HISTORIAN TALKS “LITTLE EDIE” AT SHOWROOM SCREENING

“Grey Gardens” historian and thirty-year friend of Little Edie, Walter Newkirk talked everything Edie and more to an enthusiastic crowd at The Showroom in Asbury Park, Sunday. 

The Showroom- the best morphing of cushy living room, high-tech media room and fancy-pants big-screen cinema -also screened HBO’s Emmy-winning film, “Grey Gardens.”  

Newkirk with Edie (1976)

Newkirk with Edie (1976)

After the event, Walter took a moment to speak dish further with TheBPlot.  Click here for TheBPlot’s interview with Walter, published in The Coaster and online two weeks ago.  

TBP:  PAINT US A PICTURE OF WHAT IT WAS LIKE WALKING IN TO GREY GARDENS FOR THE FIRST TIME. 

Walter:  I went with two other guys from the newspaper.  None of us were ready for the smell in the house which was overwhelming.  It was like a barn with kitty litter, animal urine and feces.  

We sat and did the interview at a very small table in the hallway at the top of the stairs – down the hall from her mother’s bedroom.  She was charming, eloquent, intelligent and very sweet.  I discovered I liked Edie very much and a thirty-year friendship was born.   

It was a chilly April day and when we got back into my car to depart for Rutgers, I turned on the heat and when the hot air hit our clothes, the stench in the car was like ammonia – all three of us simultaneously threw open the car doors and jumped out of the car because we could not breathe.  It was hilarious but also horrific.

TBP:  HOW DID YOU GAIN HER TRUST? 

Walter:  Believe it or not,  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was a college student and that I was going on into the world…I dunno how I gained her “trust”…I think trust is part of a friendship/relationship and I  guess she liked me or she would’nt have kept giving me her new phone #s after she moved to NYC. 

She would change her phone number periodically when she got tired  of certain people calling her.  She would then write me a letter with her new phone number and write “don’t give this number to ANYONE!” 

TBP:  SPECIFICALLY, WHAT DID SHE SAY ABOUT THE KENNEDYS AND JACKIE?

Walter:  She wrote to me more about Lee Radziwill than Jackie Kennedy and didn’t have much to say about any of the Kennedy family.  She mentioned Jackie about the original filming of the documentary.  There was no real dirt or mug slinging or anything negative in any of her letters to me about Jackie or the Kennedy family.  When I interviewed Edie she said she had met Jack Kennedy…”but he dated models and showgirls…”

TBP:  JACKIE SENT LITTLE EDIE CLOTHES, YES?  

Walter:  That is what I have been told or read…I never asked her that.

TBP:  WHAT WAS YOUR IMPRESSION OF HOW SHE FELT ABOUT BIG EDIE?  MEANING, AT THE TIME SHE WAS LIVING WITH HER MOM AND THEN AS SHE REFLECTED BACK ON HER LIFE IN HER LATER YEARS, HOW DID HER VIEW OF GREY GARDENS AND HER MOM CHANGE?

Walter:  She had no regrets she wrote in a letter…she always loved her mother and the life she had with her.

TBP:  WHAT DID SHE LEARN FROM LIVING AT GREY GARDENS? 

Walter:  She spoke to me about RESPONSBILITY during the 1976 interview…and I think she felt that it was a daughter’s responsbility to take care of her mother if she was alone and or sick.  There’s an interesting section she discusses on the CD I sell about “responsibility.”

TBP:  WE SAW A BIRTHDAY IN THE DOCUMENTARY.  WHAT WERE THE HOLIDAYS LIKE FOR LITTLE EDIE AT GREYGARDENS?

Walter:  Edie and I exchanged Christmas cards.  I think she may have spent holidays with her mother’s sisters when she lived in NYC but I am not sure. 

TBP:  HOW DID LITTLE EDIE MAKE MONEY AND SURVIVE FINANCIALLY DURING HER LATER YEARS?  I LOVE THE LETTER SHE WROTE EXPECTING HER PER DIEM FROM MONTCLAIR MUSEUM, FROM YOUR FIRST BOOK

Walter:  I believe her brother(s) invested her money after she sold Grey Gardens and had more to do with her money management than any of us might know.

TBP:  WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT LITTLE EDIE? AND / OR GREY GARDENS IN GENERAL? 

Walter:  The biggest misconception about Little Edie is that she was nuts…a looney tune.  

Her behavior in GG was not like her behavior with me in real time…she fought with her mother a lot, the camera caught it and she definitely performed a lot on screen because she thought she was in a “movie.”  She never quite understood the concept of a “documentary.”

TBP:  YOU ALSO KNOW OR KNEW A NUMBER OF THE ANCILLARY CHARACTERS OF GREYGARDENS.  COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THEM?  WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE FOR THEM AFTER GREYGARDENS?

Walter:  Lois Wright is still alive and well – and has written a book My Life At Grey Gardens 13 Months and Beyond – she creates and sells Grey Gardens inspired art now.   She also has a television show called The Lois Wright Show which has aired in East Hampton for over 20 years. 

I love the men who created the Broadway musical – very talented and very nice guys.  I was thrilled that Michael Sucsy gave me a credit at the end of the  HBO movie and that he mentioned me during his director’s commentary on the DVD.  I gave him copies of some of Edie’s letters to me and also a copy of the interview on a tape back in 2005.

TBP:  YOU HAVE A NEW BOOK.  WHAT CAN GREY GARDENS FANS EXPECT?  

Walter:  Edie loved Clinton and seemed disgusted that his “little affair with that ushetette (intern) ” should be punished so severely within the public eye.  Edie wrote out of NOWHERE to me during the last year of her life that the “incident” at the Maidstone Club never happened – she never lost her bathing suit while swimming and got out of the pool naked and someone rushed her a towel.  That was written in  THE BOUVIERS a book by her cousin Jack Davis and also used in the musical.

Walter’s new book “Letters from Little Edie Beale of Grey Gardens” is available online.  GreyGardensBook.com has more info about his previous books and CD.  Click here for TheBPlot’s exclusive first-look at the new book, August 2009. 

For TheBPlot’s exclusive four-part interview with Bouvier Beale – Little Edie’s nephew, click below.  NEW:  “Grey Gardens” column category.  Scroll to the bottom on the homepage.

Part 1 – Memorial Day with Little Edie

Part 2 – Little Edie After Grey Gardens

Part 3 – Pride with Little Edie

Part 4 – Grey Gardens Web Exclusive

Richard@TheBPlot.com

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