On this, Edith Bouvier Beale's 91st birthday, here's a fun story from a fan who visited the filming of the HBO Grey Gardens movie. Apparently last year in Toronto, they had threw a birthday party for Edie!
By Libra Man, on 7 November 2008
Little Edie's 90th Birthday
I try to find some little way to commemorate Little Edie's birthday each year. This year, on what would have been her 91st birthday, I plan to have a glass of rose vin. I haven’t told anyone what I did last year for her 90th birthday: I VISITED HER!
Edie may have died in 2002, but her spirit was alive and well at the filming of HBO’s Grey Gardens movie in Toronto last November. I went there with Kent Bartram, and we hosted a little birthday party for Edie and the crew in front of the exterior set of the decaying 1970s house. We had a table set up reminiscent of Big Edie’s birthday in the documentary, complete with a “Happy Birthday Edith” cake and the rose vin. We also had plenty of liver pate to go around! Drew Barrymore had just completed filming some 1970s scenes and served as a gracious surrogate Edie for our singing “Happy Birthday” before she had to dash off to prepare for her afternoon scenes as Edie in her 30s. “See you in 1952!” she exclaimed before heading out.
I never saw Drew out of costume, but I saw her as 1970s Edie and 1950s Edie, and both were very impressive. My first thought when seeing her was that she was absolutely gorgeous (you’ve seen all those photos of her on the web), and my second thought was that she’s tiny! From seeing her in other films, I never would have guessed that she’s 5'4".
Lois Wright had seen photos of Drew dressed as Edie, and she wanted me to tell Drew that she looked beautiful and that Edie would have been so proud. I relayed this to Drew, and she very graciously told me that although she hadn’t seen the photos (I heard that Drew deliberately went without internet access during the filming), Lois Wright's delight in her appearance meant so much to her, and that it was the highest compliment she could have received.
Drew took a page from Edie and referred to cinematographer Mike Eley as “The Major”, and, as Edie, she flirted with him the way that the original Little Edie did with the Maysles. The dedication to the role really paid off for her. She was great in all the scenes I saw her play. And it wasn’t just the clothes. They seemed to have redone her skin to make her seem more like Edie! I couldn’t have been more impressed.
You’ve seen some of the costumes Drew wears as younger Edie on the web. The 1970s Edie I saw was wearing a fur coat like the one the real Edie is wearing on the poster for the documentary. I had hoped to meet Cat Thomas, the costume designer, and although I never did, I was given a quick walkthrough of the costume trailer. Edie’s amazing red feathered Reno Sweeney costume was on a mannequin, and there were reference photos of Drew and Jessica in costume all over the place. I never met or saw Jessica in person, but I was very impressed by the photos.
I was absolutely blown away when I saw the sets. Kalina Ivanov is the production designer, and she was a ball of positive energy and creativity. She showed us some of her sets personally, and she really cared what we thought about them. My favorite interior set was for Big Edie’s original bedroom. One thing that you only get a glimpse of in the documentary is Big Edie’s taste in interiors, but she loved flowers. (After all, she bought a house with a famous garden and decorated the house with floral chintz.) Kalina’s vision of Big Edie’s bedroom had floral wallpaper and French furniture. I saw it in its decrepit 1970s state with cans and filth and mildew everywhere, and a tree branch pushing in through the ceiling! The attention to detail just blew me away. She was so proud that she’d found the right doorknobs and light switches. (I verified both of those against the DVD on my plane ride back home.) She didn’t miss anything!
I also got to spend a good amount of time with Stephen Levitt, the property master for the movie. He gave us a tour of the prop trailer and gave the stories behind many of the props. What he doesn’t already have, he either finds or makes. My favorite story was how he found the glasses that Jessica Lange wears to play Big Edie: he contacted all the major eyeglass retailers in LA and New York with a photo of how they should look, and one place had the exact glasses. They put Big Edie’s mismatched prescription in the glasses so that Jessica had to wear contact lenses to compensate so that she could see and not get dizzy! Also, some of the liver pate eaten in the movie is vegetarian, out of deference to Jessica. Stephen was very generous with his time and stories, and I learned a ton about what a property master does. It was fascinating.
The producers were all around, and I met with Rachael Horovitz for a bit. Apparently she had been interested in adapting the Grey Gardens story for a while, and she got connected with Michael Sucsy, who had been working independently with Lucy Barzun Donnelly on just that. Two projects became one. Albert Maysles is an old family friend of Rachael.
Many of the people working on the movie were available at various times during the day. I first met Michael Sucsy probably around noon, but didn’t actually get to talk to him until filming was completed for the day. He was very open about what he is trying to accomplish with his film. This isn’t a remake of the documentary at all (or of the musical). The films share some scenes in common, but Michael is telling the whole story, and he’s telling it as accurately as possible. He’s done the research (with assistance from Kent, myself, and others) and assembled a terrific cast and crew with the same goal in mind. I was completely saturated after my trip and my excitement for this movie has only grown since then. The movie aims to be both respectful and honest. I know the Edies would feel honored. I've heard rumors that HBO is going to release the Grey Gardens movie next spring. I can’t wait!
Happy Birthday, Edie!