Lessons from Jerry Torre
Since writing my final year thesis on the art of the documentary form and analysing the epitome of a documentary film, “Grey Gardens“, I have become more obsessed with the myth and the haunting attraction of the film and it’s subjects. The story of two generations of women living in squalor, as seen through the visionary minds of the brothers Maysles has captivated millions of fans worldwide.
While indulging my obsession with the film I stumble upon Jerry Torre, one of the main players in the “Grey Gardens” story, and since finding him I have enjoyed chatting with him on several occasions. I caught up with him last week and asked him some questions about his life during the time of the making of the now classic documentary.
- What got you into the lives of Edie and Mrs. Beale? How did you become part of the “Grey Gardens” world?
That first summer day, I had completed my chores at Mr.Geddes’ estate. There I was employed as an assistant gardener. Soon after my moving into my quaters at Gerald Geddes Mansion , I purchased my bycycle. It was a blue puegot ten speed.This fine summer afternoon I rode my bicycle down one yet not explored country road. Georgica Pond is the area in which I worked, and many exclusive estates are nestled in the finely manicured properties. Riding down towards the Ocean I turned right, then just in the corner of my eye did I see the twin peaks of Grey Gardens. It was the following days that I returned to my hiding spot,to observe the grounds. I was fascinated with all I did see. Shorty after, I mustered up the courage to walk up to the front porch. I was within feet of the great front door, and aside the door are diamond shaped windows. Peering into the vestibule I could see drapes of cobwebs, very little light.
“In the corner of my eye did I see the twin peaks of Grey Gardens”
- When was the first time you met The Maysles? And how did you feel about their intrusion into yours and the Beales’ lives?
I had been living there for some time, when Lee Radziwill arrived to work on her project. Evidently Lee wanted to have Mrs.Beale narrate her film. Soon after Lee did see the final version of her film did she immediately shelve the work. Al and David returned some weeks later, requesting a remake of a new film about Mrs.Beale and Edie. I had grown quite comfortable with our little hideaway. Grey Gardens the mansion was a safe refuge for me. It protected me from my father. In so many ways Edie and I shared the same mistreatement by her father, as I with mine.
In “The Beales of Grey Gardens” [the sequel to the original film using never before seen footage] you will see the cross I had constructed on the front lawn. If you look at the peak of the mansion, on the left, you will see a string clothes line. I nailed the clothesline from the peak over the boys bedroom. It with the cross was my naieve attempt to return Grey Gardens to the very isolated condition I discovered it to be. Once the filming began and certainly after, the curious would show up, even late at night and steal the shutters from the first floor.
- Do you feel the Maysles portrayed the every day life of Big and Little Edie in the end film?
The film that you see is appx: 90 minutes long, it is but a fraction of time, yet with the excellent editing, one can experience Grey Gadens enough to find this love story as fascinating as any.
- Was there more footage of you filmed, but never used?
There were weeks of filming – there remains much unseen footage.
- What is your favourite film ever and why?
“The Robe“. A film about the Robe of Jesus, and it being held in the grip of Ceasar. The spirit of faith is felt in this film, this is one of my favourite films.
- Do you have any tattoos?
I have no tattoos, for I feel my body is the property of Our Lord, so not to desecrate it.
- When have you been MOST starstruck?
I was on the front porch at Mrs.Beales’ home Grey Gardens. It was a Summer afternoon. I at the time smoked cigarettes. One afternoon a car drove up near the edge of the grounds then stopped, a driver exited the car, opened the back door. I dropped my cigarette into the overgrown front lawn so as to stop it from smoking. I stood upright and watched as this person began to approach the mansion. Then in the distance I began to see The First Lady of The United States, Mrs.Jacquline Kennnedy Onnassis. I was wearing a sweatshirt and frankly I looked like a dirt bomb. I stood there frozen, as Mrs.Onnassis approached, then as my mouth grew dry, I was absolutely certain that this woman was the President’s Wife.
“I was wearing a sweatshirt and frankly I looked like a dirt bomb”
- You are known of course as being “The Marble Faun” from Grey Gardens – do people in the street or fans ever quote lines back at you from the film? What’s been your most random fan experience?
It has happened many times, once in the subway waiting for my train – a woman came up to me extended her hand to thank me for my good hearted service at Mrs.Beales’. Once again while in my Taxi, a person walking on the sidewalk ran in front of my Taxi Cab asking me if I would slow down so he could take my picture. As of the musical I am often recognised in New York City. I was carving in my stone room and a person who thought I could not see her shot a picture of me.
Fans so often guote lines from my days at Grey Gardens – “Would you like some corn?”
I was invited out to the mansion as a guest of honor, just when the musical was on Broadway. There I was treated like a movie star – I was filmed etc.
- Were you invited to any of the premieres? When was the first time you saw the film and what did you think of it?
No I was not invited to any premiers, Edie was called on to open the film at The Lincoln Center. The first time I did see Grey Gardens was in the very town of East Hampton. After the movie a man recocnized me, walking down the stairs. The first time I saw the film it made me feel sad, for Edie had displayed some unfair comments, and rages towards me. That hurt my feelings, but Mrs.Beale’s love for me was paramount.
“Mrs. Beale’s love for me was paramount”
- Are you happy with the life this film has made for you? When approaching the “two roads diverged in yellow wood” do you feel you took the right road?
Life for me is a constant adventure. I have taken the road less traveled, and forged yet a new path only I have walked. The extension of my path is that of an artist – a HUMANITARIAN.