Friday, April 21, 2006
Grey Gardens...

(for those of you Jackie Onassis fanatics, this film captures a few months in the life of her impoverished Aunt and Cousin, a fascinating documentary)

This is something I picked up on Ebay after hearing of it's existence from Scott a while back. To understand some of what is happening I must start at the beginning (backtracking a bit)

Family background and influences (this Historical preface isn't naturally included with the DVD, and it took me a while to research, the reason for posting so late this morning)

The Bouvier line (briefly)

Generation I
The Bouvier family came to The United States in the early 19th Century from France in the person of Michel Bouvier (1792-1874), who was a rather impoverished furniture maker from the tiny village of Point Saint-Esprit. His talents were great enough for him to have been sponsored by the illustrious Dupont family of Pennsylvania. He married Louise Vernou (who John V. Jr (below) claimed came from an illustrious family boasting a host of "desireable" ancestors such as Pocahontas, of course this was pure fiction) and begot :

Generation II

John Vernou Bouvier Sr (1843-1926) who established what could be termed the "family fortune" in Real Estate and shrewd investments. His fortune at it's height was approximately $3 Million and upon his death, he bequeathed nearly everything to his oldest son Michel, who doubled this in size and died childless, leaving everything to his wayward nephew:

Generation III

John Vernou Bouvier Jr (1865-1948). whose obsession with society and status were to be his downfall early on, his uncle's bequest nearly saved him from falling into poverty and enabled him to continue on his mission to emerge into New York Society with a bang. In his lifetime he was able to squander the meager fortune (about $5 Million) his uncle left him on lavish homes, society functions and crawling his way up the Park Avenue Set in New York (which for those who are unaware was the up and coming "New Money" of New York City). He was also able to secure rather important marriages for his children, including that of his daughter Edith to Phelan Beale, a wealthy New York Lawyer of a well respected and "desirable" family. John V. Jr. married Maude Seargent (the daughter of English immigrants, and a minor heiress in her own right) and produced (among others) :

Generation IV

John Vernou Bouvier III aka "Black Jack" (The father of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis) Wall Street Broker, womanizer and in the end impoverished alcoholic.
and his sister Edith Bouvier Beale (the elder subject of this documentary))
Edith Bouvier Beale was abandoned by her husband Phelan some time in the 1930's and while he provided for her initially (their children were already grown) she was never able to stand on her own afterward. She couldn't turn to her family as what little money was left (there wasn't so much to begin with) could hardly have sustained her to the degree with which her ambitious father had insisted the family live (which of course financially ruined him in the end). So here we have a destitute woman, raised with the best of everything, friends and suitors among the finest families in New York and yet without the skills or means to support herself when it all fell apart. What did she have left in the end? Grey Gardens.. her Easthampton, Long Island summer "cottage" which boasted at one time one the finest private gardens in America.

This was a photograph taken before a few serious additions which concluded in a total of 28 rooms. You have to wonder looking at this post card how they arrived at that number, but perhaps they were smaller rooms. In any case this was taken before the house became Edith's permanent residence in 1936.

Alone and in near poverty, Edith lived here for 40 years (apart from a few ambitious suitors who believed she was perhaps a bit more well off than outward appearances) and the house began to fall into disrepair. Her eldest daughter Edith (called "Little Edie" to differentiate her from her mother) moved in permanently to "care" for her mother in 1952. There she remained until Edith's death in 1977. "Little" Edie was a very disturbed woman, and this is clearly evident when viewing the documentary. She dressed in ragged torn clothing of decades long passed, held together with the same costume broche, ran around the house singing and dancing as if she were 40 years younger (she's 56 at this point) and served her mother ridiculous meals which included canned Patte on a cracker, and cartons of Hershey's Ice Cream.

Cats thrived in the house, which she fed with loaves of bread emptied on to the floor and then topped with an entire box of Cat chow. The cats urinated everywhere and whenever they liked, the floors, hallway, in corners, and even at times on a newspaper Little Edie spread upon her own bed. There is one point where Big Edie comments "The cat is going to the bathroom behind my portrait .." which was a huge amazing oil probably commissioned while still in her 30's leaning against the wall in their shared bedroom. I nearly lost it at that point (and I wasn't crying)

The dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter is overwhelmingly evident throughout the film. No matter where the camera follows Edie, her mother's voice can be heard screaming to her about being hungry, someone breaking into the house, or a certain cat's whereabouts. Edie chastises Edith constantly, blaming her for the pathetic life "in the country" she has been forced to live and the promising life she left behind in Manhattan to care for her. The old lady usually responds by asking Edie to sing or dance, which we are subjected to over and over again. Evidently the mother had a somewhat brief singing career and as her life achievements are few and far between it is a recurring subject throughout, her attempts at proving her voice "hasn't changed in 50 years" is a certainly a treat.

