The Wainwright Coming Out Party | May 1968
By 1968, the eccentric behavior of Big and Little Edie had already begun to be the subject of gossip in East Hampton. Still, when the daughter of a childhood friend of Edie’s was to make her own debut, the Beales received an invitation to the party. Big Edie was hesitant, but Little Edie implored until she gave in. They would go to the party on one condition: Little Edie had to get someone to clean up the mess that had only just begun to accumulate in Grey Gardens. Edie hired two teenagers to help her - in her excitement, she wrote off their slightly odd behavior. She focused all of her energy into what would be her first public appearance in years.
The Beales made a grand entrance— Big Edie wore a magenta wrap and thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, though she didn’t bother brushing her hair. Little Edie, trailed black lace over a black bathing suit and black fishnet stockings. She spent the entire evening dancing:“I do terrific dances. I did one at the Wainwright coming out party and they didn’t know whether to send me to Islip, have me arrested, or… I thought I was very ladylike. The whole thing caused a commotion in three states [laughing]. You know, if I went in and got very social with everybody, I would not have done it. So I just beat it! I heard the music and I went right in, boy! They had three musicians - a three piece bongo band. God! I never left their side for two hours. I never spoke to one person at the party. I never had a better time. It was a very polite coming out party and everybody wanted to know what cooked - was I the star entertainer, was I drunk, was I full of dope, or what? So guess what happened. The head of the orchestra left very hurriedly to immediately contact the debutantes mother. Well, she was a pal. She said, “Relax. She’s just having fun.” So he went back pounding the keys. They didn’t like it at all, but he couldn’t get rid of me! [Laughing, pleased with herself] So I had a marvelous time. Oh boy, I never heard the last of that from Old East Hampton. They didn’t want me to have a good time there. The girl with the cats.”
Early the next morning, Big Edie was finally able to separate her daughter from the bandstand and drag her home - reprimanding her the whole way, “Your disgraceful behavior will release evil spirits, just you wait,” When they arrived, they discovered that $15,000 worth of heirlooms had be stolen from Grey Gardens. From that moment forward, Big Edie refused to leave her home.
“To my best friend and most delightful comrade; to my only sweetheart and wonderful wife, I tender this likeness of her husband.” | May, 1929.
Little Alice Bain Burton, Early-Fifties (but looking ten years younger)
The actor playing Little Alice is likely to find the character through constant motion. Little Alice, after decades of living with her mother, has created her own world through fidgeting, pulling, tying into knots, and adjusting of her stockings, skirts, and head pieces. She doesn’t stop; she literally survives through movement.
Description of “Little Alice,” a character based on Edie Beale, from the play A Few Small Repairs.
“They’re twenty years too late– everybody. Or I’m fifty years ahead. I can’t decide which.” -Edith Beale
Because the majority of the film’s action takes place in the Yellow Bedroom, this is where we learn most about the Beale women— as individuals and in their relationship with each other. Confined to her bed, Big Edie is still the matriarch and head of the house— she does not let her age or her failing health deter her from carrying herself like the beautiful, charming woman she was in the days of her wealth and youth. With no hired help to serve her, she is forced to turn to her daughter, who begrudgingly follows her every command. Feeling it her duty as the oldest and most responsible of her siblings, Little Edie obeys her mother’s orders whilst singing, dancing, and adjusting her costume— infusing a bit of light into her dreary situation. Big Edie’s bed is littered with every piece of garbage imaginable— food, papers, photographs. Her world at her fingertips, this is Big Edie’s way of remaining in control of her life, no matter how unsanitary it may seem to others. Aware of how unhealthy and unappealing it is, Little Edie tries in vain to convince her mother to change her ways. This is the basis of the Beale’s relationship— both women know the other will never change, but they spend much of their time attempting to get the other to do so.
Edie Beale at “Cedarcroft,” the home of her brother Bouvier, for the wedding of her nephew Chris to her niece-in-law Pam, 1982.
Edie Beale during her debutante season. Orignally pictured with a boyfriend, she later tore the young beau out of the photograph. | 1936
“It’s the only thing I ever wanted— a Japanese house. If I had enough money, I’d make every room Japanese. I’m absolutely mad about the Japanese; they’re a nation of great artists.” -Edie Beale