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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Q&A with The Marble Faun of "Grey Gardens": Jerry Torre

The Marble Faun with the two Edie Beales of Grey Gardens
Like disco, argyle prints and saddle shoes, Grey Gardens, the 1975 documentary by David and Albert Maysles, is back in style. Thanks to a Broadway musical and an HBO movie based on the film in recent years, Grey Gardens has become an international cult sensation once more through revived interest, especially among a younger audience. The cinema verite film captures the love/hate relationship of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis' cousin and aunt (Little and Big Edie, respectively), fallen upon hard times in their decaying mansion in East Hampton.

Gerard (Jerry) Torre is one of two surviving members of the people featured in the film. The other is Lois Wright. Many years after filming, while driving a taxi in New York, Jerry happened to reunite by chance with the Maysles brothers on the streets of NYC. Little Edie & The Marble Faun, a play by David Lally, played The Metropolitan Playhouse's Annual Author Fest, from January 14–27, 2008. Jerry Torre -- who Little Edie dubbed "The Marble Faun" -- has been immortalized through the Maysles' movie.

My friend and colleague, Alyssa Goldberg, knows Jerry and suggested I contact him since I am a big Grey Gardens fan. When I learned more about his life, largely through Alyssa and, then, via his web site, I realized what a fascinating life he's led -- far beyond Grey Gardens. I contacted him and asked if he would do a Q&A for Leave It to Beaverhausen, to which he graciously consented. Thank you, Alyssa, and thank you, Jerry.

DJ Buddy Beaverhausen: Hello, Marble Faun! Jerry, are you aware that if you go to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Marble Faun" page on Wikipedia, there's a link to your Web Page? That's how identified you've become with the title. What's that like?

Jerry Torre: "Why, it's The Marble Faun"  These were the first words Edie spoke the first time we met. My response was, ''I don`t know who that is. You see, I work for your neighbor, Mr. Geddes. There, I am an assistant gardener." I have [since] read [Hawthorne's] fanciful work, and see the richness in its story. There are many parallels to Nathaniel's Marble Faun and to my life.

DJBB: And what an amazing life in so many ways, as we're about to explore. How did you originally come to be at Grey Gardens, and what was your first impression of the two Edies? And how might that have changed as you came to know them better?

JT: It was a typical afternoon at Mr. Geddes' estate, in which I lived. There, I was hired as a live-in gardener's assistant. My duties were to maintain the grounds, keep the lawn cut, [keep the] leaves out of the swimming pool. It was routine maintenance on a large estate which had, long before my employment, been landscaped. Then, one summer day, I rode my blue ten-speed Puegeot towards a road I had not yet explored. The ocean could be heard from the road and the sun gleamed in the sky. Then, just out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a peak of a mansion. The estates around Georgica Pond are well maintained, so the least bit of overgrowth, or a lawn being slightly neglected, stood out. Then I continued riding down this very narrow road, and I could see a car in the driveway. My foot got caught in the pedal. I stumbled to regain my posture. I had discovered what looked like an abandoned mansion with thick overgrowth everywhere.

DJBB: What did you first think when Edie christened you "The Marble Faun"?

JT: Edie's personality was so filled with life. I felt immediately I had truly met a wonderful friend! We agreed the first day that I should return to speak with Mother about my working on the grounds. There was a mystery to the interior [of the Beales' home] that had me spellbound. I would stare into darkened rooms draped with cobwebs and my curiosity overwhelmed me.

DJBB: I'm sure you watched the 2009 HBO movie that received Golden Globes for Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, and an Emmy for Lange. What did you think of that film and of their performances in terms of the real people you knew?

JT: I had prepared myself to be as objective as a person could be. I made myself forget the years of memories somehow. The film was a beautiful tribute to Mrs. Beale and to Edie. I felt that Drew played her heart out and Jessica embodied Mrs. Beale beautifully. When I saw it the second time, I then did compare the real life persons to the actors and, no doubt about it, the real thing is always unique.
Jerry reconnected w/ the Maysles Bros. while driving a cab

DJBB: The HBO film ends with Little Edie's legendary performance at Reno Sweeney. I was there, one night, in the audience. Were you? If so, what did you think?

JT: I did not attend Edie's three-day show at Reno Sweeney.

DJBB: There's the rumor that Jackie Onassis put the kibash on Edie's performing and even stopped Tom Snyder from airing an interview with Edie.  Do you think this is fact or fiction?

JT: You see, I'm not at all sure if this is fact or fiction. I know Edie did have many interviews after Grey Gardens 

DJBB: Talking about Jackie, I've heard it rumored you actually befriended her. Is that true? What was it like hanging around with a First Lady of the United States? And is the rumor true that you took her to The Anvil? If so, what did she make of that experience?

JT: That summer afternoon, I had been smoking a cigarette on the front porch. A car pulls up and I, of course, think it is just another fan. Still looking at the car, a driver exits the front of the car to open the rear door. A woman steps out, wearing a kerchief. I stamp out my cigarette. Brushing off my sweatshirt, my eyes focused. I froze! Yes, just yards in front of me is The First Lady of The United States. EXTENDING HER HANDS!

