Home LIFESTYLE Style News A Rare Glimpse Inside Lee Radziwill’s Once-in-a-Lifetime Summer at Grey Gardens

A Rare Glimpse Inside Lee Radziwill’s Once-in-a-Lifetime Summer at Grey Gardens

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When Grey Gardens was but a twinkle in the eye of cinema history, Lee Radziwill visited her cousins, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie), at their decrepitly glamorous mansion in East Hampton. The year was 1972; the season, summer. And now, thanks to the carefully crafted work of Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson, the long-lost remains of Radziwill’s intimately uncensored face time with the Beales—those Gatsby-esque women whose tumble from high society and into reclusivity became the stuff of cultural legend—have been given new life.

For That Summer, opening in select theaters May 18, Olsson worked with the original 1970s footage shot by Andy Warhol, Peter Beard, and Jonas Mekas; at the time it was intended to serve as part of a cinematic scrapbook of Radziwill’s own summer memories by the sea. It was after Radziwill’s visit that documentarian brothers Albert and David Maysles were inspired to make their film Grey Gardens, which would later be adapted into a Tony award-winning musical and an Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

So what’s new in this addition to the Grey Gardens cult canon? Simply put: Lee. She appears in nearly every scene as a surprisingly down-to-earth, genuinely caring guardian of her cousins’ affairs and well-being.

Sure, there’s the nostalgic appeal of watching this halcyon summer of ’72 play out on-screen, with larger-than-life characters of the era like Andy Warhol and Peter Beard striding around. But more significant are the still-relevant questions Olsson’s film raises about the price of voyeurism; the double standards society places on women of a certain age; the self-protective shield of class; and just how pivotal a role Radziwill played in coaxing the mother-daughter duo out of their shells. As an older Radziwill admits at one point, it took her weeks to get them to even open the door.

Olsson had previously worked with archival footage to create The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 and Concerning Violence, and brought a particular sensitivity to the process, which started when his producer Joslyn Barnes met Peter Beard at a dinner. “This is not archival,” he pointed out in a recent phone call. “It’s found or lost footage, combined with the most famous filmmakers in my book, Warhol and Mekas . . . it’s a treasure, but you have to treat it with the utmost respect. You can’t make quick edits.” While a present-day Radziwill and Beard occasionally reflect on that fateful summer for context, the Beales, by and large, speak for themselves.

In one of the most poignant moments of the film, Little Edie muses, “I think it’s very cruel to bring up the past. Awful. Dig up the past. I think it’s about the most cruel thing anybody can do. ’Cause you always find some awful blot, you know? Or something that will embarrass someone.”

Does Olsson agree that there’s a certain cruelty inherent in bringing the past out of the vaults and into the brightness of the present, blots and all? “Yes. I think that exposing yourself to, let’s say, a documentary situation . . . you don’t have any control over what you’re communicating to the viewer.”

It’s still unsettling, 43 years after the release of Grey Gardens, to watch the Beales living in what is essentially a haunted house. And it makes the footage unearthed in That Summer all the more surprising, given the warmth, chemistry, and common ground established between Radziwill, a lifelong doyenne of elegance and good manners, and her cousins.

Olsson deeply admires Radziwill for this very reason. As the graceful intermediary between viewers and the Beales, we see her, as Olsson put it, “caring about relatives, taking care of her kids . . . and the lawyers and the media. She is like this superwoman. Truly, I’m not saying it in any ironic way. She’s marvelous . . . and beautiful.”

And as That Summer reveals—whether she’s listening to Little Edie cheekily describe a stray cat as the spitting image of Ted (or, as Edie calls him, “Tedsy”) Kennedy or Big Edie serenade the camera crew with bygone tunes from her bed, while their delicate dream world crumbles around them—Radziwill still manages to find beauty in the Beales.

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Full ScreenPhotos:Take a Peek Inside Jackie Kennedy’s Closet
The Pink Pillbox Hat and Suit

The Pink Pillbox Hat and Suit

“It was a very special outfit. It’s in the memory of everyone.

“We had been looking for the lady who had made the fabric. It was her first contract with Chanel. Her house still is working, where they weave and teach—and we were going to have her re-create it for us with the right threads and color and everything. However, we had time against us. The problem was the color—we couldn’t be ready on time for the camera tests, and then make the fabric with the exact replica of the color. So we barely had time to find a replacement fabric and dye it in many shades, then do the camera test.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We didn’t make [as] many of them as you might think. We tried to be clever with it. Like, when it was not the assassination scene, we needed to make sure the blood was in the right places or spreading correctly. We made five in total. We had one that we kept clean and not spotted with blood. Then we made the other; that was the one she kept on. As it happened in real life, she didn’t clean herself; she kept her clothes on so people could see what happened—‘see what they have done’—that is what she says in the film. And she keeps it in that state for a long time, so we had one clean and one dirty. And two to be able to do more takes in case the first ones didn’t work.”

“We didn’t make [as] many of them as you might think. We tried to be clever with it. Like, when it was not the assassination scene, we needed to make sure the blood was in the right places or spreading correctly. We made five in total. We had one that we kept clean and not spotted with blood. Then we made the other; that was the one she kept on. As it happened in real life, she didn’t clean herself; she kept her clothes on so people could see what happened—‘see what they have done’—that is what she says in the film. And she keeps it in that state for a long time, so we had one clean and one dirty. And two to be able to do more takes in case the first ones didn’t work.”

