Ah, the American presidents. What a minefield of scandal. There’s the whole Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings debacle, obviously JFK’s numerous affairs (which may or may not be the subject of a week’s worth of future posts – stay tuned), and dear Uncle Bill’s Oval Office shenanigans.
And then there’s Warren G. Harding, he of the strong eyebrows and mysterious mid-term death in 1923.
Harding sort of epitomizes the frivolity of the American 1920s, in that he used malapropisms (“Return to Normalcy” was his 1920 campaign slogan. “Return to Normality” would have been correct. But he was only running for President, so you know, no biggie.), openly served and consumed bathtub gin in the White House during the Prohibition, and showered his friends with gifts, perks, and Cabinet positions. Also, his middle name was Gamaliel, which wasn’t even an unfortunate family name or anything. It has nothing to do with his personality or actions, I just think it’s weird.
Ultimately, he’s remembered by critics as sort of a terrible President who oversaw lots of labor strikes and administrative scandals. And he was remembered by at least two sassy ladies as a terrible sugar daddy.
That’s right, Warren had two known mistresses, one of which was probably delusional. Let’s begin there, shall we?
Nan Britton (who after some Googling, I learned was apparently a character in an episode of Boardwalk Empire. Who knew?) grew up in Marion, Ohio, which was Harding’s hometown. He was a friend of her father’s, and she developed a little crush/unhealthy obsession for him. You know what, no – the bitch was a stalker. When she was 16, she used to wait outside of the newspaper office where he worked every day, hoping to bump into him on his walk home. To his wife.
Anyway, apparently the teenage creeping worked. Mr. Britton talked to Harding about the situation, prompting Harding to talk to young Nan. And by talk to I mean bone. He was also having an affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips at this time, but more on that later.
Nan and Warren did their thing (each other) for a little while, then she graduated high school and moved to New York to become a secretary (the loftiest of female ambitions), and things fizzled. But after Harding died in ’23, she wrote what a lot of people consider the first kiss-and-tell book, aptly titled The President’s Daughter. Aptly titled in that girlfriend claimed WGH knocked her up, and that he had promised to support her and young Elizabeth before he died. Convenient? Sure. DNA testing wasn’t an option yet, so who knows. But the remaining Hardings, specifically Warren’s wifey, Florence, weren’t having any of that.
As for the book, I’d love to get my paws on it. Nan claims that she was Harding’s mistress before and during his presidency, and there’s apparently a famous passage in which they do it in a closet in the executive office. If this is true and if Nan was still alive, she’d get a big high-five from me. Because bitch was BOLD.
But she wasn’t nearly as bold as Carrie Fulton Phillips. She’s the only woman to successfully blackmail the President of the United States, and she was also sort of crazy. Both fantastic character traits.
Carrie moved to Marion, that star-crossed hamlet, when she married the owner of a dry-goods business there and she and her husband rose through the proverbial ranks until Carrie became pretty tight with Mrs. Harding. Girlfriends were so close that they decided to hit Europe together with their husbands, and all those Parisian nights must have gotten to Warren and Carrie, because pretty soon they were getting fancy all over the continent.
After they got back to Marion, Mr. Phillips and Mrs. Harding got wind of the naughtiness afoot and decided it was best that the Phillipses skip back over the pond, this time to Germany. Where Carrie became obsessed with German culture, maybe probably inappropriately. In roughly 1918, Harding was running for Senate and this little conflict called the First World War was a-brewing, so everyone headed back stateside. And those two crazy kids picked right back up where they left off, irreparably damaging two marriages! Can’t fight a love like that.
In 1920, when Harding won the Republican presidential nom, he told some VIPs about his ‘delicate’ situation, and that oops, Carrie felt passionately about the German cause in the war, and that ooops, Carrie had hundreds of love letters, and that oooops, many of them were written on Senate stationery.
Hoping to quietly resolve a potentially disastrous situation, said VIPs said “Hey Phillipses, remember Europe? Wasn’t it great? Want to maybe go back to there? On us?” To which dear Carrie said, “Aw HELL no,” and like a mob boss in the back of a New Jersey Italian restauarant, she dictated her terms. She would keep quiet if:
a. The Republican Party paid for a long, exotic-ass trip to Asia and the Pacific.
b. They also paid her a tidy annual sum for her silence for the rest of her life.
