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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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The coverings weren't designed for style, but as a way to conceal hair loss from the alopecia she contracted in her early 20s. The effect, though, was a look that earned adulation. Calvin Klein reportedly claimed Little Edie's look influenced some of his designs, and in 1997 Harper's Bazaar produced a photo spread that was inspired by Edie Beale's clothing creations.
Following her mother's death in February 1977, Edie Beale left Grey Gardens for New York City, where she had a short run as a cabaret singer at a club in Greenwich Village. She sang, danced, and answered questions about her life from the audience. Little Edie brushed aside any notions that she was being exploited. "This is something I've been planning since I was 19," she said. "I don't care what they say about me—I'm just going to have a ball."
In 1979, Edie Beale sold Grey Gardens to Washington Post editors Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn for a little more than $220,000 and a promise from the couple to restore it. Eventually, Little Edie relocated to Florida, where she rented an apartment in Bal Harbour. She died there on January 14, 2002. She was 84.
Grey Gardens and the life that Edie Beale and her mother led there, has continued to endure. In recent years a crop of new material about the women has been produced, including a 2006 DVD release of The Beales of Grey Gardens featuring more than 90 minutes of cut material from the original Maysles brothers documentary.
In addition, Edie Beal and her mother's life together inspired a Broadway musical that earned three 2007 Tony awards, as well as a 2009 HBO production starring Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Jessica Lange as Big Edie. In the end, the 1975 documentary, which in 2003 Entertainment Weekly ranked as one of the top 50 cult films of all time, gave Edie Beale and her mother the kind of fame they'd always longed for.
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