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Arts & Culture

Grey Gardens, Famed Home Of Jackie Kennedy Relatives, For Sale

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A place that was once home to some staunch characters is now on the market.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GREY GARDENS")

EDITH BOUVIER BEALE: I can't stand a country house. This place - it makes me terribly nervous.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The address is 3 West End Avenue, East Hampton, N.Y. You can look it up yourself on Zillow. It features a three-story shingle house, a stone's throw away from the ocean, it says.

MCEVERS: The property is also known as Grey Gardens, and it looks nothing like it did 40 years ago when it was filmed for a documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GREY GARDENS")

BOUVIER BEALE: I almost died with the fleas in this place. I can't go on another year. I have to get to a hotel room.

SIEGEL: "Grey Gardens" the documentary was a study in eccentricity and squalor on Long Island. Its subjects, faded socialites Edith Beale and her daughter, also named Edith Beale, once faced eviction by the county health department. Their 28-room house was full of trash and infested with vermin, with no running water - very out of place in the Hamptons.

MCEVERS: Jackie Kennedy Onassis was the elder Beale's niece. She had stepped in to get Grey Gardens cleaned up somewhat a few years before the documentary was made. It went on to inspire an HBO movie, a musical and countless drag queens worldwide.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GREY GARDENS")

BOUVIER BEALE: The relatives didn't know that they were dealing with a staunch character. And I tell you if there's anything worse than a staunch woman - S-T-A-U-N-C-H.

SIEGEL: Little Edie, the dramatic daughter, bickers with her mother throughout the film. She wears clothes in strange ways, like a sweater for a headscarf, and she eagerly performs for the camera.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GREY GARDENS")

BOUVIER BEALE: (Singing) We all stand together. United we die.

SIEGEL: Neither Beale seems to be bothered by the house's condition. Trash piles up. There are many cats, not so many litter boxes, rodents living in the walls, raccoons in the attic.

MCEVERS: But Grey Gardens had good bones. Journalist Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee knew that when they bought the place in 1979.

SIEGEL: Their rehab was extensive and, judging from the photos online, stunning. Now the walls are clean and pastel-colored wood floors are polished. The grounds are landscaped. There's a pool - no raccoons or documentary film crews in sight.

MCEVERS: The asking price for Grey Gardens is just five grand shy of $20 million for a little piece of pop culture history.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAGUE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE OF, "VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.