In the gentlest of breezes those new sunshades have to be held on as Miss Edith Beale demonstrates while attending the East Hampton Horse Show. She’s daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Phelan Beale of “Grey Gardens.”
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
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
If Grey Gardens is a melodrama, then Little Edie is it’s star— and she constantly dresses for the part. Indeed, perhaps the most cited aspect of Grey Gardens’ mise en scene is Little Edie’s physical appearance and deportment. At different moments, she wears ensembles of clothing, jewelry, bath-towels, and scarves composed of various garments that she repurposes: a skirt becomes a turban, a blouse becomes a skirt, a swimsuit becomes an evening dress.
In a key moment of the film, she describes the clothing she is wearing as “the revolutionary costume,” and suggests that the larger world is not yet ready for it— that is, she wears this clothing when she is at home because of the scorn and rejection she might experience from being seen in public in her inventions.
The language of “costumes” she uses reveals that she understands all too well the theatricality of her appearance— costumes are for performances, and she designs her looks in the film to augment her gestures, her words, and her own gaze upon others around her.
In the audio commentary for HBO’s Grey Gardens (2009), writer and director Michael Sucsy said that he combined two segments of Edie Beale’s original poems for this scene of the film.
“It seems so wonderful to be in East Hampton again. I just can’t believe it! I got a letter from Jimmy on Friday, and he was frightfully mushy. It just shows what happens when you write to a boy. He probably showed my letter all around school.” -Edie Beale, c. 1930.