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Edith ‘Little Edie’ Beale

My latest obsession: Edith ‘Little Edie’ Beale

Little Edie Beale posing outside Grey Gardens

Little Edie - and her mother Big Edie - are the subject of the Maysles Brothers’ documentary film Grey Gardens.

Their story is way beyond high camp.

The Beales are also Bouviers - as in Jackie Bouvier Kennedy - and Little Edie was once the toast of the town, as a debutante, model and aspiring actress (she claimed proposals of marriage were forthcoming from Howard Hughes and John Paul Getty) until her ailing and abandoned mother called her home to their East Hamptons manse in 1952. From then on, the pair lived together alone, holed up in the house as it went to seed around them.

By the time the documentary-makers showed up with their cameras, the Beales had hit the headlines, and rock bottom, after the local Health Board condemned Grey Gardens, in 1971 (Jackie even donned rubber gloves to help clear the filth).

The film shows their daily routine, up close, in the ‘direct cinema’ style pioneered by the Maysles Brothers - Little Edie dances and sings, lambasts her mother for curtailing her career, and feeds the raccoons that live in the attic; Big Edie sings too, lambasts her daughter for pretty much everything under the sun, and mixes cocktails in jam jars. There isn’t, as far as I remember, a single moment in the film when the Beales are silent. Most of the time, they’re shouting at and over each other, in what is almost a private argot of quick-witted, epigrammatic quips. (They are both, it has to be said, quite, quite mad.)

It’s a moving portrait, then, and one that steers well clear of exploiting the Beales. The cherry on the cake, though, is Little Edie’s look. She is never seen without an improvised turban, usually fashioned by poking her face through the neck of a jumper with the arms tied at the back and a brooch pinned at the temple, and, more often than not, she bunches, ties and rouches up her skirts at random points around the hem. The result, fittingly, ends up somewhere between bag lady and society dame.

Sadly, Grey Gardens is only available on DVD in the US, but it’s well worth tracking down a copy if you’re able to play it. Failing that, you could always read more a wee bit more about the Beales:

All credit to Janet for introducing me to the Edies and Grey Gardens!

Posted at 5pm on 25/08/04 by Jack Mottram to the film, places category.
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  1. Kudos Little Edie! You are a STAUNCH breath of fresh air!
    The world is so much richer for Grey Gardens. Some have called you mad I say… they could learn ALOT from you! Thank you for permitting Grey Gardens!

    Posted by MMK at 11am on 05.05.06

  2. Glad some else loves this brilliant film…everyone should see it! Although i think you maybe missed the mark in thinking they are both “quite quite mad.” I have never seen two more honest, fascinating people. Think of all the seemingly ‘together’ people that you have ever met;there is always something shocking about everyone when you start peeling back the layers. These women just put it all out there. To call them mad or feel sorry for them is to simply dismiss them.
    Let’s face it: we all have a little bit of “Edie” in every one of us, and we should feel sorry for those who don’t. We should all be that “mad.”

    Posted by laura at 4am on 07.05.06

  3. I have recently seen “Grey Gardens” and feel that I could become obsessed with Little Edie. She seems very real to me; in fact, I had to keep reminding myself the film was made back in the ‘70’s. As Edie said that sometimes the line between the past and present is blurred, also the line between sanity and beyond sanity is difficult to discern and seems beside the point in the case of Edie. She just has an absolutely fascinating personality.

    Posted by Patti at 6pm on 07.05.06

  4. I could see many people I know in this film. It wasn’t so unusual to me at all, but rather revealing in my own family. It was staunchly revealing, in that I too, wore skirts on my head as a child. The movie opened up old memories indeed. The co-dependency was shockingly looked at in my own life as I watched the movie unfold. In one scene, Little Edie became the actress in her own mad movie.It was brilliant.

