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Grey Gardens Screening Brings Beales’ Descent To Life

Originally Posted: April 13, 2009

Christy Smith
Diane Roncone

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The owners of 'Grey Gardens' Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee with tenant and well-known philanthropist, Frances Hayward. Photos courtesy of Patrick McMullan.com

East Hampton - HBO Films hosted an intimate premiere screening on Saturday night, April 11, of their latest 'must-see' - "Grey Gardens," which unspooled at Goose Creek in East Hampton.

Christie Brinkley, Stella Keitel and Lorraine Bracco were among the
attendees at the screening on Saturday evening.

Martha Stewart, Lorraine Bracco, Dick Cavett, Jane Wenner, Washington D.C. power couple journalist Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, VP, Washington Post and former executive editor, producers Lucy Barzun Donnelly, Rachael Horowitz and first-time director Michael Sucsy sipped Pellegrino water and chardonnay at Goose Creek while nibbling on popcorn and pretzel sticks as Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore sizzled as "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale - the mother-daughter duo who lived amid the high society NY social scene and then, after the relationships of each with their 'significant others' collapsed, they careened back to earth - slowly slipping obscurely into what rapidly became a remarkably ramshackle East Hampton mansion.

"One of our main goals when we set out to make the movie was to explain how did they get there?" Donnelly, the film's executive producer, explained. "How did these two aristocrats from New York, Jackie O's relatives, end up living in filth with 52 cats?"

The squalor of "Grey Gardens," the aptly named home of the Beale women, is legendary. Empty cat food cans stacked to the ceiling, the resultant droppings adorning the floors, dust and garbage topping every surface, along with a major raccoon and flea infestation - not the stuff of a house and garden spread for any fancy magazine for sure.

During the screening, domestic doyenne Stewart seemed unable to mask her horror at the sorry state of the decaying mansion, mumbling under her breath, "What a bad mother she was. She never taught her daughter how to clean!"

Well-known actor and East End resident Bob Balaban with Hazel Balaban
was among the guests at the after-party.

The house, the third character in the film, located at 3 West End Road near Georgica Pond in East Hampton, was purchased over 30 years ago from "Little Edie" by Bradlee and Quinn for $220,000. The one condition of sale - that it not be razed.

The original documentary about "Grey Gardens" was filmed in 1970s by brothers Albert and David Maysles; Mrs. Maysle attended Saturday night's screening. After the screening, when asked how she felt about the HBO version, she stated that it was "very emotional for me."

"When we came to look at the place, the real estate agent refused to enter the house," Quinn relayed at a little get-together at the fabled estate after the screening. "So, 'Little Edie' gave me a tour. She was crazy but very gentle. She lived in her own world. She didn't see the hole in the floor and the collapsed piano and the fact that the garden was overgrown and the back of the house was flapping. She lived in one room, the upstairs bedroom; there was a mattress on the floor, a birdcage, a naked light bulb and a rickety old table with a hot plate on it. That was it."

When Bradlee was asked about the condition of the home when he bought it, he said that the house was home to some 52 cats and the piano had fallen through the floor. Bradlee, who lives in Washington and rents out Grey Gardens most of the year, asked the waitress Saturday night for a "scotch on the rocks, with a little water." When the waitress informed him that there was no scotch, he joked, "I own this house. There must be a liquor cabinet here somewhere."

Although the notorious "Grey Gardens" and the Beales had been the subject of a documentary, this film sheds new light on the events that led them into their descent into eccentricity. "Another thing that differentiates this film from the 1975 Maysles brothers documentary and the 2006 Broadway musical is that the director, Michael Sucsy, had access to 'Little Edie's' diary so he was able to flesh out her doomed affair with Julius 'Cap' Krug," Donnelly revealed. "She sought solace at 'Grey Gardens' with her mother when the relationship didn't work out."

Documentary film maker Albert Maysles and HBO Films director, Michael Sucsy.

'Little Edie' hardly left the house after that, tending to her elderly mother. A year after her mother's death, she finally sold "Grey Gardens" and split her time between New York, Montreal and Florida.

"We bought the house about 30 years ago in April and it closed [that year] in November," Quinn recalled. "I told the contractor we wanted to be in for the summer. They thought I was insane but they did it."

And what was 'Little Edie's' reaction to the spiffing up of her former beloved home? "A few years after the renovations were completed, 'Little Edie' stopped by the house for a visit," Quinn recalled. 'You ruined it' was all she could say. But to this day I won't let a cat near this house."

 • The HBO Films "Grey Gardens" will premiere on HBO on Saturday, April 18, at 8 p.m.

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Guest (Amagansett girl) from Amagansett- is there anyplace else? says::
Cannot wait to see this film. When will it open?
Apr 14, 2009 2:02 pm


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