I was more than elated when Jerry Torre agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Don't you know who Jerry Torre is? He's featured in the great documentary, "Grey Gardens," by Albert and David Maysles. You've seen it, haven't you?
Jerry is who Little Edie Beale called the "Marble Faun," in that "artistic smash." I always loved Edie Beale. I never thought of her as an "acquired taste," as Big Edie describes her in the recent HBO film, "Grey Gardens." She seemed to be filled with excellent wit and humor and she had such a great spirit. She actually is one of the people I miss who I never met. And I was thrilled when Jerry Torre met me for a late lunch on this Friday afternoon. I recognized him immediately as he crossed the street.
Jerry found his way to East Hampton from Brooklyn one summer when he ran away from home and was looking for adventure. He became an assistant gardener for Mr. Gerald Geddes, and he had his own little room over the kitchen in that home. And when he was on his bicycle wandering around one day, he found Grey Gardens.
We started talking about the mansion, Grey Gardens. Grey Gardens was quite dilapidated and Jerry said raccoons would watch from the rafters, cats would jump all over the room, and cobwebs draped the staircase... and on rainy days water would seep into the house through cracks. Jerry says "Mrs. Beale was very comfortable with the untidy conditions of the house." He never questioned the conditions because he did not want to be impolite. But one day, when a kitten died it took some time to convince Mrs. Beale that the kitten needed to be buried.
Then I asked Jerry what the Beales did all day. Jerry said that Little Edie dedicated her life to her mother and she was always in the house. He told me they had no television and just a small radio. Jerry said they would sing, and Little Edie would recite poetry and read to her mother. She would entertain Big Edie with little costumes that she created and run in and out of her dressing area. And they challenged each other in great debates about everything and that kept them going because they bickered all through the day and night. "They were like lawyers." The topics included the Kennedy clan and how to get through the winter. They would discuss men, etiquette, and have endless discussions about the environment. They often discussed the social politics of their East Hampton town. They "stayed occupied with their minds." Little Edie was an interesting woman filled with ideas. She was a very "complete human being" and she very much wanted to express all of herself. Jerry told me that Little Edie would often sit in the "forgotten chair" when she wanted to escape from "the scene." It was red leather and in a garden surrounded by overgrowth in the back of the house.
Jerry had great concern for the Beales and he fell in love with them and felt a huge sense of responsibility for their safety. He explained that Big Edie used a Sterno (which was next to her bed) to prepare the corn, and he wanted to be called over every time the Sterno was used. He had great fear that somehow that dangerous Sterno would cause a fire. During the interview, the deep love that Jerry had for the Beales was always very apparent and revealed in his thoughtful and kind demeanor.
Jerry lost touch with Little Edie after Big Edie passed away. While Edie was a very strong woman, she very much missed her mother. Edie stayed to herself and lived for about two years alone in Grey Gardens until it was sold. I felt overwhelming sadness as Jerry spoke because I believe that Edie had to be very lonely during that time.
We then moved on to discuss what Jerry has been doing all these years since his appearance as the "Marble Faun" in the great documentary "Grey Gardens." Jerry explained he has kept to himself because he wanted to own the relationship with the Beales and keep it private. Only in the last few years has interest in him and his time in the house become mainstream and at first he was not sure he wanted to share his memories. This is a renewed "avalanche of interest" in what Jerry calls a magical time in his life. He said, "after all, it is 33 years old." He asked me if that made sense.
In the years that have passed Jerry has lived and experienced so much. He is now a sculptor at The Art Students League of New York and one of his awarded works is "Confetti."
Jerry did openly speak about and share his memories and feelings with me during this interview and I was very moved. I felt an almost overwhelming general nostalgia and a longing for a time gone by. I was overjoyed to meet Jerry and very happy that he allowed me a glimpse into those few years of his life.
We left the restaurant and we promised to stay in touch. Jerry, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."