Grey Gardens, a once crumbling estate in East Hampton where the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy lived in complete squalor, is now for sale for only $17 million.
Legendary Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, and his wife Sally Quinn, purchased the estate in the late 1970s as their summer home. Quinn said she overlooked the broken windows, overgrown gardens and holes in the ceiling, and fell in love with the ruined mansion.
The story of Jackie Kennedy’s aunt, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale, commonly known today as Big Edie and Little Edie, was made famous by a documentary, a Broadway play, and an HBO movie.
One man, Jerry Torre, knew Big and Little Edie very well having ended up living with them for three years on and off. He met the Beales in the summer of 1973, upon stumbling onto Grey Gardens looking for work. Torre, who was 17-years-old at the time, approached the door of the house, and was greeted by Little Edie, who he remembers saying, “Mother, the Marble Faun is here.”
The Marble Faun is a character from a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, and Torre said that became his nickname from Little Edie from that day forward.
Torre recalled the house was falling apart, and said it had no working bathroom, was inhabited by dozens of cats and raccoons, but was a home “filled with love.”
“When she opened the front door, the house was a pungent scent and that was the first sensation,” Torre remembered, and said he found the home exciting, and interesting.
The documentary was shot in 1975 after little Edie’s cousins, Jackie Onassis and Lee Radziwell, paid for extensive repairs due to eviction threats from the health department.
“The first obvious thing to do was clear the mansion of debris and garbage — there were days of it,” Torre said, acknowledging “there was plenty to do.”
“I did a little cleaning but the men who were hired for that began with the kitchen, then the contractors went to the second floor where there were only cats, and not much clutter,” Torre said, as he recalled the horrific living conditions Big Edie and Little Edie lived in.
“I look back at the strength and I admire that — they had less than nothing left — they endured living in a rundown mansion that was unsanitary, frankly, and what do I think of it? I’m very proud of them, I was very proud of them,” Torre said. “Call them what they are, they were artists, they could have been called anything, but they were very devoted to each other.”
The vivid memories of Grey Gardens stay with Torre, more than 40 years later.