Tag Archives: Edith Massey

Visions of the South- “The Charlotte Observer” Observes Etiquette of Cleavage Display

Edie-the-egg-lady-webHere are two photos, inspired by a shocking exposition in the local paper.   The first is of underground movie actress, Edith Massey, in a scene from the notoriously unfashionable movie, “Pink breastFlamingos.”

Edith has committed the fashion crime of allowing her breasts to actually touch!

Photo 2, Actress Sofía Vergara at a Hollywood premier, displays  the “natural and elegant look,” with breasts pushed flat and out-of-sight. The pinnacle of good taste for your holiday party look, according to The Observer’s fashion- casualty writer, Olivia Fortson.

Charlotte, North Carolina is home to many who’d rather be in New York.

It’s a squeaky clean city, where “upscale” and “exclusive” are most aspired-to adjectives.  The “Charlotte Observer” is the local standard bearer of charming Southern social conformity, and regularly publishes howlers like this, full of Dos and Don’ts, so that local country club doyennes can be perceived to be as “achingly chic” as the Saturday night crowd exiting a Path Train in downtown NYC.

Don’t let this happen to you ladies.  But do enjoy some good laughs in the article

One of the article’s expert advisors had this to say about his fashion creds…

One word for what we are all about: connaissance, French for “in the know.” Knowing which Celine satchel will be the “it” bag this season and what Miucci Prada has up her sleeve for the season to come. Even better, Coplon’s knows you. From the runways in Paris and Milan to New York’s most up and coming atelier, we’ll know what look will work for you before you’ve even thought about it.

Check out the Charlotte Observer Article here. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/12/11/4538516/how-much-is-too-much.html#.Uqmv1-I9K71

Edith Massey, “Edie the Egg Lady” the Underground Movie Star: Her Life as an Orphan

Edith Massey as Edie the Egg Lady, played Divine's mother in "Pink Flamingos." It was her defining role, but not exactly what she dreamed of as an star-struck orphan in the 1920s.

Edith Massey as Edie the Egg Lady, played Divine’s mother in “Pink Flamingos.” It was her defining role, but not exactly what she dreamed of as an star-struck orphan in the 1920s.

Through occasional magazine articles, John Waters’ writings and stories, a few paragraphs in movie databases and my short film, “Love Letter to Edie,” brief snippets of Edith Massey’s life story have drifted along the edges of hipster culture in the thirty-three years since her underground movie debut in Waters’ “Multiple Maniacs” (April 10, 1970).

Since she was a little girl, Edith had “always wanted to be in the movies.”  She struggled through a unique and usually difficult life, generally in poverty while living and working on the bad side of  whatever town she landed in.  Her sweet, innocent personality, though, delighted millions of viewers of John Waters’ films—especially when he cast her in his favorite role as an addlepated old bag.  Edie was fine with that.  She was delighted to be the permissive, anything-goes-free-spirited godmother of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ’80s counterculture.

One of Edith’s claims to fame was her willingness to present her over-sized breasts on film.  That, and her senior citizen characters who refused to honor the straight and narrow path were ground-breaking artistic statements of the early 1960s.

Still from "Love Letter to Edie."  Edith plays a barmaid at Pete's Hotel.

Still from “Love Letter to Edie.” Edith plays a barmaid at Pete’s Hotel.

Was she acting, or was she for real?  Even Newsweek wondered,  “It’s not clear whether she deserves an Oscar or a 24-hour nurse.”

In a recent phone call to Edith’s brother, Morris Grodsky, I learned more about Edith’s young life as an orphan.  This previously unpublished information provides additional pieces to the puzzle of her life.

Edith was born in Chicago on May 28, 1918 to a Jewish family.  Her father fought in Europe in World War I, but returned home early, after his lungs were severely burned in a gas attack.  The family moved to Colorado for the healthier air, which was where Edith was born.  Unfortunately, the fresh air didn’t help her father who wasted away and died when Edith was an infant.  Edith’s mother, destitute with three children re-married.  She had more children with this new husband, but he too died within a few years, leaving her alone with five children.

Desperate, the young widow took them all to a Jewish orphanage outside Denver, and then disappeared.  It was the best she could do.  According to Morris, the orphanage was not a terrible place.  The food was healthy, if not plentiful (he remembered being always hungry).  Their clothes were donated hand-me-downs.  The children had chores; cleaning and sewing for the girls, and grounds-keeping for the boys.   Most of the projects were pointless busy-work things like moving piles of rocks for the boys or washing dishes that weren’t dirty for the girls.   Every weekday morning they walked to a nearby school.  Saturdays were holy days, with nothing to do and Sundays were chore days.

Edith at the orphanage c. 1922.  Photo courtesy of Morris Grodsky, Edith's half-brother who was with her at the orphanage.

Edith at the orphanage c. 1922. Photo courtesy of Morris Grodsky, Edith’s half-brother who was with her at the orphanage.

Boys and girls lived in separate wings of the orphanage and rarely mixed, following religious tradition.  Morris didn’t see Edith, except for a few minutes on an occasional weekend.  The orphanage discouraged sibling contact.  They never celebrated birthdays or other events together.  Parents and relatives never visited.   It was a lonely existence.  The orphans yearned for just one new piece of clothing.

