Edith 'Big Edie' Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at Grey Gardens for decades with limited funds, resulting in squalor and almost total isolation.
The house was designed by Joseph Greenleaf Thorpe in 1897, and purchased in 1923 by Phelan Beale and Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale. After Phelan left his wife, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale lived there for decades more, over 50 years in total for each woman. The house was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, the cement garden walls, and the sea mist.
In the fall of 1971 and throughout 1972, their living conditionstheir house was flea-infested, inhabited by innumerable cats and raccoons, lacked running water, and was full of garbage and decaywere exposed as the result of an article in the National Enquirer and a cover story in New York Magazine after a series of inspections (which the Beales called raids) by the Suffolk County Health Department. With the Beale women facing eviction and the razing of their home, in the summer of 1972 Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided the necessary funds to stabilize and repair the dilapidated house so that it would meet Village codes.
Albert and David Maysles became interested in their story and received permission to film a documentary about the women, which was released in 1976 to wide critical acclaim. Their cinema v rit technique left the women to tell their own stories.