Last night, I saw an amazing documentary.
Grey Gardens is a startling and mesmerizing peak into the lives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's aunt, Big Edie, and her first cousin, Little Edie.
The documentary, from 1975, reveals the mother and daughter lived in complete squalor in a filthy old mansion. They ate canned food in a garbage-covered room, while cats peed on the bed. They cackled over meaningless jokes. They sang songs nobody remembered. They fought over petty nonsense.
What makes this raw footage even more shocking is that these two women were once beautiful and dazzling society ladies.
Big Edie, who was the sister to Jackie O's father, married a prominent, wealthy lawyer.
Her only daughter, Little Edie, was born in 1917.
Big Edie was desperate to become a famous jazz singer and despite being a high society wife, she longed to have a Bohemian artistic lifestyle. Her inappropriate behavior and jazz lounge gigs humiliated her husband, who eventually left her, taking all his money with him.
On a whim, Big Edie took her daughter out of boarding school, forcing the child to attend musicals and movies with her every single day. After two years, Big Edie was forced to put her daughter back in school.
Little Edie grew up into the most gorgeous female in her family. Even her younger cousin (the future First Lady) would never even compare.
In the 1940s, Little Edie became a fashion model, but the career was shot down when her furious and embarrassed father found out.
She flirted and dated dozens of the most handsome and wealthiest bachelors in the world. Even John F. Kennedy's older brother fell madly in love with her after one night, begging for her hand in marriage after seeing her briefly at a dance.
But Little Edie brushed them all away, because she was holding out for someone spectacular. She just wasn't sure who yet.
In her late 20s, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream of being a star. She also secretly wanted to find that magical Mr. Right she had been dreaming about since girlhood.
By 1952, she had found neither yet. Her mother, Big Edie, called her, insisting she return to their East Hampton home, Grey Gardens, and keep her company. Immediately. She didn't want to be alone, and didn't think it was a good idea for Little Edie to pursue her dreams in the Big Apple anymore.
With her tail between her legs, Little Edie moved back into her childhood home and quickly sunk into madness. A skin condition caused her to lose all her hair, becoming bald and eyebrowless. She had to wear turbans every day. She spent years taking care of her mother, bitterly agonizing about "what might have been" if she had stayed in New York City, or married one of her wealthy girlhood suitors.
She wallowed most of her adult life in complete regret. She blamed her mother for it too.
As the years went by, they became poorer and poorer. They had to sell furniture, piece by piece, to survive in their decaying mansion.
And there they were, in 1975, two faded beauties lost in their own disappointments and swallowing their "what ifs." Big Edie spent hours listening to her old jazz records, wishing she had made it as a singing sensation during the 1930s. Little Edie longingly gazed at photographs of herself when she was a 20-something knockout and could stop traffic with her looks.
No money. No friends. No future.
But not forgotten.
Decades after the documentary was released, it inspired a musical about the mother and daughter in 2006, plus a television drama starring Drew Barrymore (playing Little Edie) last year.
Two spreads in Vogue have been dedicated to Little Edie's style, and in 2007, Marc Jacobs created the Little Edie bag for his collection.
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