There are few modern families that reach the iconic status of the Kennedys. Naturally, this is due to John F. Kennedy's presidency, womanizing, and assassination, before Robert F. Kennedy suffered a similar fate ... not to mention the continuing politics of Ted Kennedy, Chappaquiddick, and a myriad of fatal plane crashes.
But noteworthy connections swing out past the Kennedy name. There's the media-linked Shrivers and the Lawfords on the Kennedy side, plus further links through Jackie O, including Gore Vidal and the notorious Big Edie and Little Edie Beales, the subject of Albert and David Maysles' 1975 documentary Grey Gardens.
Big Edie (aunt of Jacqueline Onassis) was a socialite and singer enjoying a prime life in the '20s. But by the '30s she was divorced, and by the '40s almost completely cut out of her father's will. Even facing financial hardship, she refused to sell her large estate, Grey Gardens, and ultimately became a shut-in with daughter Little Edie through the '70s.
Grey Gardens outlined two exuberant personalities living in squalor as the house fell down around them. They lived amongst piles of garbage without running water, sharing their home with cats, fleas, and even raccoons. It's the sort of scenario that would lead one to imagine helplessness and sadness, but there was also a bubbling, freaky liveliness to their lives, especially from wanna-be performer Little Edie. The film is fun, if you allow yourself to get caught up in Little Edie's whimsy, and sad, when you allow yourself to think of their lives, and how their minds and emotions struggled to make due with the cards they were dealt.
Now the film's Criterion release is available for free over at SlashControl, where you can check out the role that earned Drew Barrymore an Emmy nomination last year for the TV special based on their story, also called Grey Gardens.
Watch the original Grey Gardens for free over at SlashControl.
Or, catch the extended 2006 version, The Beales of Grey Gardens.