5 Things You Didn’t Know About the Classic Documentary Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens

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The Maysles Brothers are some of the most influential documentarians to ever step behind the camera. So it’s no wonder that their iconic 1975 documentary (which inspired a Broadway musical and a HBO film), is one of the films that Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers chose to pay tribute to on their new IFC series Documentary Now!.

The Maysles’ approach to their subjects was unconventional when they began making films in the 1960s, choosing to let the action play out naturally as opposed to coming into a project with a pre­set narrative in mind. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Grey Gardens, where the brothers put a camera into the lives of the two Edith Beales, a pair of reclusive women related to former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who lived together in a decaying manse in East Hampton. Surrounded by scions of wealth and power, the Beales spiraled into a bizarre insular existence that’s fascinating to observe. Even if you’ve watched the flick as many times as we have, there’s still plenty to discover in Grey Gardens. Here are five fascinating facts that may be new to you.

1. The Beales were not the original subject of the movie.

Albert and David Maysles didn’t set out to document Grey Gardens. The duo were actually in the pre-­production stages of a movie about Jackie O and her sister Lee Radziwill and their childhood growing up in the Bouvier family. Radziwill gave the Maysles access to her whole family, but after they shot for two weeks, they realized that the Beales alone would be more than enough for a feature. Needless to say, Lee wasn’t too happy about this decision. Because she’d footed the bill for the project, the film was hers. About an hour-and-a-half of footage of the Beales had been shot, which she confiscated and has never seen the light of day. A year later, the Maysles went back to Grey Gardens and pitched a new film to Big Edie and Little Edie, and the rest is film history.

2. Little Edie had a nightclub cabaret show after the movie.

Everett Collection

Everett Collection

When Big Edie passed on in 1977, Little Edie’s inheritance was quickly gobbled up by taxes and fees. Although she still received help from her wealthy family, it wasn’t making ends meet. So she finally had the chance at age 60 to fulfill a lifelong dream and sing for her supper, being booked into a residency at Greenwich Village club Reno Sweeney. For eight nights, Edie danced and sang a variety of tunes (she of course did “Tea for Two” for the Grey Gardens fans), including two originals she had written. The performances were given an additional air of oddness due to Edie’s eyepatch ­(she had cataract surgery just two weeks before her run started and was medically required to wear it) and the costume she claimed to have made from her late mother’s wardrobe. After the shows, Little Edie went back to Grey Gardens and lived there for another two years before finally selling the famed property.

3. A man died in the kitchen.

Everett Collection

Everett Collection

Both Beales talk extensively about ghosts during Grey Gardens, claiming that several unsettled spirits haunt the creaky old house. Big Edie’s tales of a sea captain are probably nonsense, but at least one person did pass on to the other side in the house during the Beales’ life there. Tom “Tex” Logan was one of many East Hampton locals hired by the Edies to take care of things around the house, working at Grey Gardens from 1955 to 1964. The Beales met him in Montauk where he was playing steel guitar at the Sea Spray Inn and drew him into their vortex of madness. Many people report that Logan had a thing for Big Edie and took the position to try and get closer to her. Logan wasn’t the most reliable handyman, and would go on drinking binges and hitchhike out of town, showing up weeks or months later as the house fell into disrepair. The final time he vanished, he came back with a brutal case of pneumonia that ended his life in the kitchen of Grey Gardens.

4. The filmmakers had to wear flea collars.

 Everett Digital

Everett Digital

As seen in the film, Grey Gardens fell into disrepair over time. Big Edie refused to sell the mansion, which was subject to a number of health inspections and much media coverage. Besides the many stray cats that lived with the Beales, the property was overrun by raccoons, possums and fleas. (Little Edie even comments on the flea problem in the film.) Sally Quinn, who purchased the property in 1979 with her husband Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, said, “you had to have flea collars on” to even enter the house. This proved true for the filmmakers and crew as well, who had to wear flea collars around their ankles while filming to avoid scratching themselves constantly during takes.

5. You can stay in Grey Gardens.

Corcoran Group

Corcoran Group

Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn put a great deal of work into Grey Gardens after purchasing it from Little Edie in 1979. When they first visited, Little Edie pitched the property by saying “All it needs is a little paint!” Obviously, the repairs turned out to be much more involved. Bradlee discovered dozens of dead cats on the premises, and many of the interior walls were rotten to the point of no return. The floor was completely ripped out and replaced and the kitchen was gutted and combined with another room. Amazingly, much of the original furniture in the attic was salvageable and restored. The Bradlees typically spent August of every year at Grey Gardens, as is Hamptons tradition, but after Ben died, Sally put the property up as a summer rental. If you’ve got a spare $250,000, you could spend a summer living like the Beales. Well, maybe without all the stray cats.

Watch Documentary Now!’s take on Grey Gardens.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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