Edith Bouvier Beale, 84; Film Showed Squalid Life in Hamptons

“Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, 84, the eccentric cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis whose squalid life in the Hamptons was turned into Albert and David Maysles’ 1975 cult documentary “Grey Gardens,” died recently in Bal Harbour, Fla.

The date of death, apparently from a stroke or heart attack, was uncertain.

Beale, once a debutante and model, and her mother, also named Edith, made national headlines in the early 1970s when Long Island, N.Y., health officials nearly evicted them from their decaying 28-room East Hampton mansion after discovering the women were living ankle deep in cat feces.

After Beale moved in to care for her mother in 1952, the two women seemed to slip into an oddball life of seclusion and filth. Nevertheless, Beale and her odd fashion sense--wrapping a sweater around her head as a turban or wearing a bathing suit and high heels to feed raccoons in her attic--inspired fashion layouts in Italian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and influenced the work of such designers as Todd Oldham.


Many criticized the Maysles for invading the women’s privacy with their documentary, but when they showed the film to the women, Beale exclaimed: “The Maysles have created a classic.”

Her mother died in 1977, and Beale sold the mansion and moved to Florida.