Grey Gardens is a 1975 documentary film by Albert and David Maysles, with Susan Froemke, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer. The film depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive socialites, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived at Grey Gardens, a decrepit mansion at 3 West End Road in the wealthy Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, New York. The film was screened at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition.
Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (1895–1977), known as “Big Edie”, and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (1917–2002), known as “Little Edie”, were the aunt and the first cousin, respectively, of former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at Grey Gardens for decades with limited funds in increasing squalor and isolation.
The house was designed in 1897 by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe and purchased in 1923 by “Big Edie” and her husband Phelan Beale. After Phelan left his wife, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” lived there for decades more, over 50 years in total for each woman. The house was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, the cement garden walls, and the sea mist.
In the fall of 1971 and throughout 1972, their living conditions—their house was infested by fleas, inhabited by numerous cats and raccoons, deprived of running water, and filled with garbage and decay—were exposed as the result of an article in the National Enquirer and a cover story in New York Magazine after a series of inspections (which the Beales called “raids”) by the Suffolk County Health Department. With the Beale women facing eviction and the razing of their home, in the summer of 1972 Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided the necessary funds to stabilize and repair the dilapidated house so that it would meet village codes.
Albert and David Maysles became interested in their story and received permission to film a documentary about the women, which was released in 1976 to wide critical acclaim. Their direct cinema technique left the women to tell their own stories.