HBO Recreates Beales' Heyday and Decay for Grey Gardens Premiere

For the Los Angeles premiere of Grey Gardens, HBO recreated the glamorous heyday and troubled later years of Jackie O's infamous aunt and cousin.

By Irene Lacher April 20, 2009, 12:56 PM EDT

In the Roosevelt lobby, bright lights and mannequins wearing silk dresses from the film were meant to evoke the Beales' more prosperous times in the 1930s.

Photo: Gabor Ekecs

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More than 1,200 guests carried on amid tableaux of rack and ruin at HBO’s hard-times bash for Thursday’s Hollywood premiere of Grey Gardens. After a screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the crowd celebrated at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where the party echoed the structure of the film, which depicted Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin in their wealthy heyday during the '30s and in their impoverished dotage among cats and clutter in East Hampton 40 years later.

The cable channel’s West Coast events team, led by vice president of special events Lauren McMahon, and designer Billy Butchkavitz borrowed liberally from the eccentric charm of cult figures Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, portrayed by Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore in the new film. Recreating scenes from the documentary about the Beales by Albert and David Maysles, it debuted on HBO on Saturday.

Guests entering the Roosevelt’s lobby were greeted by drag queens dressed as Big and Little Edie, who moved to a soon-packed anteroom where they called rousing games of bingo. Towering over the light-filled lobby, inspired by the Beales’ better days, were mother-daughter mannequins wearing long silk dresses and furs from the film.

The newly renovated ballroom represented the Beales’ notorious '70s decline, and Butchkavitz illustrated their evolution by using similar elements in each room but in different hues. Mannequins were posed with a white piano in the “before” room and a black one in the “after”; tables were topped with pale peach roses on ivory cloths embroidered with flowering vines in the before and grayish purple roses on deep olive cloths and identical embroidery in the after. (The dark-wood Dakota Restaurant off the lobby was dressed in chocolate cloths, tangerine roses, and framed photos from the film set, a palette referencing the home’s library.)

It was in the '70s that the Beales found fame—and also where Butchkavitz clearly found his inspiration. Tables in the after room were decorated with cans of cat food and Mason jars of candy, a reference to Big Edie’s martini containers. At the mannequins’ feet were hills of empty cans and bags of dry cat food. Chair backs were covered in thrift-store sweaters with arms pinned back by broaches, and the hotel’s leather-upholstered couches were topped with raggedy quilts and embroidered pillows.

Guests, who cruised buffets of antipasto, black truffle mac and cheese, and beef tenderloin with bordelaise sauce, dressed up as the Beales in scarves and floppy hats while they clutched stuffed cats and photographers immortalized them standing before a backdrop of the crumbling Long Island mansion.

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