Last night I finally got a chance to see the excellent HBO production of Grey Gardens with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. It is of course the story of the eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis so memorably told in the Maysles’ cult seventies documentary of the same name. For those of you who aren’t documentary fans or have no Gay friends, let me bring you up to speed. Through bad luck, divorce and probably mental illness, Big Edie and Little Edie Beale were reduced to living in their increasingly dilapidated East Hampton mansion as their water and electricity were turned off, raccoons tunneled in, semi-feral cats took over and neighbors worked to get them evicted by the Board of Health. Yet through it all, the mother and daughter (who styled themselves “artistic”) prevailed: staging skits, singing old songs, bickering, then making up in a weird dance of co-dependancy. By the time the Maysles Brothers showed up with a camera crew, the Edies were ready for their close-ups. And seemed to take it as a matter of course that they were stars. With a documentary, an HBO film, a Broadway musical and a couple of Vogue photo spreads dedicated to them, I guess they were right.
I loved the tagline HBO chose for their version: True Glamour Never Fades. When you see Edie dancing about in her black net bathing suit, or her upside down skirt, trailing yards of scarf and occasionally a mink coat, you’ll understand how true that is. And you understand how this became a cult classic among certain groups prone to, shall we say, “flamboyance”. In a recent interview Drew Barrymore talks about how challenging it was to do justice to a character who is an icon. She tells how her friends would wrap sweaters over their heads and dance around spouting “Edie-isms.” Yup, Drew, I had those same kind of friends, God love ’em. The world needs people who can recognize an odd beauty and style in something the less perceptive would dismiss as squalor. In fact, those less perceptive often leave a screening of Grey Gardens saying, “Well, how could THAT happen?”
Hey, spend a long weekend alone at Two Terrier Vineyards and you’ll see. With Andy away on a business trip, I loaded the terriers into the Range Rover and headed north from Friday through Monday. By at least Saturday night, I was approaching Little Edie Beale territory. That’s about how long it takes to completely drop out of the world, start talking to yourself and animals, and actually expect intelligent conversation back.
By dawn Sunday, had I neighbors and had they seen me, I’m sure they would have been calling the surviving Maysles brother. Let me set the scene. There is very small grace period between when a terrier wakes from a sound sleep and when they absolutely MUST relieve themselves. It’s about 30 seconds. So I’ve gotten into the habit of leaping out of bed, throwing on anything that looks like clothes and dashing out. In the wilds of Sonoma, dawn is prime hunting time for our Mountain Lion, so the terriers have to be on leashes and my hands have to be free to haul them quickly back to safety in the barn should we see a large predator. That usually means no large bulky coats as that interferes with arm movements. So this particular morning, I threw on the nearest clothes handy: a skirt I’d worn from the City, Andy’s shoes, a sweater I mistakenly put on backwards and, because it was raining but I needed my arms free, a light rainslicker wrapped around my head like a turban. The effect? Little Edie Beale’s weird, semi-Hippy country cousin.
So that’s how it starts. Imagine what’s going to happen when, again this fall, I live up in Sonoma full time for the harvest. Long-time readers of this blog will remember that last fall, it took less than two weeks for me to enter the Dr. Doolittle State of Craziness (where you think you can talk to the animals.)
Now that I’ve become reacquainted with Grey Gardens, I’ll be singing Tea for Two with our varmints (foxes, not the Edies’ raccoons). My friends won’t have to call the Board of Health if they want to see me. (Our well water and electricity work just fine, thank you.) But they may want to show up with a film crew.
Now where’s my mink coat and head scarf?
Bonus: Meet the real Little Edie Beale