It was sometime between 1972 and 1973. I had always wanted to go to East Hampton. Of course I had been to the working class beaches on Long Island closer to the city. But I had only read about The Hamptons.
So I got a job as a waitress for the summer at a place on Main Beach in East Hampton called the Sea Spray Inn. It was a grueling job, because they made us use old style large trays to service the tables. The staff lived in a two story Dickensonian shack behind the restaurant, something they called The Help House.
Early in the season it was cold and damp, and the huge restaurant smelled of damp and fish.
I didn't last the summer. I was fired for not wearing a bra, told I was too Greenwich Village.
But I was in love with The Hamptons. I had bought a junky beach bicylce, and rode up and down those towering hedge row lanes for hours and hours.
So I found another job, and crashed on some other kids' couch for the rest of the summer.
One of the places I stumbled upon was this ramshackle house on Lily Pond Lane, right on the ocean near Georgica Beach. It looked abandoned, and I loved to go inside abandoned houses, to poke around.
I pulled into the driveway on my bike, and straddled it for a long ten minutes, trying to feel the vibe of the house, like was it empty, were there critters in there, etc. I sang and hollered a couple of you-hoos. When I was convinced no one was living in the house, human or otherwise, I climbed off my bike.
"Hey you there! What are you doing here?!"
A woman's voice! I nearly peed myself.
I yelled back, that I was sorry to intrude, that I thought the house was abandoned and just wanted to explore.
"Does this look like an abandoned house?!" she screeched.
Why yes ma'm it does. I apologized again, and started to back my bike away from the house.
"Wait a minute!" she yelled.
And then she came out.
A crazy looking woman with a scarf tied on her head.
"I'm Valorie ma'm."
"I'm litte Edie and I live here with my mother."
We talked some more, and I commented on all the cats, that they must be huge cat lovers. You could smell cat pee from the road.
All that summer I visited little Edie. I didn't see her mother, because little Edie said her mother was bed ridden, but I heard her! She often yelled for little Edie to come in and do something, get something.
What did we talk about? I bitched about getting fired. Edie said I had great tits and should never wear a bra. We talked about being in show business. She sang and danced around. I told her I was a show business kid, and she would egg me on to sing and dance with her. I told her about this guy who played the piano at my new job, at a bar and restaurant called Stephan's Talkhouse in Amagansett. The guy played alot of show tunes, and was super sweet. His name was Peter Allen. I told her she should come and hang out there with me, and she laughed and said goodness no, she could never leave her mother alone for one minute.
The summer passed too quickly for me. I stayed on until after Labor Day. I often brought cat food for little Edie's cats, because they looked like two poor old ladies living in this shit hole. I asked them if they had enough to eat, that they better not to be eating cat food for Gods sake, that I'd bring them some groceries.
Near the time I was getting ready to go back to the city, I met the mother. She was out on the back deck, and little Edie introduced me. Mother looked like a witch, all crazy white hair flying. And she didn't smell very good either. She bossed little Edie around alot, and after a while I felt uncomfortable, and said my goodbyes. I asked little Edie if they stayed at the beach all winter, and she said where else would they go. I said God you must freeze your asses off. Little Edie said they stayed in bed for most of the winter, and they had their fur coats.
I gave her a scarf, and I gave the mother a hat, and said I'd see them next summer. I didn't get back to East Hampton until nearly ten years later, and by that time everything had changed.
I got a menial job at The Museum of Modern Art once I was back in the city. I started as a clerk typist in the Film Department, The Circulating Collection to be exact. I was low girl on the totem pole, hand maiden to the curators and egg heads. I liked the job well enough, if only to go to work at MOMA everyday. They also paid for my tutuion to film school, and I did advance my position.
One day one of the egg heads brought in a couple of hippie dippie guys in to meet me at my typewriter. They had just made a documentary about two old ladies in East Hampton.
I had often talked about the remarkable mother and daughter and their dilapidated cat house. Well those hippies turned out to be the Maysles brothers, and those ladies turned out to be in their movie Grey Gardens. They asked me alot of questions, and I kind of felt weird taliking about my friends. I told the brothers I hoped they didn't make the ladies look stupid and freakish in the movie. They assured me they loved them as much as I did.
Of course I found out all about Grey Gardens then, there was so much press. I felt kind of stupid that I didn't know that little Edie was Jackie O's cousin! Like many others I thought it odd that little Edie and her mother came from wealth and society. How could their family let them live that way? Of course I knew that little Edie was kooky, and the mother was senile, and you couldn't tell them what to do, but still, I would have sent a cleaning lady over there.
Now Grey Gardens is in the news again. HBO has a movie premiering this Saturday April 18. Drew Barrymore plays little Edie, and Jessica Lange plays her mother, co starring with that fabulous house.
Little Eddie sold Grey Gardens when her mother died. She sold it to Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. Sadly there are no magazine photo spreads of the inside of the house. Sally Quinn purchased it from little Edie for $220,000, a steal of deal even back then. Little Edie sold it to Sally Quinn because Sally remarked on the beauty of the house.
I'm showing photos of the Quinn-Bradley home in Washington DC. It's how I imagine they would furnish Grey Gardens.
The premiere of the HBO movie happened a few days ago in East Hampton, and the party was held at Grey Gardens. I saw some photos on a site where you have to buy them from the photogrpaher, and they are mostly party people shots.
But he had a few shots he labeled "atmosphere" that gave you a glimpse of the interior of the house.
It was very plain, very under decorated. Still I'd love to style a photo shoot there.
The Bradleys tell a funny story about the house. A few years ago there was about ten days of rain in August in East Hampton. And guess what? The renovated house reeked of cat pee! They had to leave! Once the wood dried out again, it stopped smelling.
I feel so tender towards the two Edies and towards Grey Gardens. The summer I found them was my first summer love affair with East Hampton. And you never forget your first.
I always wanted to go back to that cat house.
By the time I bought my own little house in East Hampton, the ladies were gone, and the house was repaired.
But I swear you could still smell cat pee from Lily Pond Lane as you rode by on your bike.
I lived around the corner from a club called Reno Sweeney, and I saw a poster there after Grey Gardens the documentary came out, with little Edie headlining a cabaret act! I saw the poster after the fact, so I didn't get to see her. I really would have loved to see her show, and tell her I was sorry about her mother dying.