following are my reflections on meeting and
photographing Edith Beale at her
Grey Gardens Estate in 1979:
windswept shores of Georgica Beach along East Hampton's is a posh neighborhood
in Long Island, New York. It gave birth to Grey Gardens; a once stately 26-room
mansion. It employed up to 12 servants, and the family name made it to the top
end of the social register. The residents, Edith Bouvier, first blood cousin to
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and her mother of same namesake occupied the home
unsupported financially except for a $60,000 trust fund left by her estranged
father and prominent lawyer. I surmised that Edith's mothers eccentricity was
the cause, in part, of her father leaving.
a result, the once stately mansion became an eyesore; the neighbors became increasingly
unfriendly and hoped that some day it would be torn down. Edie and her mom did
the best they could under the circumstances, but as the years flew by, the estate
looked more and more like a weather-beaten barn.
soon occupied the attic space and as many as forty cats ruled the estate, leaving
cat litter strewn about the landscape.
became interested in knowing Edith after seeing her on a talk show -- She also
appeared in a documentary appropriately called Grey Gardens. I felt I had to meet
this woman and do an in-depth photographic study of her. Being a photographer
with an interest in character shots, I felt I had quite an unusual subject with
incredibly interesting personality. I gave her a call, and with some careful introductions
and convincing, I managed to get invited to her estate, 150 miles from me by commuter
train. Being very reclusive, she was reserved and somewhat paranoid about our
meeting. Upon opening her torn screen entry door, she stood inside with her hands
clasped tightly upon the door. After my introduction she came outside and we talked
a bit. At this point she would not let me into the estate, but it did not take
long to understand why.
only friends through the years were her animal friends. They were the only ones
she seemed to trust -- they were allowed free reign in her home. At this time
of her life, Edith was living alone since her mom passed away shortly before my
visit. Her mother was her best friend, a person to converse with and share thoughts
through the years. Living with her mother never presented an opportunity for Edith
to have freedom in her life that she so much wanted through the years. After her
dad divorced her mom, Edith stayed with her aging mother, whose health was poor.
Edith felt an obligation to take care of her mom despite her dreams of returning
to her main interest in life -- show business. She shared with me many regrets
about her unfound dreams and expectations of her life. This was a woman who once
was courted by J. Paul Getty, and even Howard Hughes!
was an intelligent woman with paralegal training, among other things. She expressed
her political views to me and talked openly about the Kennedy family.
at least one of my trips, she refused to see me. This was typical of Edith. She
would go through periods of time when she wanted no visitors, even if they traveled
many miles to see her, as I did. It was frustrating, but I knew of her reclusive
nature and felt fortunate to be able to talk to her, let alone photograph her.
Later, Edith sent me a letter after seeing the pictures I took.
here to read Edith's Letter to Me)
time while eating lunch, consisting of a can of chicken spread and a domestic
beer, we talked of her plans to some day sell Grey Gardens and the possibilities
thereafter. She exhibited a lot of fear and apprehension about such futures. She
realized her loneliness and lack of career direction would force her to make some
decisions in her life.
was a sweet woman with a sense of humor. I thoroughly enjoyed my visits and talks
with her. She confided with me that upon her death she would give her financial
holdings to an animal society of her choice. This again was further proof of her
love for her animal friends and her lack of trust for others in her life.
the photographs I took of Edith depicted a sad and lonely woman. However, the
portrait I took of her in the living room showed a woman of strong character and
principal and inner beauty once apparent, although now hidden by scarves covering
her once beautiful hair.
resulting photographs, although appearing rather sequential, captured a part of
Edith I was trying to convey about her quiet, yet reclusive nature and her lonely
existence in Grey Gardens. These photos reveal something rarely seen in the well
known documentary "GREY GARDENS".
the once stately mansion with a unique and beautiful Italian imported marble garden,
26 rooms, gala parties, and dignitaries that once graced the beautiful estate
are long gone. Grey Gardens was finally sold and the new owners renovated it.
Gone also are her feline friends, and the ever present breeze from Georgica Beach.
are, of course, happy about the fixing up of the "eyesore." Of course,
they are ignorant of what Grey Gardens represented to the life and times of this
wonderful, talented lonely woman we called "Little Edie".
photographs were taken in 1979, which were the last photos taken of Edie in her
LASTING AND LOVING MEMORY OF "LITTLE EDIE".