Monday, April 20, 2009

Grey Gardens, B.S. (Before Squalor)

I can't stop thinking about HBO's stunning production of "Grey Gardens" which premiered this past Saturday night. I thought Drew Barrymore perfectly captured Little Edie's heartbreaking naivete and inner pathos, and Jessica Lange was wonderful as the imperious, controlling (yet still charming) mother. But there was another main character in the film I fell in love with: the house as it used to be, at the height of its 1930's splendor.

Blogger Visual Vamp has done several amazing in-depth posts about the production design of the movie and I urge you to head over to her site and read them for yourself. She lived in East Hampton in the 1970's and actually met Little Edie when she rode her bicycle up to Grey Gardens one day. Her first-hand account of their friendship is fascinating.

As a longtime fan of the documentary, I've often wished I could have seen the house before it collapsed into squalor. Through the talents of Kalina Ivanov, the movie's set designer, my dream has been realized. 

Below are a few production photos, again courtesy of Visual Vamp...

Grey Gardens at the height of its splendor:
(The main hall)

(The living room)

(The living room)

(The dining room)

And recreated as it appeared in the 1970's:
(The dining room)

(The living room)

Below is an actual photo of Big Edie amid the decay of the house, with a portrait of her younger self looking on.

This next photo shows Little Edie during her week of cabaret shows in Greenwich Village in late 1978 (following the death of her mother). She was a true original -- defiantly eccentric and relentlessly chic in her own crazy-weird way. I'm so glad she was finally able to achieve her long-held dream of performing, and I hope the audience gave her all the adulation she craved.  

I leave you with this lovely musical montage of Little Edie that I found on YouTube. It brings a little lump to my throat every time I watch it. (The montage starts at about the 1:00 mark.)

P.S. If you're really, really a fan of "Grey Gardens", then you'll want to click here. And here.


JMW said...

I watched "Grey Gardens" on HBO the other night and found it fascinating. I have not seen the documentary, so I'm now on a quest for a copy. I loved the set design of Grey Gardens in its heyday - the wallpaper in Big Edie's room was gorgeous.

Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn now own Grey Gardens, correct?

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

JMW: Yes, Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn own it now. The NY Times just did several stories on their house before and after they bought it:

Also, the documentary is easily available on Netflix or Amazon, but if you still can't find it, it's excerpted on YouTube, which I was surprised to discover. It's in 12 parts:

Mary said...

Sadly, I don't have HBO and have just a little mainstrem knowledge of Grey Gardens. Now, with your help, I am going to devour it all and can't wait. Thanks again for a great post.

hello gorgeous said...

I was out of town and HBOless on Sat!! so I watched my DVRd copy last night and immediately went online to track down the original. I watched quite a few parts.

I saw the NYT items today. Wow.

I am officially obsessed.

Taking Notes said...

Living in the UK, I'm not familiar with Grey Gardens or Edie Beale, however I'm intrigued by the photos of the house in its 1930's splendour.

In a similar vein I recently visited Sissinghurst in Kent, owned by Rita Sackville-West and her husband in the 1930s (now donated to the National Trust the family live there as "sitting tenants"). It has that same easy elegance. Wonderful. As ever an intriguing post.

Laura said...

I've got this sitting on my DVR now, ready for consumption tonight. So excited!

pve design said...

I watched too and am haunted by the demise of such a spot and two incredibly eccentric individuals. There is something about the two of them, that I found charming, and their ability to survive living in all that mire and muck and continue to see beauty.

Susan's Snippets said...


Thanks for the reminder of a great story involving the intertwining of lives and a beautiful home.

could fill a tome

Tricia said...

Rare are the true matriarchs who could have withstood their journey and not succumb to the will of the males (in this case, sons) of the family (during that era). I'm afraid to delve further for fear that I'll fall into a very deep hole.

Scott Fazzini said...

Of course you're a Grey Gardens fan! : )

Fantastic, thanks for posting about this! HBO's Grey Gardens was surprisingly GREAT! I think that I was most excited about seeing G.G. at the height of her existence. The sets, costumes, and soundtrack were spot-on perfect!

I was lucky to attend a fantastic one "man" show of Little Edie's performance at Reno Sweeny. It was spectacular!

ALL THE BEST said...

Lisa thank you so much for sharing these photos. I just hate that I wasn't able to watch it here in the UK. I have been reading and watching everything online. The few clips that I have seen only make me want to see more!

ps- sorry I missed you in LA. 36 hours it NOT enough time. I need to come again!

ryann said...

i thought of you the minute i spotted the purple walls and lovely wall paper..
Big Kiss

Laura said...

OK I've now watched it and am too haunted by the images. So curious what on earth was going on in Big Edie's head during those later years. But those two actresses really hit it out of the park, and Drew Barrymore was such a pleasant surprise (we all knew Jessica Lange could act already!).

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

It really was a remarkable recreation, both of the story and of the house. I thought both Lange and Barrymore were amazing. The whole saga has always made me so sad...eccentricity crossing over the line into madness.

I am so pleased that the house has now been brought back to its former grandeur. How I wish I could see the interiors now.

Anzu said...

Hope I can work out how to watch it here in England. Find it fascinating.
Have you seen the Grey gardens collection?

homemade said...

thought you may like these pictures, a simlilar vein.

I will try and find the HBO prog here in the UK.
Best wishes

Karena said...

Thank you so much for sharing! Sad isn't it!? I do want to see the movie and documentary.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog through a link on Visual Vamp, and can't believe you would want to be associated with her, or perhaps you haven't read Valorie's latest post where she slanders other bloggers in the most disgusting way. I am appalled that anyone would link to, or mention her, in any fashion.


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