Edie Beale. Edie “Body Beautiful” Beale. Did you know that, before she became known for being the eccentric you probably saw in the documentary Grey Gardens, she was considered the ultimate East Hampton beauty? She was. You know, now. Was she a top player in the social scene? Baby, when she was young she was the social scene. Edie was supposedly proposed to by Joe Kennedy Jr. and J. Paul Getty and was known to date Howard Hughes before he started urinating into milk bottles.
And then she ended up in a house that looked like something out of Hoarders, lurching around with a filthy turban on her head amidst the raccoons who took up residence there. With her mother.
How does that happen?
I think some people idolize Edie Beale because they interpret her transformation as a voluntary rejection from the social scene. As though it became 1965 and Edie said “to hell with everything.” Someone once told me that Edie Beale was a hero because she didn’t buy into the trappings of society. While I would happily attribute a lot of agency to Edie if it seemed remotely realistic, this is the sort of sentiment that leaves me with a sneaking suspicion that those people are so envious of wealth that the only way they can deal with it is to rearrange their feeling to resemble pity. Suffice to say, I don’t think Edie woke up one morning and said “I’m really tired of dancing with Joe Kennedy, so I’m going to live in a crumbling mansion in soiled clothes. I love raccoon shit! I’m real!”
I actually think this is kind of insulting to people… everywhere. I think it’s especially insulting to people who were not great Hamptons socialites to assume that it’s somehow kitschy or fun or “real” to live someplace that is condemned. I think this is actually a really sad story, and there is a true element of instability to Edie, and it bothers me when people read it as cool or fun or something aspirational.
So. Now that we’ve covered that aspect, and we’ve decided that you should stay rich and beautiful forever, because I, at least, won’t judge you for it, let’s talk about the rumor as to how she got the nickname Body Beautiful Beale.