Girlfriend worked that negotiation, and the GOP paid up.
But her brilliance waned when she continued to support the Germans during World War II. Yikes. The government kept tabs on her for a while after that. And then she sort of went crazy. She had A LOT of German Shepherds (we’re talking Animal Hoarders status), and she used to walk them wearing only her finest mink coat. So you know, things didn’t really end so well for her.
But she did hand over those Senate-stationery letters, and after much legal action, it was ruled that they would be opened on the 100th anniversary of Harding’s death. So mark August 2, 2023 in your iCal. You heard it here first: shit’s getting real.
So what is it about Warren Harding? Did they have to be crazy to fall in love with him? Or was it loving him that made them crazy? The world will never know (except maybe in 2023).
Personal conclusion: Nan and Carrie couldn’t resist the raw sexual power of the eyebrows. Either that or the last name was pretty indicative of what old Warren was packin.
Earlier this evening, there was a comment on our link on reddit that expressed a tiny bit of concern about plagiarism on For Shame. Apparently there is a novel (which I’ve never heard of, but it sounds really good) about Hadrian and Antinous that poses some similarities to today’s post. Which is fine, but I just want to clear the air a bit and go over what we’re about a little clearer in case there are any concerns.
We’re not claiming to be the first people to tell these stories — in fact, most of them are pretty well-known. Like Antinous and Hadrian, for example. Which I first learned about in an intro-level archaeology class freshman year. For Shame is simply a few dorky undergrads’ attempt to collect and retell these stories using inappropriate, sexy, and irreverent humor. In most cases, our process works like this: We have a general knowledge of these stories already and then we do a couple hits on google for images and a few clicks on wikipedia to make sure we’re not making anything up and then we rework the tale until we’re cracking ourselves up, and then we post.
So that’s what we’re about. We’re just a few nerds trying to make history a little more sexy. One scandal at a time.
Please enjoy. And don’t take us too seriously.
Emperor Hadrian was one of the most influential leaders of ancient Rome across political, cultural and military spectra. He was also a big gay. But before we talk about his exciting, half-a-decade-long sex scandal (that, ok, I’ll admit it, wasn’t really that scandalous), let’s talk about why he was one of history’s best gays.
He was enormously successful in expanding the Roman Empire through his military prowess. He was a Grecophile, and was not ashamed to learn from Greek cultural achievements and use them to strengthen his own empire. He is most remembered for his architectural and artistic contributions to Roman culture.
He was the adoptive son of Emperor Trajan and was pegged as his heir from a young age. The two apparently had nothing in common, except a love of young boys. It is speculated by some that Hadrian and Trajan may have been lovers, but that’s probably bull. Regardless, they were both into dudes.
But Hadrian had to get married, because that’s what people who are being groomed for emperor have to do. So naturally, Trajan picked a 13 year old girl named Sabina. I know what you’re all thinking, 13 years old, not too young for marriage in AD 100 something. Well guess again. That was still pretty weird. Even for the Romans. So they got married. And shocker! They didn’t like each other. Probably because Hadrian was gay and Sabina was too busy chatting on AIM with her girlfriends and painting her nails to pay attention to him. Needless to say, they didn’t do much boning.
And why would they when Hadrian had his dreamy favorite, the young, Greek boy Antinous to do. Antinous was in training to become some sort of civil servant/fancy slave boy when he instantly caught Hadrian’s eye and he remained his favorite (lay) for at least 5 years.
This was a looong time in gay years.
See, Hadrian subscribed to many Greek cultural ideologies. And the Greeks believed that love between a man and a boy was the purest kind of love there is. (Women had cooties.) But as soon as the boy started to look like a man, it was time to get the hell outa dodge and as soon as the man started getting old, it was definitely time to call it quits. But Hadrian was with Antinous when he was middle aged, so maybe it wasn’t just about being Greek-ish for Hadrian. Maybe he really loved the guy.
But let’s not get all emotional and crap. Because shit’s about to get real. While sailing down the Nile during some sort of seasonal festival, Antinous drowned under mysterious as shit circumstances. He is rumored to have been the victim of a murderous court plot by bitches who were jealous of his relationship with the emperor. It is also possible that he committed suicide as a sacrifice to the gods.
