by Maria Manhattan
In the winter of 1980-81, I was responsible for a "major art event
honoring thirty-nine women of dubious distinction." Maria
Manhattan's The Box Lunch was a parody of Judy Chicago's The Dinner
Party, and was it ever a ball! For those unfamiliar
with Judy Chicago's exhibition, it was serious consideration of
women from the history of western civilization. My show, also
a feminist tribute was more hysterical than historical.
Included were the women Judy left out, the ones that influenced my
formative years - the greats, the near greats and the ingrates.
My message was, we're all in it together.
The honorees around my table included Auntie Mame, Lucy Ricardo,
Julia Child, Josephine Baker, Cinderella, Maria Callas, Betty
Crocker, Madeline Murray O'Hare, Gypsy Rose Lee, Mrs. Henny Youngman,
Greta Garbo, and of course... Edie Beale, among many others.
I thought it only right to invite the living honorees to my opening,
and so invitations went out. Sometime into the run, I believe it
was in early January, we received a call on a Sunday morning from
Walter Newkirk saying that he was bringing his friend Edie Beale to
the show early that afternoon. I couldn't believe it! Little
Edie! I would actually get to meet this fascinating woman and
show her around the exhibit. What a dream! What would
she be like? I of course only had the Maysles Brothers movie
as reference. I had seen the movie four times when it came out
and was just transfixed by the complexity of these women.
Edie arrived on Walter’s arm a few hours later. I presented
her with an orchid corsage which I had picked up on my way down to
the Soho gallery. I wanted her to feel special and appreciated.
The question I am always asked about this encounter is “What was she
wearing?” She was elegantly dressed all in black, wearing a
tailored coat, gloves, stockings, small heels, and her hair was
covered with a snood, or maybe it was a large beret worn back.
She really looked fabulous, and very pulled together. I
remember being so happy for her.
At that point she was living
on the Upper East Side. She had finally moved into the city
and had gotten the life she wanted after Big Edie passed away and she
sold Grey Gardens.
We spent some time chatting and I don’t remember how we got on the
topic, but she told me that one of her favorite places to spend time
in the city was in the beautiful Islamic rooms of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art. She loved the design, the calligraphy, and the
peacefulness of the place.
She had a very “Zen” quality about her. And she was bright and
sharp. I took her around the table, discussing some of the
women in the exhibition. When we got to the Maria Callas box
she said as only she could: “Oh, Jackie would love this!” I
cracked up. We continued on and I was very apprehensive about
her seeing her own tribute which was toward the end. I had
made a cardboard replica of a very broken down Grey Gardens.
Big Edie was in the house, and Little Edie was out in the front yard
surrounded by cat food. She looked at the assemblage and said
something to the effect of “Well you got that right.” I was
amazed at what a realist she was.
My friends Bill Wolf and Bermuda Schwartz were there as well that
day, and after Edie and Walter left we were on cloud nine. It
was such a lovely experience
Edie then sent a note thanking me for including her in the
exhibition. She collaged part of it with some magazine cutouts
of the word Zen that were actually part of the Zenith TV logo.
* * *
Recently I saw the musical Gray Gardens. I had been putting
off seeing it because I didn’t want my memory of Edie to be ruined
or diluted. To my surprise, I was knocked out by Christine
Ebersole’s brilliant performance. I only wished that the
audience knew that Edie transended her situation and had a life
after Grey Gardens. But then again, I guess they do know that.
After all, she’s on Broadway.
* * *