Yesterday while snooping through my office shelves, I pulled out a book by one Morris Grodsky, titled The Home Boy’s Odyssey: The Saga of the Journey from Orphan Boy to Criminalist. The title page was inscribed “To Robert Maier with appreciation for your efforts on behalf of my sister Edith (Edie)”.
Yes, Morris was Edith Massey’s brother– one of them. Around 2004 he found my DVD, Love Letter to Edie, while surfing the Internet. I knew Edith had a sister who occasionally visited her in Baltimore, but had no idea about a brother. In all our conversations, she never mentioned him—or at least never made a big deal about him. Morris and I exchanged emails and phone calls for a while, and he sent me his book, one of several he wrote and published.
Morris was quite accomplished. He went to college, and got a Masters Degree in Criminology. He headed the San Mateo, California crime lab for years, and then spent many more years in the Caribbean and South America training policemen for the U.S. Department of Justice. He taught advanced forensic courses at several universities. Morris was 85 years old when he contacted me, and had retired to Florida many years before. He wrote for the local newspaper and played bridge with the other old folks in a typical upscale Florida retirement community. No one knew he was the brother of one of the most famous underground movie stars of the 1960s and 1970s.
What a very different path he had taken from Edie. He knew of her career, and admitted that only recently had he realized how popular she was, and regretted not being closer to her in her more difficult times. He was pleased and grateful that he could communicate with me, and maybe capture some of what he had missed. He was full of questions, because he never had contact with people from Edith’s show business life. “We had both taken different paths, and they just never crossed,” he told me.
I was planning a larger documentary about Edith’s life and work, and Morris was anxious to include tales of their life together in the orphanage where they were sent during the depression, and contribute his insights to her many fans. He and Edith were two of ten children, and their mother and father just threw up their hands one day, dropped off those who couldn’t fend for themselves at a local orphanage or “home,” and disappeared. Unfortunately we couldn’t round up enough funds to get the documentary going, and other work pushed it to the back burner.
Morris wrote a book about the orphanage life, which he claims was not so bad, but I haven’t found it. Edie’s story, as she tells it in Love Letter to Edie, is that she was sent from the orphanage to a foster home. The family was so mean that she ran away to Hollywood. Edie was only a teenager at the time, but bound and determined to be a part of the Hollywood Dreamland. Forty years later, she was discovered by John Waters and his Dreamland Studio in a cheap Baltimore artist bar.
Feeling nostalgic, I decided to contact Morris again. It had been a few years, but I still had his email address and zipped off a quick message. Not hearing anything by the next day, I Googled his name. It turns out my email was a letter to the dead. Morris passed away on December 19, 2007, according to an obituary I found. It was a sad moment. I hope Edith is remembered. A star in the sidewalk in front of her old Fells Point store would be wonderful.
The photo included is from Morris’ book, and was taken at the orphanage. The caption says his “little friend,” but he told me it is actually him and Edith (she was 3 or 4).
Read more about Robert Maier’s fifteen years working with John Waters in the new book “Low Budget Hell: Making Underground Movies with John Waters.” Available on Amazon.com and other booksellers around the world.