Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jackie Kennedy Onassis died yesterday at the age of 85. Lee accomplished more than a few things in her life, but honestly, she will go down in history (or at least in my heart) as the beautiful soul who planted the seed of germination that took bloom and produced the greatest documentary of all time, Grey Gardens.
Yes, friends, the story goes, Lee hired a documentary crew to make a film about her and Jackie’s family, the Bouviers. Part of the filming involved the documentary crew going out to Grey Gardens, a rambling, grand estate that was rapidly decaying, where Lee’s reclusive Aunt, Edith Beale, and Cousin, Edith Beale—but that’s Big Edie and Little Edie to you—lived.
Friends. This is Big Edie.
And this is Little Edie.
Anyway, the filmmakers were kind of obsessed with the Beales (how could you not be?) even though the ladies were a source of embarrassment for the Bouviers. They were financially supported (occasionally) and left to their own devices, but look—even if there’s the wife of a beloved president in your family tree, when you find two women living in a run-down mansion with hoards of cats, you know where the focus of the film is going to be. Definitely not gonna’ be on the urbane and sophisticated Bouviers. The project was shelved and the footage went unused.
Luckily for us, the filmmakers knew magic when they saw it, and decided to do a whole movie on the Beales, and thus Grey Gardens was born.
I love this movie fiercely and staunchly. Some may write it off as an exploitative documentary about two mentally ill women living in a hoarder home, but I feel that takes away both women’s autonomy. To me, this is a movie about two women born in the wrong era but stuck in the past—their heyday was well behind them, and had they been able to pursue an independent life outside of what society expected of them at the time (Little Edie in particular) their paths may have turned out completely differently. Living at Grey Gardens there was no progression for either, and yet there they stayed, together, rehashing the past in every sense and never looking towards what tomorrow might bring.
As much as the film crew saw them as a curiosity, I think the Beale women returned the interest and gaze as well. The crew broke up the monotony, and I believe both women knew it would send the entire family into a tailspin to try to get out in front of the scandal the Beale women would create. After all, Jackie was married to one of the richest men in the world at the time of the movie’s release, Aristotle Onassis, and I think Big Edie, in particular, liked sticking it to the rest of the family.
The point is, the Beales knew that the family that happily punted them away to live out the rest of their days at Grey Gardens had more to lose than either of them did. At their core, I think Big Edie and Little Edie ran out of f*cks to give about 1935 and didn’t care about the fallout of the movie. I also think they didn’t anticipate the amount of interest it would generate, either. I mean, who could?
It’s a fascinating movie and honestly the best documentary of all time (at least in my opinion) and we have Lee Radziwill to thank for bringing Big Edie and Little Edie onto our screens and our hearts. So thank you, Lee; may you rest in peace.
Header Image Source: YouTube/ Portrait Films