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Grey Gardens... Dark Life!

Updated on August 3, 2011

Looking at little Edie in the documentary from 1975 you can still see remnants of what once was true Beauty and what could've been and that's exactly how you feel about everything else in this dramatic film that takes you on a trip through wonderland like Alice and leaves you on the threshold of madness.

Grey Gardens is about the lives of 2 Ex socialite Women, a Mother and a Daughter who just happened to be the Aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Grey Gardens is also about loss and what could've been if things were a bit different. It is about control, manipulation and fear...fear of losing a child kept close to a Mothers side, so close it suffocated the life right out of this child and ultimately drove her into a world of bizzare madness. Grey gardens is also about a woman who suffered from mental illness for most of her life and despite that fact enjoyed a life of wealth and class until her husband divorced her thus starting the demise of the life she once lived. It is a study of what it is like to be dependant on so many levels that when some components of life are taken away and you are left depending on yourself it can be devastating and devastation is exactly what these two women lived in. The documentary begins with showing us a dilapidated mansion where big Edie and little Edie live but that's not all. It shows us how these two women go about their daily lives just surviving while eluding themselves on how totally crazy their lives have become. The mansion has been condemned and is literally falling apart with holes in the walls and raccoons pilfering through each room for food not to mention the numerous cats who have also found a home in the mansion. The walls are dirty and the rooms are littered and in disarray. the home is lacking the furniture that once graced each and every room. The mansion littered with cat feces and yet these two women oblivious of the destruction go on with their lives reminiscing on social events and songs which they once danced to. Living on mere finances they manage to get groceries delivered until they are cut off by the grocer himself and when the town threatens to condemn the household where there is no running water things become bleak and the world becomes acquainted with Grey Gardens and the situation these women live under.

The documentary was filmed in 1975 by Albert and David Maysles. The mansion sits on the wealthy side of East Hampton NY where rows of handsome well kept homes adorn the neighborhood. Grey Gardens was well known by the local children as the "Witches House" with the grounds all over grown with weeds and uncut grass and untrimmed trees and shrubs embracing the house ready to swallow it whole. Cats roaming everywhere and meowing for food and occasionally little Edie wandering the front yard like a ghost in a cemetery just talking nonsense to herself while her Mother Big Edie shrieks out her name for assistance of some kind. Little Edie finally acknowledging her Mothers call would wander into the house muttering innuendos about how stifling her Mother can be in not so many words. It is the first sign you see that little Edie has some kind of sense no matter how remote it is that her life has become nothing but a servant to her mother who is totally dependant on little Edie from her daily necessities to mental and emotional distraction. It is heart breaking to begin to see what has happened to little Edie and despite it all how much she adores her Mother.

A Mother, A Wife , A Woman who needs help!

Big Edie is not a despicable person though if you think about what she has done to her life and her Daughters life you may initially think so. She is a person who deserves pity herself and one who never got the help that she desperately needed, the help that might have affected the lives of so many people involved for the better. It is evident that big Edie adores her daughter and her manipulation towards her stemmed from fear of losing what she thought was the only person that would ever truly love her and never abandon her though she treated little Edie more like a precious possession she did indeed love her dearly.Little Edie suffered through health problems as a child which in my opinion started the unhealthy relationship between her Mother and herself. Big Edie would always take little Edie everywhere she went never allowing little Edie the space to mature normally , little Edie unable to ever break through those apron strings became her Mothers side kick and was never able to evolve into the beautiful, young adult she should've become. Big Edie displayed very erratic behaviour and would go on wild tangents in front of the other socialites she would deal with. Little Edie would explain this to herself as classifying her Mother with having the heart of an Artist. An eccentric Artist was Big Edie to little Edie and this was the way little Edie was able to continue to accept her Mothers behavior without any thoughts that her Mother had a true mental illness.

"Why" is a crooked letter.

In viewing this film the first word that pops into your head is WHY? The second is "How" Why did all this have to happen this way? and How could things have unraveled the way they did? It is obvious that this family once was a very elite, well to do family. They had a high position in the social classes and were accepted and respected by that society. Little Edie rubbed elbows with the highest of the highest, the opportunities had to be endless. Why didn't big Edie's husband get her the help she needed? They certainly had the money to do so! Why didn't he make provisions for them both when he left them and why did he not allow little Edie herself to spread her wings and become something in life? It is a well known fact that little Edie had a promising career as a Model and even actress if she was allowed to, she modeled for several agencies in NYC and was considered for parts in movies but her Father refused to allow his daughter to be in the public eye as such. Didn't he see the unhealthy hold big Edie had on their Daughter and how it would affect little Edie throughout her lifetime? Didn't he see how desperate little Edie was to become her own person and have the life she wanted to without hurting her Mother? And why being related to Jackie Kennedy herself could these two women have ended up in sheer squalor? The word "Why" remains with you throughout this film and stays with you after it.

