The Ghost of Grey Gardens: Lois Wright’s Life Story
Lois Wright and Tania Hagan (Adult Biography)
She didn’t mind being a ghost, as she had come to think of herself. She seemed to be in the background at Grey Gardens, in the film and in real life. No one knew she was there, and no one cared to look for her.
For decades, an eccentric mother/daughter duo captivated the attention and imagination of the world. Voluntarily confined to their deteriorating twenty-eight room mansion in East Hampton, New York, Edith Bouvier Beale (paternal aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) and daughter Edie Beale lived a reclusive existence that was detailed in numerous documentaries, films, books, and even an award-winning musical. Theirs was a complex life with only a few allowed to enter it. One of those few was Lois Erdmann Wright and her story spans over ninety years.
This review may seem a little cold-hearted and harsh and should by no means be a reflection on Lois Wright personally or the life that she led and continues to do so (she will celebrate her 94th birthday in July 2022 and I wish her all the best). Every life is precious, but not every life is worthy of a book. This is one of those instances.
Lois Wright led a remarkable life, but to describe it as “improbable”—as she does so on the book’s cover—may be a bit of a stretch. She was a palmist, painter, and TV personality born into a well-off family that was loving and supportive. Her mother became friends with Edith Beale and so it was natural for the women’s daughters (Edie and Lois) to become tight as well. Their friendship was more like family and lasted decades. The Beale women hobnobbed with the best that society had to offer, but their status received an unexpected bounce when Jacqueline not only married the handsome John Kennedy, but became First Lady when her husband was elected the 35th President of the United States. Although Lois exhaustively described herself as “shy” and “introverted”, the added glare of the spotlight and its effects were surely not lost on her. While reading this book, I was reminded numerous times of the quote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
Out of all the media pertaining to Grey Gardens, only two were exclusively about Lois Wright: My Life at Grey Gardens: 13 Months and Beyond and The Ghost of Grey Gardens: Lois Wright’s Life Story. Both were written (or co-written) by Wright herself and both were independently published. Why? Simply—and respectfully—put, Lois Wright is NOT the story. She is merely a woman who knew two women who were related to a woman who married a man who later became president. No matter what Lois Wright accomplished or regardless of her maybe/possible/perhaps lineage that she professes in the book, the simple fact is that her life, no matter how interesting, is not what captivated the curiosity of the world.
Another problem I had with the book is the layout and the occasional sloppy editing. Hagan does thank her editor for her “speedy and accurate work” although I’m not sure about accurate and perhaps a little less speedy might have been helpful. There are tons of photos that Wright provides for this book (several being the same photo just taken at a different angle) that are placed haphazardly amongst the text and having little or nothing to do with the subject at hand. There are photos of people that we haven’t been introduced to yet along with a confusing image of Wright’s driver’s license and a copy of a certified mail receipt from a letter sent to Jacqueline Onassis. If these last two are the “never-before-seen documents” mentioned in the synopsis, maybe there’s a good reason that they remained unseen. Also, if you are going to include the names of your more famous clientele, it’s important to ensure that their names are spelled correctly. Liza Manelli (sic) and Mathew (sic) Broderick would probably appreciate it.
Lois Wright seems like an interesting woman, but she clearly is a woman full of contradictions: she complained of loneliness, but was determined not to marry or truly devote herself to a relationship; she claimed to be devoted to family, but moved away from her severely ailing brother after less than a month away from home; and she asserted time and time again of loathing attention while bemoaning her absence in one documentary while celebrating her inclusion in another. In the words of Salman Rushdie, “Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” If Lois Wright does indeed consider herself to be the ghost of Grey Gardens, I hope that this book will finally put her business to rest and that whatever she is seeking—relevance, notoriety, validation, or peace—is eventually found.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com