The legendary journalist and ‘Passages’ author talks about her new memoir, the glory days of the new journalism, and the denizens of Grey Gardens.
In the summer of 1971, reporter Gail Sheehy fled Manhattan every weekend for East Hampton, seeking an escape from what had become a six-month investigation into prostitution in New York City. But instead of tending to her verdant tomato garden, Sheehy found herself drawn down the road to Grey Gardens, a decaying mansion overrun by howling cats and home to Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, dotty and reclusive relatives of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
Just a few miles away and 43 summers later, Sheehy sits in a Sag Harbor rental cottage and reflects on “The Secrets of Grey Gardens,” her now-infamous New York magazine cover story about the Beales, outcasts from the wealthy WASP culture that was their birthright. “WASPs are like the Alawites of America, a rare breed,” says the now 70-year-old Sheehy. Looking youthful in jeans and a turquoise linen T-shirt, a helmet of red hair framing her animated face, she is diminutive, quick-witted, and disarmingly warm. (She addresses me in various terms of endearment, as one would an old friend, and invites me to swim in her pool after lunch). It’s a quality that surely worked to her advantage while interviewing the Beales.