Money doesn't change Anything!

My Mother has a saying that I'm sure we have all heard at one point in our lives. She has often said to me "We all come into this world the same way and we all leave it the same way" In the most basic form this rings true. First and foremost besides class and money and status in life we are Human Beings and as such we are very much alike, we share the same illnesses and emotions , when there is pain we hurt and when we are hungry we eat and when we are thirsty we drink. Circumstances may have it that we handle things differently depending on the options that are given to us but basically we are the same. No matter how much money one has in life it doesn't change what can ail us and having Money and status in life doesn't shield us from having sickness whether it is mental or physical. This is very evident throughout this film and it reminds us of that in every clip. True we all wish we had the provisions these two women had through most of their life but Money doesn't change anything when you are unable to function on a normal capacity. As broke as I usually am and owing an array of creditors I would never switch my life with these women no matter what. What their life became was unbelievable and unacceptable to say the least. To be fair to Jackie Kennedy she did come through for a stint by paying twenty five thousand dollars to bring the mansion up to code and avoid eviction however in my opinion it was very little and very late coming. When viewing this film I became almost a family member to these two women, my heart broke watching them struggle and losing themselves in fantasies that would allow them to mentally function somehow, I knew they knew that something was terribly wrong and that they had been abandoned by the very same people who were supposed to love them and protect them and all I wanted to do was adopt them and help them myself! It is a true view of what life can do to us and how drastic life can change for us on a dime and it is a true statement on how important it is to become dependant on ourselves rather than everyone else. Big Edie surrounded herself in a world that she made up in her own distorted mind, she had become disgusted with the world and made her own safe place no matter how crazy it had become and she ultimately dragged little Edie along with her. Little Edie learned at a very early age that abnormal and erratic behavior was an "Artistic" way of being and not a sign of severe mental illness so she became herself what she experienced in her Mother. In 2009 a movie was made by the title "Grey Gardens" based on the life of Big Edie and Little Edie and Grey Gardens starring Drew Barrymore as little Edie and Jessica Lange as big Edie. Amazingly the two actresses looked eerily like the real women themselves and as such made the movie very realistic. If you haven't caught the documentary or the film I can tell you it is worth watching especially if you are into the study of Human behavior. I would first try to watch the documentary if you can it would be the foundation to understanding the movie.

Today we have shows like "Hoarders" which takes us into the minds of people who cannot let go of their past so they hold on to items so much so that it takes over their homes where it becomes unlivable. My question is do we project what is in our minds to the outside and create in our living space what is going on inside of us, I do believe that is the case to some level. In Grey Gardens it is obvious that what had happened to these two women in their minds was projected outward to how they lived to the point where their home resembled their minds. They handled what they were able to and disregarded the rest for it would have been way too much for them to do so much more so mentally than physically. It was a sad state of affairs to see what happened to them and how they were able to handle the pain within. Big Edie passed away two years after the documentary and little Edie finally sold Grey Gardens and lived the remainder of her life in Bal Harbour Florida. She herself passed away on Jan. 14TH 2002 of a stroke or heart attack they say. She was cremated and according to her wishes was not buried next to her Mother in East Hampton. The consolation to all of this is that little Edie Beale did not die in poverty. She spent her time writing poetry and spending time at the beach which she loved to do so much. At the time of her death she knew that a fan club for her was being started and she felt that at least she had accomplished something. She talked about her Mother affectionately in most of her conversations and wrote about her in her letters to friends. I hope little Edie as well as big Edie are somewhere above us swirling in tune to a Cole Porter song and finally being happy!

The 2009 Movie


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    • spirit929 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate NY somewhere over the rainbow

      Hi b4! Thanks for stopping by! Yes it was interesting and disturbing at the same time. I havent watched the whole movie with drew yet but am planning to. Only have caught a bit of it. I di however watch the whole documentary years ago. I love Drew Barrymore and what I saw of the movie I thought she portrayed Little Edie very well and Jessica Lange was incredible as Big Edie.

    • b4murray profile image


      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great Hub!

      I watched the HBO film with Drew Barrymore...Very interesting/disturbing situation.


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