What if Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan had crazy cousins who lived in squalor in a rundown, over-sized house?
Such was the case for perhaps our most glamorous First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Her cousin Edie Bouvier Beale and Edie's mother Edith were the grand dames of Long Island society in the 1940s but, by the early 1970s, they were literally living in their own filth in a giant dilapidated Southhampton home, acting strangely. The decaying estate that housed these decaying souls was called Grey Gardens, and it was the name of the groundbreaking 1975 documentary that featured these two eccentric, fascinating ladies.
Long before reality TV, Grey Gardens showed that truth was WAY stranger than fiction and it something that had to be seen to be believed. It's a story about mothers and daughters, mental illness, and regretting what might have been. Rumor has it that, in the early 1940s, Edie was briefly engaged to Joseph Kennedy Jr., JFK's older brother. Rumor also has it that Edie's mother caused Joe Jr. to break off the engagement, leaving Edie heartbroken and dependent on her mother. Then, of course, Joe Jr. died heroically in World War II. (Again, this is all rumor but in the musical this engagement and its sudden end is treated as fact). Of course, Edie's younger cousin Jackie went on to marry Joe Jr.'s younger brother and the rest is ... Had the engagement not been broken, and had Joe Jr. lived, and had he fulfilled his father's dream of becoming president (which then fell on JFK's shoulder), then believe it or not Edie Beale would have ended up as First Lady of the United States!
Fate doth have a sense of humor.
Grey Gardens was turned into a wonderful Broadway musical in 2006 and, in one of my first blog entries for Mr NYC, I gave it a short rave back in 2007.
Now it has been turned into a feature film starring Jessica Lange as Edith and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. I can't wait to see this movie, it looks great. As this clip shows, they had great source material to work with.