    Posted by unclemel at 3am on 07.06.06

  5. Great Film, made me happy and sad, I felt like I was there with both Mum and Daughter, best Documentary I have ever seen and ever will see. God Bless both of you xxx

    Posted by MARILYN at 1am on 15.07.06

  6. Greetings, I am Frank battaglia. I am the last photographer to Photograph Little Edie at her Grey gardens Estate before she moved. I am the only photographer selling her images on the web, If you go to you will find my site. Recently in fact this month in Harpers Bazaar United Kingdom April edition one of photos is featured. Photo of her on beach. If anyone is interested for personal or publication please contact me

    Posted by frank battaglia at 4am on 13.04.07

  7. Sorry Frank Battaglia. I have seen you make this claim all over the internet and it’s not true. There are beautiful pictures of Edith taken in the Summer of 1979 as she was packing up and leaving Grey Gardens. She looks pleasant and relaxed. Not bored and annoyed like she does in yours. You should update your sales schpiel and most certainly your technique.


    Posted by Jerome Beale at 7pm on 05.05.07

  8. Wed, Nov. 9th, Edie would have been 90 years old ! Robb Brawn & Lee Arboreen have created a site dedicated to Edie and everything Grey Gardens. Great pictures of Edie, Christine Ebersole, and interviews with Jerry Torre and Albert Maysles, links, and much much more. Check it out at

    Posted by Robb Brawn at 2am on 04.11.07

  9. I think I ll never forget those 2 wonderful women. My day brightens all the time I talk about grey gardens with someone…

    and Frank battaglia, I m sorry but as much I know we have to do everything possible to sell, I just think that advertising this way is just misplaced! The Beales deserve more respect than that!

    Posted by kristel at 12am on 01.12.07

  10. New CD!

    Little Edie Live! A Visit To Grey Gardens

    For additional information,

    Posted by Walter Newkirk at 12pm on 13.12.07

  11. New Book

    A Private Scrapbook About Edie Beale of Grey Gardens
    First Cousin to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

    Posted by Walter Newkirk at 11pm on 21.04.08

  12. For more information on Little Edie Beale, be sure to visit the Grey Gardens Online Database at

    Posted by GG Fan at 8pm on 16.11.08

  13. Im laughing at the comment about ME exploiting the memory of Edie when I see above several folks soliciting Grey gardens material. LOL You do not get any better photos of Edie than mine PERIOD! They are real and unposed and reflect a very sad and confused period of her life before leaving Grey gardens. eat your heart out dude! Or Kristel whoever you are! Was your name on the HBO movie?Mine was!!!

    Posted by frank at 7am on 21.11.09

  14. It is a sad fact that People like Eva Beale comes out with book about fmily photos etc. Where was EVA when the Beales ere freezing and starving on their next to nothing income? Yet EVA writes for profit a book? My situation as a photographer and hort lived friend of Edies, i produced boddy of photogrphic ork that was the most accurte depiction of Little edies true emotions and anxiety about her future about her mom died and she was facing selling grey gardens. These photos were highly personal and did not exploit her essentricity like the Maysles film did. Not being a reltive to edie i find it grosly rude to profit on family book of photos such as EVAS book. It moreso disgusts me all the internet garbage of EDIE “BOBBLE HEADS” nd Faux jewelty etc i have seen for sale. I have a legitimate product which I introduced Edie to the world like no one has ever seen emotionally. My photos GO I sadly however regret due to economy that I too hve to sell app. 20 of my precious images of Edie. I am selling these historic and rare portraits for 45,000.00. These are negatives which of course are worth more than photographs alone. If nyone is interested nd this includes EVA who supposedly takes pride of being a family reltive, heres YOUR chnce to own a piece of GREY GARDENS history. I can be contacted at 808-968-1224

