Shelved Dolls: Little Edie Beale – What Went Wrong?

There is a rumor, you see, that the relationship between Edie and Joe Kennedy ended when Big Edie told him precisely how she came by her nickname. This story is recounted in the theatrical adaptation of Grey Gardens, and it may be apocryphal, but it is certain the Joe was said to have ended the relationship very abruptly. There’s some debate over whether or not they were ever technically engaged – no engagement notices were ever sent out, but supposedly Joe’s father had given his consent to Edie.

Edie was so furious that she tore his face out of all of their pictures. Though I guess she felt less angry about him later. He died, in any event. In World War II, when he was an aviator. He was awarded the naval cross for bravery posthumously. It read:

For extraordinary heroism and courage in aerial flight as pilot of a United States Liberator bomber on August 12, 1944. Well knowing the extreme dangers involved and totally unconcerned for his own safety, Kennedy unhesitatingly volunteered to conduct an exceptionally hazardous and special operational mission.
Intrepid and daring in his tactics and with unwavering confidence in the vital importance of his task, he willingly risked his life in the supreme measure of service and, by his great personal valor and fortitude in carrying out a perilous undertaking, sustained and enhanced the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service

Which does not make him less of a schmuck if he broke up with Edie because she was really cool with being naked, but might make him less of a schmuck overall. Much later, at the Kennedy inauguration, Edie took the opportunity to remind Joe’s father that if Joe hadn’t died “I probably would have married him, and he would have become President instead of Jack and I would have become First Lady instead of Jackie!” I have no idea how Joe’s father responded to this. Probably with some discomfort.

I suppose her mother may have really screwed that up. Or maybe it was Edie’s own instability – no one knows for sure. It’s easy to say that Edie’s mother was a spiteful, self centered, vain woman, but she didn’t kill 650 people, so that’s something. Take what you can get.

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    • Lindsey

      “And so Edie stayed their” *there

      • Jennifer Wright

        Ugh. Sorry.

      • Chantel

        Really now? Yes, that’s an obvious grammar mistake but to point it out with no other comment is kind of a jerk move! ha ha.
        Loving your articles Jennifer!

    • DebMoore

      Just wanted to let you know that I LOVE these Shelved Dolls series. All of them have been great (even the last one, which was not my favorite due to the “Doll”) I often read them twice. They have also casued me to research more “Interesting Women in History”. Thank you so much for writing this series!

    • KennyCherie

      I always look forward to the “Shelved Dolls”. Anticipating who will be next!
      Like I’m sure you have heard already, these would make for a great book.
      Another job well done! Really enjoyed it.

      • Jennifer Wright

        Working on the whole “book” thing! Fingers crossed someone who… makes books happen… also enjoys them.

    • Netochka

      Do Ninon De Lenclos :)

      • Jennifer Wright

        Want to hear my favorite story about Ninon? OKAY! Here we go:

        A group of young dandies were discussing Ninon’s considerable charms. While most spoke highly of her, one was less than impressed. “She’s old,” he said. (He said it in French.) “I don’t think she could tempt me.” Some debate ensued and he went off to meet with Leclos.

        After an hour with her, he begged to become her lover. She said that he could, but he would have to wait two months. Two months passed and, afterwards, as they lay together, he asked why they had to wait. She replied that the day way her 70th birthday, and she wanted to prove to herself that she was still capable of entertaining a lover.

      • Netochka

        Haha gorgeous! She’s a shelved doll if ever there was one.

        “Love with passion, but only for a few minutes” – Ninon

    • endn

      awesome as always! I’ve tried to google the story of big edie telling joe kennedy the story of how she got her nickname, and I can’t find it, I am super curious! anyone have the dish?

      • jjj

        I believe Big Edie was referring to how ‘Little’ Edie got Her nickname….”Body Beautiful Beale” and perhaps that offended Joe? How embarrassing for your own mother to go around…at parties, etc. and tell people (especially romantic interests) that you walked around naked at a public pool! I know my own mother loooovved to tell all kinds of stories about me when I brought a date home! Embarrassing Indeed.

