A First Hand Look at Grey Gardens

by Debbie Tuma

Lois Wright, of East Hampton, is a well-known figure from her 31 years of having the longest running show on LTV, “The Lois Wright Show.” Now, at 91, she has just come out with her new book, “The Ghost of Grey Gardens,” co-written with Tania Hagan. It is a story about her life and also the year she spent living in this famous East Hampton house with Big Edie Beale and Little Edie Beale—mother and daughter relatives of Jackie Kennedy.

Lois Wright was born in New York City in 1928, to Kathryn and William Wright. She grew up in different places on Long Island, where her parents liked to rent. They lived in Freeport and also East Hampton, in the Georgica area, near the Beales. From a young age, Lois loved painting and artwork, and she also developed an interest in palmistry. At 12 years old, she decided to quit school and was home schooled instead. In East Hampton, in her late teens, Lois got a job at the former upscale Sea Spray Inn near Main Beach, reading palms to entertain the customers. Some of her famous customers included Ethel Merman, Helen Hayes and Bette Davis. Her older brother, Bill, knew Jackson Pollack.

Lois Wright

She met the Beales through her mother, Kathryn, in the summer colony where they all lived. Lois and Little Edie Beale, who was older than her, became good friends and she was also friends with Big Edie, her mother. After Lois’s mother died, in the early 1970’s, Little Edie invited her to come stay at Grey Gardens, their oceanfront estate that by then was falling into disrepair and ruin. Years before, Big Edie Beale and her husband had divorced, and the two women lacked the finances to keep up their big house. They also loved animals and took in dozens of cats who filled the house as well.

In her book, Lois writes about her year in 1975 of living with the Beales at Grey Gardens. Although Little Edie had left her mother and moved into Manhattan to try and make a new life, she had moved back to Grey Gardens six years later to stay with her mother, who wanted her home. The two women lived together the rest of their lives there until Big Edie died and Little Edie eventually moved to Florida.

In a telephone interview, Lois Wright talked about her days at the infamous Grey Gardens.

“The Beales were remarkable women—so intelligent…but they had a strange life that they put up with for a long time,” she said. “Little Edie loved dancing, and the beach, and every year she bought a new bathing suit. I never learned how to swim, but I liked to play tennis in the summers in East Hampton.”

She said Big Edie had started out to be a singer, but gave it up to get married, and she still sang around the house.

Lois said she was living with the Beales during the filming of the award-winning documentary, “Grey Gardens,” in 1975, by Albert and David Maysles. The late Albert Maysles’ daughter, Celia Maysles, wrote the Foreward in Lois Wright’s new book.

Grey Gardens has become such a successful and fascinating film, that it was also made into a Broadway show, starring Christine Ebersole, and also an HBO movie in 2006, starring Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. Lois remained friends with Little Edie until Beale’s death in 2002.

Lois Wright and her co-author, Tania Hagan, will hold a book reading and signing on September 21, in the East Hampton area, with a location to be announced. The public is invited.

For further information, call 630-269-1651 or visit https://www.facebook.com/TaniaHaganAuthor/.