If this face of the woman in this picture looks vaguely familiar, with the wide set-apart eyes and the strong mouth, it is because she is the first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Her name is Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie"), and her story is a fascinating one. The story of her life and her mother's life ("Big Edie") has been made into a movie called "Grey Gardens", starring Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore. I have seen a trailer of the movie, and in my opinion, Jessica Lange may be looking at an Oscar for her uncanny portrayal of "Big Edie".
"Big Edie", Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy's aunt -- she and Jacqueline's father were brother and sister. Edie came from a wealthy family, married a wealthy financier, Phelan Beale, and their lavish wedding took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Edie and her husband had three children, two sons - Phelan and Bouvier, and a daughter, "Little Edie". In 1946 "Big Edie's" husband sent her a telegram from Mexico, announcing he and "Big Edie" were now divorced. She always referred to it as her "fake Mexican divorce". Her husband provided child support, but no alimony for her, and her 14 room mansion became run-down and decrepit.
"Big Edie's daughter, "Little Edie" had been a great beauty, and was presented at the debutante ball on New Year's Day in 1936. She was equally as beautiful, talented and well-educated as her famous cousin Jacqueline -- you can see a strong family resemblance in this photograph. However, life had not been as kind to "Little Edie", and in 1952 she returned to live with her mother at Grey Gardens in East Hampton. In 1972 the health department raided Grey Gardens because "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" were living in squalor, their house filled with garbage and filth, with over 40 feral cats, several raccoons, fleas and no running water. Jacqueline Kennedy, her sister Lee Radziwill, and Jacqueline's husband Aristotle Onassis helped to clean up Grey Gardens, fix the water and heating systems, and have 1,000 bags of garbage carted away. After the raids on their property, "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" never left Grey Gardens while they lived there. In 1975 a documentary was made of their life at Grey Gardens. I have seen the documentary, and it is fascinating.
Grey Gardens is a magnificent house, designed in 1897 by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe, and purchased in 1923 by "Big Edie" and her husband. "Big Edie" died in 1977 and "Little Edie" sold the house in 1979 to former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his wife, Sally Quinn. According to a 2003 article in Town & Country, the building and grounds have been completely restored. Philanthropist Frances Hayward currently rents the home 11 months out of the year from the Bradlees. "Little Edie" died in 2002 at the age of 84. ... Wikipedia
The movie is being released today on HBO, and it looks wonderful. However, if you ever get the opportunity to see the documentary, you will be amazed. The so-called upper echelon of society can certain produce some eccentric folks, and these two fill that bill, but they are also eminently likeable.