"Grey Gardens"

Ellen Hovde, documentary filmmaker who co-directed ‘Grey Gardens’, dies at 97

Documentary filmmaker Ellen Hovde, best known for co-directing the groundbreaking film ‘Grey Gardens’ with the Maysles brothers, has died at the age of 97.

Hovde’s Feb. 16 death was confirmed last week by his children, Tessa Huxley and Mark Trevenen Huxley, who said Alzheimer’s disease was the cause, and they shared July 11 with The New York Times.

“Grey Gardens” was released in 1975 and followed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ reclusive relatives Edie Beale and her mother Edith Beale, who lived in East Hampton, New York in a run-down mansion. The film was co-directed by Hovde, Albert Maysles and David Maysles. Hovde began working with the Maysles in the 1960s as a contributing editor on “Salesman”, their documentary made with Charlotte Zwerin about Bible peddlers, and also worked as an editor on their Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter” . She was a credited director with the Maysles on their artist portrait “Christo’s Valley Curtain,” released in 1974. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Short.

“Grey Gardens” was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2010 and restored by Criterion in 2015. “We didn’t remove any of the raccoon stuff. We left the smells out so you can still use your imagination about what that house was like,” Lee Kline, technical director of The Criterion Collection, told IndieWire, at the time of keeping the texture of the grainy 16mm original.

“Grey Gardens” spawned a 2009 Emmy-winning HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, for which Barrymore drew on a Method-based acting style. A Broadway musical based on the documentary also aired in 2006 and won three Tony Awards.

Director Hovde spoke candidly about “Grey Gardens” in a Film Quarterly interview in 1978, revealing, “Big Edie didn’t really want to do it at first. Little Edie did. In the months that there was a lot of controversy about it, it was Mrs. Beale and Edie who called us and said, ‘You know there’s been this criticism, don’t worry.’ Everything is fine. We know she is an honest picture. We believe in it. We don’t want you to feel upset.’ That was their attitude and they never wavered from that.

Hovde and regular collaborator, editor Muffie Meyer, went on to found Middlemarch Films, which has made a number of documentaries and videos. The company also produced the PBS documentary series “Benjamin Franklin,” which won an Emmy for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special.

In addition to his children, Hovde leaves behind two grandchildren.