 0-9777462-0-8.
Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway, a documentary by Albert
Maysles about the making of the musical Grey
Edie Beale on IMDb
"Edith Bouvier "Little Edie" Beale". Find a Grave. Retrieved September
Aspects of the 1975 documentary
Edith Ewing Bouvier
Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale
Edith Bouvier Beale
Grey Gardens estate
The Beales of
Grey Gardens (2006 documentary)
Grey Gardens (2006 musical)
Grey Gardens (2009 HBO film)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1679 8158
BNF: cb161325328 (data)