Mommie Queerest: Three Gay Men Have Turned the Cult Documentary Grey Gardens-About a High-Society Mother and Daughter Reduced to Living like Hermits-Into a Stage Musical. "It's Just Delicious,"

By Raymond, Gerard | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), March 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

Mommie Queerest: Three Gay Men Have Turned the Cult Documentary Grey Gardens-About a High-Society Mother and Daughter Reduced to Living like Hermits-Into a Stage Musical. "It's Just Delicious,"


Raymond, Gerard, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


"Big Edie and Little Edie were honorary gays," exclaims composer Scott Frankel. He's talking about the straight heroines of Grey Gardens, the amazing documentary film that has acquired a huge gay following since its 1975 release. The movie tracks the daily lives of Edith Bouvier Beaie, a 79-year-old former high-society aristocrat--who also happens to be Jackie Kennedy Onassis's aunt--and her middle-aged daughter, "Little" Edith, living in near squalor in a dilapidated mansion in East Hampton, N.Y.

"They were gutsy, those ladies," says Frankel, who, along with two other gay men--lyricist Michael Korie and playwright Doug Wright--has written a musical based on the film. (It's running at New York's Playwrights Horizons through March 26.)

Frankel recalls being initiated into the Grey Gardens cult by gay friends who could quote lines from the movie verbatim. The film's particular appeal for gay viewers is not hard to explain, he says. It's mostly about Little Edie, with her utterly captivating and idiosyncratic wardrobe and her thwarted ambition to be a dancer. "Even though she experienced tremendous loss and disappointment in her life she was still able to face every day of her life with this huge amount of energy and style," says Frankel, who came up with the idea to turn the film into a stage musical. The Beale women, he adds, "stuck to their fierce individuality their whole lives at great financial and personal cost, and then at the eleventh hour they were celebrated and mythologized. They were rewarded ultimately for their very otherness."

Korie adds, "You can't but admire Little Edie's courage, her staunchness, which is the word she uses. And her sense of fashion almost borders on drag."

"It's a very singular film," Frankel says. "It has so many levels as these women go from these fantastic bons mots and witty quips to a completely self-deluded comment, to a song and a dance, to screaming. …

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