Independent Lens presents Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway

Tue, 12/23/2008 - 10:00pm

Christine Ebersole as Edith Bouvier Beale (“Little Edie”) in Grey Gardens the Musical on Broadway.

Joan Marcus/ITVS

Captured in the landmark 1975 Maysles’ Brothers film Grey Gardens, the indomitable Edith Beale and her daughter, Edie, aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis respectively, were revealed to have a most unique and engaging mother-daughter relationship, built upon powerful interdependence, quirky eccentricity, courage, devotion, and love. Living in squalor in a rundown Hamptons mansion, their indomitable spirit soon catapulted them to a cult icon status of a sort that was an ironic counterpoint to Mrs. Onassis’ own such status. Three decades later, the Beales received the ultimate homage: being portrayed on the Broadway stage. Independent Lens presents Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway, airing Tuesday, December 23 at 10 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).

Combining a backstage look at the creative process behind the show, lavish clips from the original film, and insightful interviews with Albert Maysles, a host of Beale authorities, devotees and cultural commentators, and the Broadway show’s creators and cast, Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway reminds of us of the power of the Beales’ story to arouse a multitude of emotions even decades later.

Albert Maysles’ Grey Gardens depicted the everyday lives of two women who lived at Grey Gardens, a decrepit 28-room mansion in the wealthy Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, New York. Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, lived together in almost total isolation. Intimate, shocking and utterly fascinating, the film quickly became a cult classic, and Little Edie, dressed in her trademark headscarves, became an unlikely, but perfect fashion icon for the times.

Their story had a personal resonance for composer Scott Frankel, who conceived the Broadway production. Frankel’s previous work had never gone as far as he’d hoped, and he identified with the Beales’ story of unrealized, unfulfilled promise. Frankel, lyricist Michael Korie and dramatist Doug Wright tackled the difficult task of bringing the complex story alive on stage.

Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway follows the creators as they prepare the show for Broadway and records their joy at the response from audiences and critics alike—the show earned three Tony Awards and, just as important, introduced the unforgettable Beales to a new generation.