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Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie") was an eccentric cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She became a cult figure and fashion icon after her appearance in the documentary Grey Gardens.
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Edith Bouvier Beale was born on November 7, 1917 in New York City. A cousin of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,
"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present."
the young Beale—known as "Little Edie"—was a socialite and model. Beale's mother suffered a series of family and financial problems so the impoverished mother and daughter withdrew to their estate which fell into extreme disrepair. A 1975 documentary entitled Grey Gardens made the pair into cult figures and fashion icons. "Little Edie" died in 2002.
Performer, socialite and documentary film subject Edith Bouvier Beale was born on November 17, 1917, in New York, New York, as the eldest of Phelan and Edith Ewing Beale's three children. A first cousin to Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy Onassis, "Little Edie," as she was known, knew only affluence. The Bouviers earned their fortunes on Wall Street and in law, paving the way for a lifestyle that allowed Little Edie and her two brothers to have a childhood that bounced between Manhattan and the Hamptons. In the early 1920s, Edie's father moved the family into a new summer home called Grey Gardens, a spectacular 28-room mansion with water views.
Like her mother, a creative type who harbored dreams of becoming a singer, Edie Beale had artistic yearnings. At the age of 9 a poem of hers was published in a local New York magazine, spawning a desire to become a writer. Yet her real love, despite her father's deep objections, was for the stage—something that was almost certainly fueled by her relationship with her mother.
At the age of 11, Edie Beale was taken out of school for two years by Big Edie for what was described as a respiratory illness. Instead of class work, Little Edie tagged along to the movies or the theater with her mother nearly everyday.
Blonde, blue-eyed and tall, Edie Beale was a beauty, "surpassing even the dark charm of Jacqueline," recalled her cousin, John H. Davis. In 1934, the same year she attended Miss Porter's finishing school in Farmington, Connecticut, Edie Beale modeled for Macy's. Two years later, her debutante party in New York City was covered by The New York Times. She participated in fashion shows in East Hampton, too, and by her early 20s Edie Beale had earned the nickname, "Body Beautiful." She dated Howard Hughes, and reportedly turned down marriage proposals from John Kennedy's oldest brother, Joe Jr., and millionaire J. Paul Getty.
As a young adult, Edie Beale took up residence at the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, a residential hotel that catered to women who wanted to be actresses or models. As Edie Beale would later tell it, it was a time of opportunity for her. There was more modeling work to pursue and within time, Edie said, movie offers from MGM and Paramount studios.
The limelight, though, would have to wait. By the mid 1930s, Phelan Beale had left Edie's mother for a younger woman. The couple's eventual divorce gave Big Edie Grey Gardens, child support, and not much else.
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