In my quest for more knowledge of the Beales, I got a book called My Life at Grey Gardens: Thirteen Months and Beyond written by Lois Wright. Lois was a painter and palm-reader who had known the Bouvier Beales for a long time and actually lived at Grey Gardens while the Maysles Brothers were filming the documentary in 1973 (not sure on exact year but that’s about right – the film came out in 1975).
The book is a journal and it’s mostly a recounting of what happened each day at G.G. What’s never explained is why Lois is living there at all, although she eventually leaves Grey Gardens to go live with some other woman in East Hampton, so she seems to be something of a full-time “couch surfer.” Although to be fair, she brought her own camp bed to the Gardens to sleep on because there wasn’t much furniture and the flea problem was so out of hand one needed to at least be up off the floor.
I imagine that living at G.G. was much like camping out. I mean, I’m not sure if there was running water. Lois doesn’t talk about the plumbing, washing, toilet situation, which is something I’m most curious about. How did one get clean? Sponge baths? I imagine it must have been horrendous to be in Big Edie’s bedroom come August because by then she couldn’t get out of bed and had bedsores that were very painful. She must also have been very ripe. Add to that the 50-some cats who like to fight in the middle of the night, fleas, some raccoons and that’s a very pungent place to be.
The thing that most disturbs me about Lois is her complete lack of personality in her own journal. I can’t tell if she’s gay or straight. I can’t tell what her ambitions are, other than to paint. I can’t tell what she really thought of the Beales and their conditions. I understand she cared for them very much but beyond that there isn’t a whole lot going on her mind that she’s willing to share. So in that sense, it’s a highly disappointing book. I think of journals as places to not just record the happenings of a day but to also speculate and ruminate and her book certainly lacks that.
The later part of the journal seems filled in after the fact. I think she left Grey Gardens to go live with her new friend and stopped the journal although she was still part of the Beale’s lives. Then Big Edie died, interest in the Beales was still high, she wrote out some more journal and sold her book. Let this be a lesson to you if you ever allow a painter/palm reader move into your trash house with you. She’s gonna try to cash in!
Her only hilarious line, probably unintentional, is when she writes that the male cats stopped trying to have sex with the female cats when Big Edie was taken out of the house to go to the hospital of respect for the dire situation.
In any case, if you get a chance to go see Grey Gardens at the Ordway in St. Paul, you will enjoy it greatly, especially if you’ve seen the documentary, as there definitely are some “in-jokes.” I can’t say enough about Christina Baldwin as Little Edie in the second act. Amazing. I enjoyed her rendition of “The Revolutionary Costume” so much I’d want to see it again.Â Her voice is a bit deeper than Christine Ebersole’s, although Ebersole played the part on Broadway and won a Tony for her portrayal.
I’m going to work on a Little Edie t-shirt. If it works out, I’ll post the artwork here and I’m going to make one for Christina. What will it say? S.T.A.U.N.C.H.