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Un-Beales-lievable

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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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…