    • Cate

      YES YES YES! I haven’t even read this yet, but I was hoping you’d do Little Edie eventually. I love the Beales

    • francie

      I believe that little edie had alopecia. it’s an auto immune disease where your body attacks your hair causing patches or complete hair loss. she looks like her alopecia progressed to being total body/head hair loss, she doesn’t have eye lashes or brows. I don’t believe she set her head on fire… sounds like a tale. People back then just had no idea what happened to her hair.

      • M.

        You’re right, Francie. Big Edie even accused her daughter of pulling her hair out, but when the follicle has died, how can you let it sit in you head like that? It was all blamed on her.
        The rumor of her hair being set on fire started with her cousin John H. Davis. He wrote a book about the Bouvier family and embellished it with tall-tales to sell more books. It’s also where the bathing suit story came from, but I’d like to think that one is true!
        Also, I run the Little Edie Tumblr, so thank you for featuring me!

    • Jenniwren

      Such a fascinating story. Which is strange because Edie’s life seems basically to have been an example of nothing much happening over a prolonged period of time. But she DID live in extraordinary times. It’s all about that crash, isn’t it? It’s as though neither of them could really come to grips with a world where they weren’t entirely secure and at the top of the tree (possibly more so with Big Edie- the refusal to answer that letter, the refusal to move out of the house, referring to her divorce as a “fake Mexican divorce”- this is a woman desperately denying her changing straits in life) and so carved out this little unchanging world for themselves.

    • Wray Serna

      so good!

    • Julimonster

      And I casually pass by the Gloss, peek to see if there is a new “Shelved Dolls” and eagerly sit down, cross my legs and settle in for the story…. What about Peaches and Daddy?

    • Emily

      I love the Shelved Dolls series on the gloss, such fascinating stories :) Thank you Jennifer Wright!

    • MR

      I liked in the film when Jackie-O came to see her (Drew Barrymore), and she was her usual koo-koo self. Old money, when the money runs out.

      • MR

        Don’t get me wrong. I felt sorry for her, her mother was to blame.

    • Amy

      Jen, you’re amazing and I love Shelved Dolls!

      I really relate to Little Edie – it’s so easy to lose your nerve and stumble and then not be able to get back up. Some people just don’t understand that – they simply can’t imagine sitting by as your life rolls past, but it can happen. It’s like falling off a carousel as it spins and never being able to find the right moment to jump back on. It must have been hard.

      • ThatGirl

        I really think Little Edie wasn’t stable because her mother wasn’t quite there either so she learns what she’s taught. Still, I love them because they were so real and down to earth. They seemed so sweet and content with their lives and each other. How many people even though we love our Mothers and Daughters can live with them exclusively and even when upset with each other never disrespected each other? I see it as a beautiful Mother/Daughter relationship.

      • Luxia

        I don’t believe they were content at all. All that bickering and talking about the past. All I saw between those two woman was pain, tragedy, mental illness and denial. Still an interesting story though…

      • Luxia

        Instead of reinventing themselves and moving forward with life. They were scared of change and clung on to what they had…that sadly deteriorated as the years flew by, along woth their mental states. Sad…VERY sad.

    • Chantel

      Jennifer you are such an interesting writer. I love how you word things and speak as though we are having a conversation with me. I like how you emphasize certain points in a very real, casual way “let’s think about this for a moment, she set her hair on fire” I am currently watching ‘Grey Gardens’ for my first time after coming across & researching it years ago. I look forward to reading more of your work : )

    • mike

      i get what you are saying but

      her and her mother lived into their 80′s

      she lived 20 year longer then jackie

      jko was a stressed out chain smoker dead at 64

      Edith Bouvier Bealeshe lived longer then her brothers

      the point is that we many be living insane stressfull lives without the obvious cat shit

    • samkatz

      The story in the musical about Joe Kennedy is completely fiction. There was never any relationship with Joe Kennedy.