- NAME: Edith Ewing Beale
- BIRTH DATE: October 05, 1895
- DEATH DATE: February 05, 1977
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Nutley, New Jersey
- PLACE OF DEATH: Southampton, New York
- Nickname: "Big Edie"
- Maiden Name: Edith Ewing Bouvier
- Full Name: Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale
- AKA: Edith Ewing Beale
- AKA: Edith Beale
- AKA: Edie Beale
- AKA: Edie Ewing Beale
- AKA: Edie Ewing Bouvier
- AKA: Edie Bouvier
Best Known For
Edith Ewing Beale, also known as "Big Edie," was aunt to Jackie Kennedy, and resident of the decrepit mansion called Grey Gardens.
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To keep the household going, Edie leaned on her father for financial assistance and sold family heirlooms.
On her own, without a husband to pressure her to maintain a socialite status, Edie's singing dreams only grew. She attended nightclubs, and even made a few recordings. In 1942, she showed up late to her son Bouvier's wedding, dressed as an opera singer. Her father was appalled, and soon cut her out of his will, setting up a small trust fund for her of about $65,000 and turning control of the money over to Edie's two sons. The small monthly payments hardly supported her life or her house, and Grey Gardens soon began falling into disrepair.
Claiming that she was worried about her mother's welfare, Little Edie abandoned New York City and her own dreams of the stage. In 1952, she accepted her mother's request to move in with her at Grey Gardens. For the next two decades, mother and daughter became increasingly reclusive, rarely venturing outside their property. Grey Gardens itself continued to slide downward, too, becoming the domain of stray cats—later estimates would put the count as high as 300—and raccoons, both of which Little Edie took care to feed on a regular basis.
The two women shared a bedroom and cooked their dinners over a hot plate. Visitors and the occasional handymen often had to wear flea collars on their arms or legs if they wanted to stay more than a few minutes. Bills went unpaid and the two women subsided, in part, on cat food. Outside, the overall look of the property changed as trees, shrubs and vines closed in around the house.
In the fall of 1971, county officials, armed with a search warrant, descended onto Grey Gardens. They informed Edie Beale and her daughter that their home was "unfit for human habitation," and threatened eviction. The story, and the close family connection the two women had with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, caught fire with the press. The New York Post ran the headline, "Jackie's Aunt Told: Clean Up Mansion."
Mother and daughter railed against the threats, calling the visit by county officials a "raid," the product of "a mean, nasty Republican town," and "the most disgusting, atrocious thing ever to happen in America." Eventually, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stepped in with her checkbook, paying $25,000 to have the place cleaned up—on the condition that her aunt and cousin could remain in their home.
But their story did not go away. In the early 1970s, Onassis's younger sister, Lee Radziwill, contacted filmmaker brothers Albert and David Maysles about doing a documentary of her childhood. The project, however, was scrapped after Radziwill got an early look at the footage and saw that the Maysles had featured quite a bit of Edie Beale and her daughter. As a result, the filmmakers turned their attention exclusively to the Beales. In the fall of 1973, they began shooting their new documentary. Released in 1975 to wide acclaim, the movie showed a Grey Gardens that had reverted to its pre-cleanup squalor.
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