• Wed, Aug 29 2012

Shelved Dolls: Little Edie Beale – What Went Wrong?

The name of the house, now, I think is associated with the sort of graying old old age, or perhaps the fading of something once bright and lovely (a sort of candle being snuffed). However, the actual name for the estate came from its former owner, Anita Hill, the author of Forty Years of Gardening. She wrote that the estate was “truly a gray garden. The soft gray of the dunes, cement walls and sea mists gave us our color scheme as well as our name.” She allowed only pale flowers on the ground, which added to its ghostly quality.

And so Edie stayed there, for a long time. The rooms became filthy. Animals began defecating behind antiques. Big Edie began to take in dozens of cats and raccoons as pets. They stopped going out and began having groceries – like canned liver pate – delivered, whcih they fed to the animals as well as themselves.

Little Edie seemed to revert to an almost infantile state. She later told Gail Sheehy while walking on the beach near Grey Gardens:

“Mother never allows me to show myself on the beach after summer, but `this fall I had to come out…Shall I tell you what I’ve done for twenty years? Fed cats. Mother wouldn’t let me go around with American men, they were too rich and fast. She was afraid I’d get married. Nothing has happened in twenty years, so I haven’t changed in any way.”

I know that we all grew up watching One True Thing but, I will say, be really careful about moving home to take care of your mother. Especially if your mother is going to live for a few decades.

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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 : )