Hadrian was pretty upset about the whole thing. And who wouldn’t be? Have you seen a picture of this guy? He was a tooootal babe! Actually you probably have seen a sculpture of him because there are more statues of him in existence than, get this, ANYONE in antiquity. Hadrian had Antinous deified after his death and then started cranking out sculptures of his ass like he was Jupiter or something.
Like too many of our stories, this one also ends sadly. I suppose it is quite a shame that Antinous had to die such a tragic death in order that we might enjoy his finely sculpted (literally) body in centuries to come. But as you can tell by our photo captions, we’re not too upset about it.
Well, folks, it’s that time again. We’ve brought you stories of turn of the century Ireland and racist America and now it’s time to turn to Old Hollywood. Actors and actresses, poets and intellectuals of the post Great War era were really into having sex. And generally not with people they were married to.
Today, we’ll turn to one of the most overlooked lesbian sexual adventurers of the Old Hollywood era. Actually, she was one of the only out-of-the-closet-and-proud-of-it Lesbian socialites around in the 1920s and 1930s. So good for her! Am I right?! Anyway, we’re talking about the Cuban/Spanish-American playwright and intellectual Mercedes de Acosta. I suppose it really isn’t fair to call her a sexual adventurer, because while she did have relationships with a lot of famous actresses, she did fall pretty hard for her most famous lover, Greta Garbo. She was on again off again with the silent film star for a really long time, like almost 15 years.
But before Greta were three of old Hollywood’s most adored pretty ladies. The first two weren’t that famous and you’ve probably never heard of them. Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead were their names. The third was the first really important modernist dancer of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan. She was really well-known for her use of long, flowy scarves in her dancing. And even more famous for the freak-accident involving a scarf and a car door that culminated in her (comically?) ironic death. (Was that wrong? I’m sort of sorry.) She was also famous for embarking on a number of adventurous sexcapades. In fact, it was our research into Isadora Duncan that led us to the tantalizing subject of this post because before the whole scarf debacle, she had a steamy affair with the far more scandalous Mercedes.
After Mercedes married Abram Poole in 1920, she started having affairs left and right with Hollywood starlets, writers, dancers, and pretty much anyone in that swanky 1920s/30s scene. You know the type. Notables include Edith Wharton, Pola Negri (wife to designer First-name-not-important Valentino), ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina, the supposed greatest stage actress of the 20th century, Katharine Cornell, and get this…Marlene Deitrich. Yeah. Girl got what was hers. (According to my favorite reliable resource, wikipedia, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s long time partner, was not a fan of Mercedes, but admitted that she’d be hard to get rid of since she was intimately acquainted with the most important women in the US — Garbo and Deitrich.)
Most magical of her numerous affairs was by far her long and rocky relationship with Greta Garbo, who she called the love of her life. It was apparently miss fancy-pants Garbo who called the shots in their relationship and would go months without writing, driving Mercedes a little crazy. Greta finally called the whole thing off after almost 15 years in 1944.
But here’s where shit got scandalous.
Dying of a brain tumor and hurting for cash, Mercedes wrote an autobiography in 1960 called Here Lies the Heart in which she told about all of her affairs with famous women from back in the day. But these ladies were still around and they were not so into broadcasting the lesbian relationships of their past. And she lost a lot of friends. And by a lot, I mean all of them. Everyone stopped talking to her. People wouldn’t buy her book. She died poor and alone at the age of 75.
But she died a proud lesbian, which is what she sort of stood for throughout her whole life. And good for her, because she spent most of her young, scandalous life dealing with a bunch of pussies who couldn’t get their shit together for long enough to even approach the threshold of the closet.
So good for you, Mercedes. Garbo can suck it. Am I right?
Sam Cooke was murdered at the age of 33. Same age that Jesus was when he died. Coincidence? Probably. Or probably not?