At school, they saw happy classmates with parents who gave them gifts and new shoes.  Every orphan child hoped and prayed to be adopted into a family.  But that day never came, for anyone.  They were outcasts, which must have helped form Edith’s sympathetic personality.  As an adult, she was an instant friend to everybody, and every animal that crossed her path– when I lived around the corner from her in Baltimore, she had 30 cats.

To escape her colorless life, Edith collected movie magazines that were donated to the orphanage.  It was the roaring ‘20s, and they lit up her life like a Roman candle.  She had a pair of scissors and on Saturdays carefully cut and arranged glamorous movie star photos in her own notebooks.  Morris was shocked, when on one of the rare visits, she showed him a stack of the notebooks that must have taken hundreds of dreamy hours to assemble.  He called her “movie crazy” when she swore that as soon as she could get out of the orphanage, she would go straight to Hollywood and get into the movies.

The orphanage had a strict path for its charges.  The boys learned Hebrew, to prepare them to be observant Jews.  The girls, having no role in religious services, were given no religious instruction.  In the eighth grade, the boys were given an academic test.  Those who did well went on to high school.  Those who did not were apprenticed out to local tradesmen, leaving the orphanage to work in family businesses.  Those who went to high school stayed at the orphanage, but were turned out at graduation, to find a job and fend for themselves.

Every girl’s education ceased after eighth grade.  There was no academic exam for girls to go to high school. Their path was to be discharged from the orphanage and placed as housekeepers in local homes, to cook, clean, and sew as they had been taught at the orphanage.  They’d work a few years for free, and then marry a local tradesman, stay home and raise the children, and so complete a healthy heterosexual life cycle.

Still from "Love Letter to Edie" of Edith acting out her dream of being a glamorous movie queen.

Still from “Love Letter to Edie” of Edith acting out her dream of being a glamorous movie queen.

It didn’t always work out that way.  There were girls like Edith who were dreamers and achievers and wanted more than a life of cooking and cleaning.  Being a housekeeper in a family was rarely idyllic.  The girls were frequently mistreated, over-worked, and, probably worse.  Many fled their assigned “homes” for freedom and all they had been denied in the orphanage.

This was Edith’s story.  She ran away several times from several families.  Each time she was picked up by the police, usually hitch-hiking at the edge of town, and returned, until she turned sixteen, and could legally be on her own.  At sixteen, Edith ran away again and headed straight to California.

Edith's thrift shop in Baltimore's Fells Point where she sold whatever anyone dropped off, happily signed autographs, and hoped she will still be discovered for big movie roles.

Edith’s thrift shop in Baltimore’s Fells Point where she sold whatever anyone dropped off, happily signed autographs, and hoped she will still be discovered for big movie roles.

This is where “Love Letter to Edie” picks up.  There is much more to her life than what appears in the short movie; her marriages, her relationship with her brothers and sisters and their families, her music and modeling careers.

Edith died on October 24, 1984, in Hollywood, the land of her dreams, after suffering from cancer for many years.  She was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the lovely “Garden of Roses” at the Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to record more of her story when I made “Love Letter,” but I was 23 years old, and thought I had forever to pick up the trail again.  Maybe one day.  You can find “Love Letter to Edie on e-Bay.”

This glamor shot of Edith was taken late in life, and was closer to her dreams than her roles in the Waters films.

This glamor shot of Edith was taken late in life, and was closer to her dreams than her roles in the Waters films.

“Love Letter to Edie” video gets own facebook page



Edith Massey in Elinor Cahn’s East Baltimore ’70s documentary photo

Edith Massey’s shop c. 1974 photo by Elinor Cahn

Elinor Cahn made a series of similar photos in the late ’60s early ’70s Baltimore Renaissance period.  This time was marked by John Waters first film successes, downtown $1 homes, and a hipster migration to Fells Point that began its re-birth.

Sensing a monumental change, Cahn prowled the remaining ethnic enclaves of East Baltimore, Fells Point and Highlandtown and documented the people and their lives that were joined by bohemian artists who would eventually be displaced themselves by gentrification, gelato bars, and $1 million homes.  I lived there at the time and these photos bring back vivid memories.  So glad I stumbled on them.

See more, including a young and wonderfully fetching artist Sue Lowe in her Dallas Street home, which was just around the corner from mine.



Collection of Edith Massey Photos on flicker

I hadn’t seen many of the photos in this collection, some from her last years.  Friend and collaborator, George Stover, who had bit parts in many Waters movies (Bosley Gravel in Desperate Living) is featured in several.  Others are from her shop in California where she hoped to fare better than Baltimore.


Video from “Love Letter to Edie, Director’s Cut DVD” – Robert Maier’s Additional Comments 25 Years Later

Love Letter to Edie was made in 1975 right after meeting John Waters and working on the crew of “Female Trouble.”  I added a fifteen minute bonus commentary in 2001.  This clip is an excerpt from that.  The DVD of the original “Love Letter to Edie” and the commentary is only available on e-Bay.

Click to view on YouTube.

Read 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 booksellers around the world.


Edith Massey’s Long-lost Brother, the College Professor

Brother and sister in an orphanage in 1922

Edith Massey and her brother Morris Grodsky c. 1922

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.