The house of course is in shambles, soot covering everything, furnishings are very simple at this point (much having been stolen years before) and over-run with cats. There are also the "pet" raccoons in the attic, which Edie feeds and are so accustomed to her care, that they have set up permanent residence and do not shy away from the camera. I found this particularly interesting. The two reside in one filthy litter strewn flea infested room (they are constantly itching and complaining about the fleas), and survive on a diet of canned goods and ice cream. The grocery delivers to them weekly, as they do not leave the grounds. You get the picture, living that life must have been a nightmare for them, and you have to wonder if it didn't in itself drive them both mad (the old lady is clearly more level headed than her dillusional daughter, although her need to be nearly naked at times (she's 79 here) was a challenge to watch with eyes open).

After the release of this documentary, Jackie B.K. Onassis took pity (or perhaps was embarrassed as she had long ago distanced herself from nearly all of the Bouvier relations, but Edith was her adored father's eldest sister..) and had completed an overhaul on the property.. there are photos of her actually in the house with a tool belt and hammer at the end which were completely orchestrated and I so wish I could find a copy to post here. Initially the women believed the film would gain them some sort of an income, but of course in their lifetime this was never realized (they died in 1977 & 2002) thankfully Edie did eventually "escape" to lead a much more comfortable life in Florida in her last years, although when she died it took 5 days for her body to be discovered (oddly by a Grey Gardens fan turned caretaker).


What happens when you have two people, never gainfully employed, spoiled from birth with the finest material possessions money can buy and as well a consistent series of relatives and hired help to make sure even their most remedial needs are met and...

take away the relations and hired help, throw them together impoverished into a sprawling 28 room "cottage" to fend for themselves. The important thing to remember here is that The Bouvier family were never particularly affluent, they just lived as though they were (hence the introduction above). John Vernou Bouvier Jr. established a lifestyle that his children and grandchildren could never sustain (save Jackie O), that they were part of an Aristocracy, entitled to great things and as such free to live selfishly and without concern for anything other than pleasure and status. It's ironic that Edie's choice to move to Grey Gardens was to "care for" her mother, in actuality she had fallen into poverty herself and had no other choice as her "condition" prevented her from moving in with siblings or friends. Neither woman had the ability to care for the other and the result was.. Grey Gardens

Long ass review I know. I just couldn't with any sort of conscience do a "quick" one and felt the need to kind of go backward and explain how (I believe) this whole thing happened. As you can imagine the film fascinated me and I sat riveted for the whole 90 minutes. It's in high demand right now from what I understand, fetching around $25 plus shipping consistently on Ebay and not a penny less. I bought it three times before a Vendor actually had a copy to send, the others were forced to refund my money with apologies. Thanks Scott for bringing it to my attention :)


So I power walk/run 4 Miles each night, and have now for a couple months. In the past I would always bring my Ipod mini and it would of course make the trek a bit more enjoyable. Honestly I don't know how people can run without music, I've tried and well it's boring as hell.
So my new thing is to load Podcasts to my Ipod and then set out for the walk. Last night it was Adam's Kreb's cast #28 , the night before stirring the Pot #1 and the night before The Dirty Dish #10 (my personal favorite..those guys are hysterical and while they all each have their own individual casts (like Krebs above) together they are deadly!!) I need to go back and catch #1-9 now. I am addicted.
Well that's it for my late post, I got caught up in the review and well had to finish here at work.
Laters :)
S62 C12 149Posted by :: 6:11 AM :: 20 Comments:
Blogger matty said...
This was so interesting to read! You know so much more about this than I --- I started watching the movie when I was in college in the late 80's and have lost count of the number of times I've seen it. The other night was the first time I had actually seen it on the big screen and it was so cool to see Jerry (Marble Fawn) ...and, to see the new film with all the unused footage. was a bit long, but still neat to see.

Jerry shared some fun/interesting stories of Big and Little Edie --- and of Jackie O. ...He tried to take her to The Anvil in the mid-70's! LOL! Too funny. He was really sweet and cute.

It was clear how much he loved Big Edie ( like a Grandma I should think ) ...and his brief descriptions of Little Edie were cute.

Great post!!!!!

OK -- off to meet the boyfriend at the SF airport! ...hate taking BART this late. oy.

Blogger Kimberly said...

Who gives a crap WHERE you're going? Boy, you sound like such a mensch...

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