I had the opportunity to recently interview Robert Beyer, who is originally from Sag Harbor and used to deliver groceries to the Beales at Grey Gardens. I appreciate him sharing his memories and observations, and I hope you will enjoy this fun interview!
     

GG: How long did you work at Newtown Grocery?
During the spring, summer, and fall of 1965.

GG: What were your main responsibilities there? 

Package orders of gourmet and other foods and deliver them.  The truck was a noisy Chevy Suburban.  There was another guy who drove another truck, so we had two running deliveries each day. 

   
The store was owned and run by Harry Moylan who lived in Sag Harbor near the home of my parents.   There were a couple of other employees who along with Harry have since passed away.   We worked alongside Dressen’s Market; we helped each other with deliveries and orders.  There were even openings in the walls between the shops!
     

GG: Were you living in the Hamptons at the time?
Yes, with my family in nearby Sag Harbor (after being away in tech school, and was already signed up on a delayed enlistment into the Navy for January 1966).

GG: How old were you?

I was 19 to 20 years old during that time (I was 20 in September 1965). 

GG: How often did the Beales receive grocery deliveries?
We actually didn’t get that many orders from them…definitely not each and every week.

The Beales did not order much food; some of it was caviar, pates, crackers, etc.  Most of their ordering was for LOTS of CAT FOOD!  Once a month Harry would give me Mrs. Beale’s trust fund check to give them.  I believe that was about all they had to live on. 

GG: How were the groceries ordered (by phone)? 
Yes, by phone.  Although, I saw Little Edie come into the store once.  She was wearing her black turban and I think a sweater.

GG: How were they paid for? 

I can’t say for sure, but most likely mailing a check

GG: Did you ever speak with Little or Big Edie?

Oh, yes!  But it took awhile.  Little Edie eventually peered out the window when I had been their “delivery boy” for a while.   I saw her and gave her my typical big smile and waved. 

Not long after that she came onto the porch and we got talking.  She and her Mom would then talk to me a lot by phone…oh how I wish I had taped some of that.  I thought, “Wow! What characters, but such nice characters.  They would eventually call me at home.  Little Edie would make the call, and then say, “Mother wants to speak to you.”  We talked about this and that, and the sad state of things…they would go on, and I just seemed to be someone they enjoyed talking with.   

Little Edie told my Mom what a nice lad I was.  I started to realize that they were very lonely as most people in town avoided them.  Though, by the same token, they were sort of hermits and didn’t mingle with the neighbors anyway.  They were lonely for the most part due to their own self-induced isolation.

After I went in the Navy I would get letters from them.  They told me that they were sad to see me go.  Sometimes they would report some “news” on Caroline and John John, but I knew they didn’t have much direct communication with the rest of the family. 

     
GG: What do you remember about the house?

 

Oh, it was much worse than it looked in the Maysles documentary.  The entire front yard was overgrown, and weeds wrapped and engulfed a very sad looking late 30′s to early 40′s Cadillac Sedan that was once black but at that time was so faded it was blue!  The car was just rotting away; it was probably taken away when the town started with the threats of eviction.  The place was pretty scary. 

 

On my first trip out there, the guys in the store said, “Just run fast through the weeds and high grass, dump the box of groceries on the seat on the porch and RUN!”  Whenever Little Edie would meet me at the door, I could only see into the front hallway…it was awful and it really stunk in there.  I never went in past that entryway.

Some years later after getting out of the service and going back to school and working, I was helping a friend with an electronics store in the Hamptons.   We got Edie’s radio to work on (the same turquoise-colored one that you see in the Maysles documentary).  How we got it?  I don’t know.  Maybe they had someone bring it in for them?  Man, did that radio smell foul!   It was a tube model, and their cats more than likely peed on it several times.  We somehow repaired it and sent it back.  Later I saw the documentary in the theater and noticed the radio in the film (by the time the Maysles documentary was released I had already moved to California).  

GG: Did other people at Newtown Grocery talk/gossip about the Beales?

To some extent; the Beales were known as the “Cat Ladies” and people said they were loony.  For example, people would say things like, “Do you know they are related to Jackie Kennedy?  Can you imagine?  Did you know the house is full of inbreeding cats?  That place should be condemned!  The old lady flipped out when her husband took off on her.”

     

GG: Out of curiosity, do you know whatever happened to Newtown Grocery?

It stayed in business I think into the early 1980’s.  Harry died too young; he was a great guy, a typical Irish Catholic family man.  You would see him in church every Sunday ushering the parishioners to their seats.

Rudy DeSanti who owned the meat market on the other side of Newtown Grocery passed away early too…then his son took over the family business.  When the big chain supermarkets came in like Gristedes, and the little mall in Bridgehampton, the original independent stores in town found it hard to survive.

Remember the great blackout in New York in November 1965?  I will never forget going to switch off the neon sign in Newtown Grocery’s window around 5 p.m. and the whole town immediately went dark!

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