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Jackie Kennedy's Eccentric And Recluse Relatives of East Hampton

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The posh East Hamptons and the mansion of Edith Bouvier Beale.

Original Grey Gardens 1915

Original Grey Gardens 1915

'Big Edie' and 'Little Edie;

'Big Edie' and 'Little Edie;

Big Edie's Early Life

Born Edith Ewing Bouvier in 1895 to a wealthy family of John Vernon Bouvier, Jr. and Maude Frances sergeant. Her father was obsessed with aristocrats who wrote and printed his own book, Our Forebears, with his fake royal heritage. It was not until 1961, when the biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was scrutinized, that the Bouvier tree showed they were third-generation French immigrants and not royalty.

Bid Edie was an American socialite and singer and considered a child prodigy. In 1917 she married Phelan Beale, a lawyer in her father's prestigious law firm. Together they had three children, Phelan, Jr (1920-1993, Bouvier Beale (1922-1994), and daughter Edie Beale, known as 'Little Edie.'

In 1926 the Beales purchased the mansion called Grey Gardens, East Hampton, NY. Phelan grew disgusted with his wife's bohemian ways, and he took up with a younger woman and moved out. He later informed Edie of their divorce by telegram in 1934. Phelan paid a small amount in child support but no alimony. He did, however, give Grey Gardens to her.

Wedding 1917 Edith Bouvier Beal and Phelan Beale

Wedding 1917 Edith Bouvier Beal and Phelan Beale

Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens

Celebrities of East Hampton

Celebrities of East Hampton

Kitchen Stove Grey Gardens

Kitchen Stove Grey Gardens

Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and Lee Bouvier Radizwill

Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and Lee Bouvier Radizwill

Big and Little Edie at Grey Gardens

At the wedding of Big Edie's son, she was further punished by her father, John Vernon Bouvier, Jr. He cut her inheritance significantly because she showed up late to the wedding dressed as an opera singer bohemian style embarrassing him. However, Big Edie was an artistic soul and decided to make the best of her loss, although Grey Gardens would slowly crumble.

By this time, Little Edie was modeling in New York for Macy's and other clients. But back at Grey Gardens, Big Edie was failing, and the mansion was literally falling apart, her large number of cats and raccoons and accumulated garbage stacking up. So Little Edie was called back to Grey Gardens to help her mother and, in 1952, returned home.

Little Edie, Modeling

Little Edie, Modeling

Big Edie

Big Edie

Little Edie

Little Edie

The Bouvier Sister Attempt to Help Grey Gardens

After years of neglect of Grey Gardens, one can imagine the residents of high society of East Hampton would protest about the 'eyesore' of Grey Gardens, complaining their real estate value would decline unless something wasn't done. After receiving notice of possible eviction, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and her sister, Lee Bouvier Radziwill, would enter Grey Gardens. They were appalled at the noxious odors, cats and raccoons scurrying around, garbage and feces everywhere.

Jackie immediately wrote a check for $30,000 to hopefully cover the cost of cleanup, back taxes, and repairs. It is hard to imagine once having it all to find themselves reduced to poverty, eviction, ostracized by neighbors, yet determined to live their lives not caring what others thought of them. Lee had originally hired Albert and David Maysles to do a documentary on the Bouvier family. However, when the Maysles saw Grey Gardens and the Beales, they realized the importance of the Beales and the social impact of their story. They finished their documentary, which is now recognized as one of the best made. The documentary is in the Library of Congress as a culturally significant film. It was listed in Entertainment Weekly at #33.

An HBO film was released in 2009 starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, winning six primetime Emmy and two Golden Globes and many more awards.

Grey Gardens HBO Film

Grey Gardens HBO Film

Grey Gardens Disrepair

Little Edie Garbage

Little Edie Garbage

Grey Gardens Decay

Grey Gardens Decay

Grey Gardens Gets Sold

Big Edie died on February 5, 1977, and is buried in Holy Trinity Cemetery. Little Edie continued to live there until 1979 and refused to sell to anyone who only wanted to tear it down. When potential buyers Ben Bradlee and his wife Sally Quinn promised not to tear it down but refurbish it, Little Edie agreed to their offer of $220,000. Grey Gardens was carefully and lovingly restored to its beauty. They found antiques stored in the attack and refurbished them to be used in the home. Little Edie moved and eventually landed in Bal Harbour, Florida.

Grey Gardens was sold in 2018 to Liz Lange, an American designer, and entrepreneur for 15.5 million.

Grey Gardens Restored

Grey Gardens Restored

Grey Gardens Restored

Little Edie Free At Last

After spending twenty-five years feeling trapped, caring for her mother, Big Edie, and Grey Gardens, Little Edie finally felt free. She made her way to New York and began performing at Remo Cabaret, Greenwich Village. At long last, she was famous after the 1975 documentary by the Maysles. A natural people person, she had her own fans who adored her and again a social butterfly. Because of her alopecia, Edie became copied of her headscarves closed with a brooch. She loved her small condo in Bal Harbor, Florida, and swam in the ocean daily. Little Edie died on January 14, 2002. She is buried in Locust Valley Cemetary, Long Island, New York. Both Edies lived on their own terms and in the moment.

Edie Beale, Reno Sweeney Cabaret

Edie Beale, Reno Sweeney Cabaret

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 26, 2021:

MG, I apologize for spelling your name wrong.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 26, 2021:

Emerge, Love your comment and I certainly appreciate your visit.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on July 26, 2021:

Thanks Fran, this is a very interesting article. You always pick up unusual topics and that is your forte.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 26, 2021:

Thanks, Peggy for your visit. I appreciated it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2021:

Thanks for writing this interesting bit of history. The neighbors of that estate must have been distraught as it crumbled into decay. It is nice to know that it has been restored.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 25, 2021:

This is a very interesting article about the Beales family and Jackie Kennedy's part also, Fran. The magnificent mansion looks beautiful. Thanks for sharing this information.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on July 25, 2021:

Rosina, thanks for visiting. Can you imagine high society letting a run-down mansion around their property? Probably never once offered to help either.

Rosina S Khan on July 25, 2021:

This is an interesting account of the Beales family. The way Big Edie and Little Edie were obsessed with Grey Gardens, their property is simply intriguing. The fact that they are relatives of Jackie Kennedy makes it more exciting. Thank you, Fran, for an amazing hub.

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