About Little Edie
What comes to mind when you think of Edie Beale? Dancer. Singer. Actress. Model. Poet. Debutante. Fashionista. Visionary. Philosopher. Revolutionary. Defiant iconoclast. Staunch character.
“Little” Edie Beale was born in Manhattan on November 7, 1917. The daughter of Edith Bouvier and Phelan Beale, Edie grew up living the privileged lifestyle that her wealthy family could afford. She was practically attached at her mother’s hip, accompanying Edith to lady’s luncheons and high society functions.
She attended the Spence School, a private school for the wealthy, located in New York until her mother mysteriously took her out – apparently for a respiratory illness. She was kept out of the school for two years (during the age of eleven and twelve), but accompanied her mother to movies and plays nearly every day.
In 1935 she graduated from Miss Porter’s School, a highly-selective finishing school for ladies, located in Farmington, Connecticut. She had her debutante debut (a formal introduction to society) at the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue, New York on New Year’s Day in 1936. She socialized at the Maidstone Club, the first private sports club in East Hampton, Long Island.
A tall, blue-eyed blonde with a superb figure, John Davis, Bouvier family historian, said Edie was one of the reigning beauties of East Hampton society, “surpassing even the dark charm of [her cousin] Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.” She was known around town as “Body Beautiful Beale” and had a steady following of beaus. To the dismay of her father, she dabbled in professional modeling. One of her photos was displayed in the studio window of famed photographer Louis Bachrach; Phelan Beale reportedly smashed the window in anger. Another photo hung unauthorized in the Macy’s elevator in Manhattan.
Though never married, it is believed that she had proposals from Joe Kennedy, Jr. and J. Paul Getty. She even dated jetsetters like Howard Hughes. Her one true love was Julius Krug, fomer Secretary of Interior. Her mother apparently scared off every suitor Edie ever had for fear that she would one day be left alone with no one to care for her.
From 1947 to 1952 she lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, one of the earliest residential housing alternatives for young women moving to New York City to take advantage of professional opportunities. Codes of conduct and dress were enforced, no men were allowed above the lobby floor, and prospective tenants needed three letters of recommendation to be considered residency. Edie hoped to land her “big break” in showbusiness while in the city. Max Gordon, the successful Broadway producer, saw potential in Edie and invited her to audition for the Theatre Guild that summer. To her dismay, she was forced to return to Grey Gardens before that chance came; her mother could no longer afford to send her grocery money and Edie had no legitimate way of supporting herself.
On July 29, 1952 Edie returned to East Hampton to live with her mother at Grey Gardens. As famously portrayed in the Maysles documentary, the pair would have daily routines of quarrels, reminiscences, reconciliations, and (yes!) singing. Edie lived proudly in abject poverty and filth amongst cats and raccoons at the crumbling manor until her mother passed away in 1977.
Edie inherited Grey Gardens from her mother, but little else (she, nor her mother, ever received a penny from the Grey Gardens documentary). In order to pay the real estate and inheritance taxes on the house, she auctioned a large collection of sterling silver pieces including a 195-piece set of Gorham flatware given to her mother as a wedding gift.
After 25 years of practicing her dance routines and honing her voice under the watchful eye of her mother, Edie would now finally have her chance to shine in front of an audience – at the age of 60. She was offered an eight-show stint (January 10-14, 1978) performing in the Paradise Room of Reno Sweeny, a Greenwich Village cabaret in New York. Patrons paid $7.50 a piece to watch Edie sing, dance, and answer questions from the audience – all while wearing a patch over one eye (she had cataract surgery only two weeks before). She was also reportedly asked to perform at a club in London, and to record an album. Those two propositions never materialized, though.
On the day after her final performance at Reno Sweeney, Edie was driven back home to Grey Gardens. She lived there for two more years with only five of the original cats (the rest were given up for adoption after her mother died). She eventually sold the home for $220,000 under the assumed condition that the new owners would not demolish it. She left behind many mementos in the attic including old letters, silver and china, furniture, books, and figurines.
Little Edie moved around quite a bit after leaving Grey Gardens (taking two favorite cats along with her). She initially moved to a rental cottage in South Hampton, New York, then to a small apartment in New York City from 1980-1983. She relocated to Florida, then briefly resided in Montreal, Canada during the mid-1990’s. She briefly stayed with relatives in Oakland, California until she moved to an apartment in Bal Harbour, Florida in 1997. She lived out her final days there, swimming almost every day, until her death on January 14, 2002 at the age of 84. She had not owned a cat in five years. Edie was recognized in a video montage memorializing members of the film industry who died over the past year during the 2002 Academy Awards.
Little has been reported about Edie’s death. Her nephew and executor of her estate, Bouvier Beale, Jr., says the Dade County coroner attributed the death to a heart attack or stroke resulting from arteriosclerosis (thickening and stiffening of the artery walls from too much pressure). She appeared to have been dead for five days, and was only discovered after a concerned fan notified the apartment office that he could not reach her by phone.
Little Edie reportedly said that she did not want to be buried near her mother, though it is believed that part of her ashes were spread at the Bouvier family plot and in the Atlantic Ocean. She was later memorialized with a grave marker beside her brother, “Buddy,” at Locust Valley Cemetary in Long Island . The marker is inscribed with her quote, “I CAME FROM GOD. I BELONG TO GOD. IN THE END – I SHALL RETURN TO GOD.”