For the latest installment of the VINA book club, we’re actually watching a movie! HBO’s rendition of the lives of the infamous mother/daughter duo, the Edith Bouvier Beales. In addition to sharing a name, they practically shared their entire lives. Referred to as Big Edie and Little Edie, they were the aunt and cousin of the beloved Bouvier, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and were definitely the most eccentric women in the Hamptons.
The two lived together at the great family estate, Grey Gardens. Little Edie did not want to get married because she didn’t want a man to make her give up her singing career like her father did her mother (and then he left her). However, Little Edie’s mother kept her away from the spotlight anyways. Big Edie was mentally-unstable and an emotional manipulator; therefore, Little Edie was forever by her mother’s side. They grew old together, in isolation, both continuing to dream of their future lives and alternate realities, as their current ones were going to waste. When the Maysles asked to film a movie about the Beale women, Little Edie loved the idea of the chance to “relaunch her career.” The filming of that documentary could have easily been the most exciting experience of their collective lives.
Their interesting lives makes for a great biopic because they had so much to offer. Their deep mother/daughter connection was sometimes endearing, but mostly strange. Their story is one of those sad ones that we romanticize because of its tragic beauty, as the reality is that the Grey Gardens estate was brimming with garbage, newspapers older than you and me, and a pet raccoon. The Edies were the ultimate shut-ins, hoarders, and unintentional misanthropes. Somehow, life passed them by without their consent.
In 1975, the Maysles brothers made the trek out to Grey Gardens in order to film a documentary about the Bouvier Beales. Grey Gardens became the first of many Edie-themed creative endeavors of artists of all media. This documentary is in part what prompted writer Lois Wright to share her time at the gardens in her book, My Life at Grey Gardens. In 2006, yet another documentary was released: The Beales of Grey Gardens. And finally, in 2009, HBO made their own movie, which was focused around the making of the original Maysles brothers’ documentary.
The fashion in HBO’s film is to die for. Costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas did an excellent job of representing everything from the Edie’s 40s style to the old-lady aesthetic they acquired over the years. Little Edie looks fabulous adorned with luxurious scarves covering her bald head (due to alopecia totalis), and takes great pride in the versatility of her wardrobe.
The first time I saw the HBO version, starring Jessica Lange (before we all became obsessed with her on American Horror Story) and Drew Barrymore, my imagination ran wild. I had this overwhelming vision of my mother and sister becoming the next Beales. This image is not too far out-there, for not only were my mother and sister conjoined at the hip, my mother was totally obsessed with the beautiful, sad mess that was the Grey Gardens estate. I could see in her eyes, she was imagining the same future (only she wasn’t afraid of it). I doubt this will really happen, but only time will tell.
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(Feature image via InStyle)