    Posted by frank battaglia at 8pm on 09.10.10

  15. This note is to folks like EVA Beale, Jerome Beale and all Edith Beale relatives or supposed friends. Where were you folks when Edie nd her Mom were living on cat food? Sure now that he became famous your names are all over the internet making comments about Her and criticizing my photos or comments about my work..but hey Im not a relative! If I was wealthy i would have peronally helped out Little Edie out of mere friendship and mercy! Where were you folks?I lso must comment on all the other profiteers uch as JERRY. Jerry who accidentallity/purposely threw his fce is documentray has become a cult hero imply for his brief appearnces in Documentary. Jerry did ocassionlly ome hndyman work, but when he found out the cameras were there he hung around to get his face in film. Little Edie was not that fond of him but he tolerated him because Big Edie found him a MUSE.From since this film came out there are even songs about JERRYS CORN and he has made boocoo apearnces. Im thinking to myself that are most folks oblivious to Jerrys real contribution to film? It was HIMSELF! He acted like the beales were his family and made money from such deceit and when filming was done, and gone, so was JERRY! He has a book coming out, he has website boasting about how close he was to the Beales and I want to throw up! Jerry I have always said was a liar. I talked to Edie Briefly and we did touch upon JERRY and what she told me was he was a pest! She thought he even ripped off some trinkets upsyairs that were disappearing etc. She said “MOTHER knows I do not trust him but she likes to make me upset by liking Jerry when she knows I cannot be around him too long. I was one of the more honest people who made ny claims to knowing Edie. I never exaggerated my relationship to her Like Jerry, Walter Newkirk, and the sudden Family pride for profit by EVA BEALE. I am proud to sy tht I had full permission by EDIE on paper to take her photos and do what I wished with them and fact I never exploited her essentricity whatsoever! I can live with myself. To those relatives who never gave helping hand to Edie or her mom, you have no position or right modern day to sit and write or Brag that you are related to her. I say once more..SAHME ON YOU all!

    Posted by Frank battaglia at 8pm on 09.10.10

  16. Furthermore we also have LOIS Wright who pent 13 months ponging off the goodness of the Beales. She has been approaching many galleries with her grammar school paintings of Edie as she also approached a swank Beverly Hills gallery several months back. Im tired of hearing of all the profiteering by those who hd most to gain from knowing the Beales. As I mention earlier, where were all you folks when the beales were living on canned chicken spread and wonder bread? Where were you folks when Edie needed transportation to do chore or had no heat in house? You people are so sad and pathetic, that I decided out of economy nd respect for the Beales that i permanently remove part of my own collection of Images{NEGATIVES} i took of Edie in 1978. YES Im going to sell, make a few bucks, practice capitalism just like yopu do but BIG difference is I NEVER EXPLOITED HER ESSENTRICITY nor did I bullshit about how close of a friend or relative I was of Edie. i was straight forward and on what I did, and quoted in many articles and I can sleep well at night because of that! Im selling 20 of my rare and historic and HIGHLY personal images of edie. See many of them on my website
    Asking price is $42,000.00 or BEST offer. You get full rights to all negatives.Cmon relatives! Edie is supposed to be so important to you. Heres YOUR chance to won a historical memorabilia of EDIE and how about you so called friends? Would you not like to on such a collection? Put your money where your mouth is. HERES YOUR chnce to own Frank Battaglia’s reverred collection! write me

    Posted by Frank battaglia at 5am on 10.10.10

  17. I am publicly announcing that I m selling part of my LITTLE Edie photogrphic negatives! Yeas this is for real! mny know of my images from my website where you can still purchse my photos. I am however parting with some of my :ORIGINAL” Negatives! Yes negatives are far more valuable than prints itself. Full rights come with these negatives!My publicly announced price is $35,000.00 but may consider serious offers. I have more in my collection, so if price is right I will consider selling the other app. 50 negatives!??Its a rare opportunity for sure. Xmas is coming and what an opportunity!? Im open to talk so contact me at Edies photos hve been wonderfull experience for me but honestly its hard times in this country now and I have decided to put a closure on my GREY GARDENS Endeavors!!!

    Posted by Frank Battaglia at 2am on 15.10.10

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