Remembering Albert Maysles
With everlasting gratitude, we remember Albert Maysles, our friend and mentor on the musical we created based on “Grey Gardens," the seminal 1976 documentary he made together with his brother David, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and Susan Froemke. The subjects were, as nearly everyone knows, the then reclusive and now world-renowned mother and daughter duo, Edith Bouvier Beale and “Little” Edie Beale.
The documentary was filmed entirely in and around their decrepit cat-filled mansion in East Hampton, Long Island. The musical’s creative team, playwright Doug Wright, composer Scott Frankel, and lyricist Michael Korie, had the pleasure and privilege of meeting with Albert on multiple occasions.
After we’d finished our first draft we met with him to discuss it. That’s when he gave us what was perhaps the best advice we received. He said that we’d be tempted to take sides with either Edith or Edie, and think that one or the other was “right.” His advice was direct and wise: “Don’t take sides. They’re both right.” We took his advice to heart.
We continued to meet with Albert when he opened his archives and screened unused footage for us, and then, after the musical had opened, Albert himself filmed the documentary later aired on PBS, “Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway,” about the making of the musical based on his documentary. Subsequently, we have continued to rejoin Albert on numerous panels about the world-wide Grey Gardens phenomenon, one held as recently as last year at Broadway’s supper club, 54 Below.
And at each one of these discussions, never once did Albert fail to mention the uncomplimentary review of the film’s initial release by critic Walter Goodman in The New York Times. The reviewer took the position that Albert had exploited his subjects, a complete misinterpretation of the work in Albert’s opinion. To Albert, it was about the grey gradations of what constituted the truth between mother and daughter. But above all, said Albert, it was about their unbending love for each other, the love which made the film so universal and its legendary subjects so universally beloved. As he would always point out with a note of triumph, “And just look at what has happened to “Grey Gardens” since 1976!” Indeed, how many millions there are, ourselves included, who will never cease looking.