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Hamptons Life

Oct 20, 2017 12:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

East Hampton's Famed Grey Gardens Sells

Grey Gardens COURTESY CORCORAN
Oct 23, 2017 8:58 AM

Chances have just declined that later this year the premiere of “The Post,” the Steven Spielberg film about Ben Bradlee, Katharine Graham, the Washington Post, and the Pentagon Papers, will be held at Grey Gardens in East Hampton. How do we know that? Well, the Post itself has reported that Mr. Bradlee’s widow, Sally Quinn, has sold the fabled estate that was previously owned by members of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’s family. This news comes only days after it was learned that Lasata, the Bouvier estate also in East Hampton, has found a buyer.

The announcement in February that Grey Gardens was put on the market with an ask of a whisker under $20 million—it was lowered to $18 million in April—revived interest in the legendary property. The 1.7-acre estate is in pristine condition and has been maintained in that condition since the late Washington Post editor Mr. Bradlee and Ms. Quinn purchased it in 1979 and oversaw a complete restoration. According to the Post, a buyer has stepped forward and “the deal will close in the next few weeks.” The newspaper quoted Ms. Quinn as saying that she was “happy” with the contract and that the new owner “really understands the house” and plans to preserve it.

There sure is a lot to understand. Before Ms. Quinn and her husband bought it, Grey Gardens had been occupied by Edith Bouvier Beale and “Little Edie” Beale. The Beales were a prominent family in the 1920s and 1930s, and their estate, first constructed in 1897, was purchased in 1923 and was known for its exquisite landscaping. After her divorce from Phelan Beale, Edith fell on hard times. In the early 1950s, she persuaded her former debutante daughter to move in with her. As their fortunes continued to decline, their behavior became more careless and eccentric and the vermin-infested house deteriorated.

They may well have passed on in complete obscurity—except for the occasional raid by the health department—if not for the documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles. The brothers were approached by Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and her sister, Lee Radziwill, about doing a documentary on their family, the Bouviers, who included their aunt and cousin in East Hampton. The brothers agreed. On and off for several months they shot footage and then came to a surprising realization: Edith and Edie Beale would make for a lot more interesting movie than Jackie and Lee. The mother and daughter lived a very private existence in Grey Gardens, which was literally falling down around them. Dozens of cats and other animals had easy access to the interior of the main house. The interior of their minds is where Big Edie and Little Edie spent much of their time, yet they allowed the Maysles brothers and their cameras into their home. For the next two months the filmmakers all but lived at Grey Gardens as they followed the two women in their daily and highly unusual routines.

When the film was released in 1976, audiences and critics were in turn fascinated and appalled by what they saw. The mother and daughter, 82 and 56 at the time of filming, formed a combination that was both bizarre and poignant. Showing them living in cat-overrun filth and Gothic decay yet in money-drenched East Hampton and being related by marriage to the Kennedys and a Greek shipping tycoon made for a jaw-dropping spectacle. The Maysles brothers were smart enough to let the story tell itself. Roger Ebert wrote that the film was “one of the most haunting documentaries in a long time.”

Two years after Big Edie died, in 1977, Little Edie sold Grey Gardens to Bradlee and Ms. Quinn for $220,000. She moved to Florida, where she passed away at 84 in 2002. Left behind were some possessions that Ms. Quinn has kept in storage. She told the Washington Post that she plans to conduct an estate sale where various items will be offered.

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