"My Aunt and cousin have grown fond of you, they trust you." "Yes, thank you, I'm here to help with anything possible." ''I am to expect workmen to arrive to begin renovations. Would you be willing to let them into the mansion?" 'Yes, of course." My impressions of Mrs. Onassis were that she was so gentle and so soft spoken. I found her eyes to be that of a wise person.... Mrs. Onassis extended herself and found me very funny. I think I was the lighter part of her duties with Grey Gardens. 

We did go out together and I had suggested my place, The Anvil. We drove past the Anvil laughing about the men outside. "This was not exactly what I had in mind," said Mrs. Onassis. Our relationship was very easy and [at Grey Gardens], we both felt as if we had a mission to accomplish.
 

DJBB: Oh, my God, the paparazzi would have had a field day had you taken Jackie O into The Anvil! I understand you also hung out with her sister, Lee Radziwell?

JT: It was only days after Mrs. Onassis showed up [that Radziwell appeared]. I had no idea who she was except Lee was fascinated that I actually had gained entrance to the mansion. Lee had tried to speak with Edie who, at that time, would not let her into the mansion. Lee had arrived at the mansion a few times that first summer. We sat out on the front porch. I was in charge of drinks, so we drank Gin Gimlets. Lee had taken a liking to me and so, many years later, we once again met up at the opening night of the musical, Grey Gardens. We sat in the front row. It was so special to share that memory with Lee after all those years.

DJBB: So, you saw Grey Gardens, the Broadway musical. And what did you think, as you're portrayed in it? There's a whole "Corn" number!
Christine Ebersole and Jerry

JT: I loved the musical on Broadway! Saw it at least 25 times. I followed the progress from Playwrights Horizons to Broadway. Christine Ebersole , Mary Louise Wilson, the entire cast were so dear to me. I felt loved each time we all met. It was a perfect tribute to Mrs.Beale and Edie. The very venue that they had sought all the years they had lived in that isolated mansion had finally been realized. It was all things Grey Gardens; real magic! I felt Scott Frankel's interpretation [portraying Jerry] of our affection towards each other was beautifully played out in "Jerry Likes My Corn." That song is an honor, for it is so sentimental! I love it. 

DJBB: A legend has grown around the original documentary internationally. What do you make of its current revival and renewed interest?

JT: Years ago, I would come home from work and try to sleep and I would reminisce about Grey Gardens. I did not own a copy of the film until recently. Through the years, I have shared my story with those who found it fascinating. It was never easy to explain. I would sit on the front porch, thinking of how my friends might find Mrs.Beale and Edie as fascinating as I. The years passed, then the musical and the reinterest! It is like a wave off the ocean; it continues to enter my everyday life with unexpected fan mail. It is the very nature of such a unique story. I understand the fascination for I was the first fan of Grey Gardens. I am still fascinated. It is very exciting and it brings people together.
The international phenomenon Grey Gardens has become

DJBB: What gardens do you currently love that are not grey?

JT: Brookyln Botanical Gardens, The New York Horticultural Society. Conservatory Gardens. My own garden here where I live. These are my favorite gardens aside from grey.
 

DJBB: Far beyond Grey Gardens, you've gone to Saudi Arabia to work for King Faisal. Can you fill us in on that experience?

JT: I had been trying to find overseas employment; at the time, many friends were making good money in the Middle East. Robert, my partner, had a brother-in-law who set up an interview for me. It was in the Barclay Hotel. I went and, when asked my credentials, I said, ''I only have strong hands and can work in landscaping."

I was awkward and thought I did not have a chance. The next day, I was hired! A few weeks after, I was... flown to... Saudi Arabia. My duties were caretaker for the Royal Family. I was their sole caretaker, tending to their stable of horses, which meant feeding, grooming. I was also responsible for a huge greenhouse and its air-conditioning. I quickly became liked by a young man who was a Fahd. I was paid a great deal of money. The job was lavish and I had many trips to many cities [from Saudi Arabia] including Egypt, Italy, Greece, London. 

DJBB: You're a sculptor, an artist. Could you tell us more about your current work and 
what you're up to and comment on your future plans?

 

JT: I carve stone at The Art Students League of New York. It is my greatest love, applying my learned skills to stone. I'm a free-style stone carver, which allows me great freedom. The subjects I carve and from my mind and not "academic." My plans are to begin studying anatomy, and branching out to classical sculpture. My future plans are to live and study carving in Pietrasanta, Italy. In the near future, I am going to enroll for summer classes in Italy, outside the city of Carrara. I plan on retaining a semester of instruction from master stone carvers.

DJBB: Jerry, good luck and thank you so much for your time in answering these questions. May Grey Gardens always be with you, wherever you travel. This music video is dedicated to you -- and to all the people of Grey Gardens and your fans.



You can find out more about Jerry at his web sitehttp://themarblefaun.com/




4 comments:

  1. What an enchanted life! Jerry is like a modern Candide.

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  2. Sensitively done right to the video tribute. Loved it. What a life, Jerry is amazing.

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  3. Jerry is a STAUNCH Character and your interview with him was a memorable occasion.

    ReplyDelete