Photo: Courtesy of William Gray/Twentieth Century Fox.

The Red Interview Suit

The Red Interview Suit

“The creativity aspect of Jackie was very different than other projects I’ve worked on. There are so many pictures and references, so much in the collective memory. We had to stick with reality and existing documents, and we had to work from the reality of the documentary that was made at the time, but then also to the reality of what we were shooting.”

Photo: Courtesy of Pablo Larrain/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We had to be spot-on with the CBS documentary they made in the White House, and make Jackie look the same.”

“We had to be spot-on with the CBS documentary they made in the White House, and make Jackie look the same.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“[Costuming on the film] was a mixture of making and finding and transforming different things she could wear and change her look—the different faces of what she used to wear.”

“[Costuming on the film] was a mixture of making and finding and transforming different things she could wear and change her look—the different faces of what she used to wear.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We found some pieces in vintage houses in Paris as well.”

“We found some pieces in vintage houses in Paris as well.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We also used something so typical of the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 60s: the blue nylon nightclothes. It’s iconic of that period. I am sure she had something like this. I mean, I don’t know, but I decided to believe it.”

“We also used something so typical of the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 60s: the blue nylon nightclothes. It’s iconic of that period. I am sure she had something like this. I mean, I don’t know, but I decided to believe it.”

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

The Pink Pillbox Hat and Suit

The Pink Pillbox Hat and Suit

“It was a very special outfit. It’s in the memory of everyone.

“We had been looking for the lady who had made the fabric. It was her first contract with Chanel. Her house still is working, where they weave and teach—and we were going to have her re-create it for us with the right threads and color and everything. However, we had time against us. The problem was the color—we couldn’t be ready on time for the camera tests, and then make the fabric with the exact replica of the color. So we barely had time to find a replacement fabric and dye it in many shades, then do the camera test.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We didn’t make [as] many of them as you might think. We tried to be clever with it. Like, when it was not the assassination scene, we needed to make sure the blood was in the right places or spreading correctly. We made five in total. We had one that we kept clean and not spotted with blood. Then we made the other; that was the one she kept on. As it happened in real life, she didn’t clean herself; she kept her clothes on so people could see what happened—‘see what they have done’—that is what she says in the film. And she keeps it in that state for a long time, so we had one clean and one dirty. And two to be able to do more takes in case the first ones didn’t work.”

Courtesy of William Gray/Twentieth Century Fox.

The Red Interview Suit

The Red Interview Suit

“The creativity aspect of Jackie was very different than other projects I’ve worked on. There are so many pictures and references, so much in the collective memory. We had to stick with reality and existing documents, and we had to work from the reality of the documentary that was made at the time, but then also to the reality of what we were shooting.”

Courtesy of Pablo Larrain/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We had to be spot-on with the CBS documentary they made in the White House, and make Jackie look the same.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“Because of the filming specifications—the cameras used, the lighting, etcetera, and for the different types of footage in that particular scene—we had to make one of the red interview suits in that warm red, and then one in pink to work with the black and white re-created footage. In fact, we had a lot of tests in the dyeing phase.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

The Green Concert Dress

The Green Concert Dress

“We did take some liberties with veering away from history, and this dress was one that we created from the color of the one she wore once when cellist Pablo Casals performed at the White House.”

Courtesy of Bruno Calvo/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We decided not to put all the pearls and things on it, though, and to make it very pure, like some of the others she had for different formal occasions. The style of this dress is a ‘fourreau,’ because it’s just following the line of the body. It’s plain.”

Courtesy of Bruno Calvo/Twentieth Century Fox.

“This dress is particularly one of my favorites. Bravo to the girls in the workshop.”

Courtesy of Pablo Larrain/Twentieth Century Fox.

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

“This outfit is very much in the style of something she wore when she was at Hyannis Port, an occasion we have reference pictures from. I felt it was a period in the film, in her life, where she was trying to get out of wearing black, of official looks, trying to get back the feeling of this house, an intimate place, a refuge for her. We decided to use the black trousers—something she wore a lot, in fact—and then we made this cozy pullover, like you would wear at home to feel comfy.”

Courtesy of Pablo Larrain/Twentieth Century Fox.

Nighties and Gowns Galore

Nighties and Gowns Galore

“She was shocked and lost and alone. Pablo was great at showing that, her intimacy and fragility, to get this point of view, behind the icon. And Natalie was great at acting it.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We found some pieces that were from the period, and compared them to the reference photos.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We used a lot of silk, very elegant and very ‘period.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“The House of Dior gave us a black dress that she wears.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“[Costuming on the film] was a mixture of making and finding and transforming different things she could wear and change her look—the different faces of what she used to wear.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We found some pieces in vintage houses in Paris as well.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

“We also used something so typical of the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 60s: the blue nylon nightclothes. It’s iconic of that period. I am sure she had something like this. I mean, I don’t know, but I decided to believe it.”

Courtesy of Stephanie Branchu/Twentieth Century Fox.

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