“There are very few films—even documentaries—that are that honest about life; that get that deeply into the personalities that are being projected on the screen.”
It was no secret in the tony East Hamptons enclave that the two reclusive women living together in gothic squalor, with dozens of cats and the occasional raccoon, shared an intimate connection with one of the wealthiest and most celebrated women of her day.
But it wasn’t until documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles captured their story in the seminal 1975 cult classic Grey Gardens that the rest of the world discovered the truth: the elderly recluse and her eccentric, spinster daughter, who performed for their own private muses amongst the cobwebs, were Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale—aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
The film catapulted the mother and daughter Beales, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie,” to instant fame, granting them a devoted following made up of Kennedy watchers, Jackie O. devotees, artists, cinephiles and fashion designers (the last of whom extolled Little Edie’s singular costumes and headscarves as idiosyncratic genius).
“…in the Hamptons, they can get you for wearing red shoes on a Thursday!”
Grey Gardens, the Tony award-winning Broadway musical, was developed three decades after the Maysles film debuted. The musical is the ultimate homage to the quirky and rebellious Beales. Edith Beale and her daughter Eddie turned their backs on their upbringing, public opinion and polite society to pursue their artistic dreams in the sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking and always sentimental fantasy world they shared together.
The fragile yet resilient mother-daughter duo struck a chord with composer Scott Frankel, who brought their story to the Broadway stage. He experienced Big Edie and Little Edie’s struggle to express their creativity as a mirror image of his own creative process as a Broadway composer. GREY GARDENS: From East Hampton to Broadway exposes the many facets of this artistic journey, following the creators, including lyricist Michael Korie and dramatist Doug Wright, as they eventually succeed in breathing life into the production.
GREY GARDENS: From East Hampton to Broadway picks up the thread of this compelling mother-daughter story, weaving together clips from the Maysles brothers’ film with insightful interviews featuring Albert Maysles, societal and cultural commentators and the creators of the Broadway show. The documentary is a backstage pass into the creative process that brought one of America’s most haunted and haunting families from an original cult movie to the Great White Way.
The musical Grey Gardens opened on Broadway in November 2006, following a successful, Off-Broadway run. The show was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, garnering three.
Grey Gardens received a number of additional accolades and awards, including being named Time magazine’s number one Broadway production of 2006. The Broadway run ended on July 29, 2007. The musical continues to play in cities throughout the U.S. Grey Gardens remains the only Broadway show based on a documentary film.
In 2006, Albert Maysles released previously unavailable footage for a special two-disc edition of Grey Gardens, as part of the Criterion Collection. The release included a new feature entitled The Beales of Grey Gardens, which also received a limited theatrical release. Albert Maysles continues to run Maysles Films.
The compelling story of the eccentric mother and daughter living together in self-exile continues to inspire writers, playwrights and filmmakers. Little Edie & the Marble Faun, a play written for the Metropolitan Playhouse's Annual Author Fest, premiered in January 2008. In 2007, principal photography for an original HBO dramatization of the Beales’ story, Grey Gardens, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore took place; the HBO film is scheduled for release in early 2009.