Al: ”You know, I understood something I didn’t quite know before— you two are really quite a pair.”
Edie: ”Oh, Al, darling! The understatement of the age!”
Big Edie’s complexion was not as dark as her brother’s, but it was darker than most people’s, dark enough to give her the air of a gypsy when combined, as it usually was, with hair askew and long drop earrings. If Edith was a great favorite with the young because she was just as irrepressible as they were, she paid for her popularity by being distrusted by the Bouvier adults and considered a subversive influence to be barely tolerated at family festivals.
Little Edie: Mother was annoyed that I became a model.
Big Edie: I didn’t think it was enough for you, putting on fur coats and taking them off again. If she’d done something when she took the fur coat off, it might’ve been better, but she didn’t. She put it right on again.
"Mr. Beale never married ‘til he was thirty-eight years of age. I said, ‘why didn’t you marry?’ He said, ‘oh God, those women. They talked me deaf, dumb and blind.’ So he married me. A quiet girl from New Jersey. Wasn’t he smart? To marry a quiet girl. I was listening to him, you know. I wasn’t listening to anybody else.
Oh, I meant to tell you, that was the Fourth of July, my engagement was announced on the Fourth of July. We were both in our bathing suits. The water was very rough. It came all the way up, that day, right on the beach where we were sitting. And he handed me this diamond. All the people— lookin’. ‘What has Mr. Beale just given you?’ I said, ‘Mr. Beale’s just given me this ring.’ Gorgeous diamond ring. It was a good thing it didn’t fall in the sand— never see it again.
And I married him in January. January seventeenth, 1917. You ought to see about my wedding. That’s the best you ever saw.” -Edith Bouvier 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.
I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think Big Edie looked at all in pain in the documentary— in fact, I think she looks extremely comfortable and “at home:” one of the reasons why she refused to leave Grey Gardens in the first place.
I know this comparison has been made before, but she sits on her bed like a Queen on her throne. If she needed anything, there is no doubt she would ask/demand that Edie get it for her as soon as possible. And, on closer inspection, there is always a space between her back and the headboard, and she occasionally leans behind herself to adjust something several times throughout the film, which leads me to believe that there is something to support her, after all. You can see a glimpse of something in this screencap:
Big Edie was well taken care of at Grey Gardens— Little Edie was the one who was uncomfortable most of the time!
"Yes, his name was Gould. Mr. Beale chose him originally for my sons to learn French. You see, my nurse went to Ireland, to the Congress of Ireland that summer, and there was nobody to take the boys bathing or teach them French, or put them to bed at night or anything. So Mr. Beale received one hundred letters from all the young people who wanted to take the job.
Gould was a gentleman about twenty-five years old when I met him. He didn’t drink and he was particularly gifted with the piano. Also composition. He wrote me hundreds of songs— French songs and American songs.
We were very religious together. We had the same ideas about the divine cosmos, the afterworld. We agreed about everything. Nicest person that ever breathed. I think he was nicer than anybody I’ve ever known in my whole life. Never disappointed me, never kept me waiting, never lied to me. I was beautifully taken care of by the greatest pianist. I had the best man in America. I did not suffer once. I spent the nights alone but I didn’t suffer.” -Edith Bouvier Beale
April 2, 1940 marks the death of Maude Sergeant Bouvier— Big Edie’s mother and Little Edie’s grandmother. Big Edie’s final familial ally, other than her daughter, this was a huge loss and marked the beginning of the end for the Beales’ relationship with the Bouvier family.
"This is the most comfortable house you could possibly imagine— dumbwaiters, three telephones, children’s dining room, laundry. We had a gorgeous kitchen with six gorgeous windows— all the cooks never wanted to leave. They wanted to stay for the rest of their lives, they were so comfortable. Maids’ quarters. Two beautiful bedrooms on the third floor. A beautiful view of the ocean and a very nice dry cellar that never had a drop of water in it. It was beautifully built." -Edith Bouvier Beale