But he did have the voice of a god. So fucking smooth. And soulful. Sam Cooke was a soulful-ass singer in the late 1950s and early 1960s, known for the old standards as well as some fucking great Civil Rights era, socially conscious songs that may or may not make me wish I wasn’t Caucasian sometimes. I LITERALLY cannot recommend enough that you go out to your nearest record store (because there are so many of those still in business these days) and purchase Sam Cooke: Portrait of a Legend IMMEDIATELY. Immediately. It’s really just sublime.
Obviously I have a soft spot for this man. Because in addition to melting the hearts of millions with his velvety-ass voice, he was also VERY attractive.
And Sam Cooke was the victim of a juicy and SEXY scandal.
Let’s set the scene. December 1964. The Hacienda Motel, Los Angeles. Sam checks in with a one Ms. Elisa Boyer, who may or may not have been a prostitute. Which is a teensy bit difficult, because Sam was married. Oops! Also when they met earlier in the evening, she claims that he maybe sort of forced her to go to the motel. Double oops! And that he threw her onto the bed and she was convinced he was going to rape her. But he didn’t! Instead he stepped into the bathroom (you know, to freshen up), and girlfriend grabbed her clothes and in her haste, Sam’s clothes, and got the hell out of dodge before he came back out. She then says that she ran to the locked manager’s office, but bitch took too long to answer, so she ran to a phone booth and called the police.
When Sam noticed that she wasn’t there, he was just a smidge upset. He was probably also a little pissed that all she left him was a sport coat and AN single shoe (seriously, look at the picture below).
So Sam, looking for his lady friend, headed downstairs to the manager’s office after putting on his remaining clothes. Said manager, Bertha Franklin, claims that Sam grabbed her violently demanding to know where Boyer went. There was some grappling, and in self defense, she went ahead and shot him in the torso. Fatally. Sam’s eloquent last words: “Lady, you shot me!” And then just to you know, make sure she was REALLY defending herself, she beat the shit out him with a broomstick.
So all this makes him seem like kind of a bad guy, right? And I, in turn, seem sort of fucking weird for finding him so hot. But here’s the thing. Elisa Boyer was a shady, shady bitch. Her testimony (outlined above) is the only account of what happened between she and Sam that night. There were major inconsistencies between her story and the reports of other witnesses. Sam had thousands of dollars in his pocket that went missing. She was arrested for prostitution soon after the incident. A lot of people (probably also maybe myself included) think that she went to the motel willingly, knowing he had lots of cash money because he was famous, and tried to rob him and slip out quietly like a bitch. And theft would explain why young Sam was so angry (and also probably embarrassed on account of being naked) when he got to the manager’s office.
Lots of people (and by that I mean his family and friends, but you know, lots) think that there was a major conspiracy surrounding his death. And interestingly, Etta James, equally vocally talented and one of the strongest strong black women in history, identified his body in the morgue, naturally. And she asserts that there’s absolutely no way a single woman could inflict the nasty nasty wounds that she saw. We’re talking near-decapatation.
So, there it is. And let’s review:
He was a voice for the downtrodden.
He was sort of the messiah of soul. I mean he pioneered it, so same thing.
He was tempted by sin.
He was with a prostitute.
It was Christmastime (Easter would have been better, but I’ll take it).
He was only wearing one piece of clothing.
He was 33.
One could feasibly say that he died a martyr’s death.
Did Bertha Franklin singlehandedly quash the Second Coming? I don’t know. But I do know that I just made up eight things that make him seem like a lot less of a bastard and a lot more like Jesus.
Long long ago in the fall of 2010, we bloggers met studying abroad in England. Our program was excellent, specifically in that it involved a lot of study trips to old houses and castles and shit, which stimulated our love of history and also enabled our shameless need to constantly be hilarious (whether other people think so or not). How are old houses funny, you ask? WELL I’M GLAD YOU ASKED.
See, every time we entered an eighteenth-century country house or a medieval castle, we’d ask blogger LHB something ridiculous, stifling giggles. As in, “Hey, LHB, could you please talk about the significance of electrical outlets like this one during the English Renaissance?” to which LHB would reply, “Well I’m glad you asked. Everyone knows that electricity was popularized in the 1560s by Queen Elizabeth’s court electrician…” and hilarity would ensue. LHB is such a wealth of knowledge that everything she told us was absolutely 100% factual. So factual that it was fucking hilarious.
Okay, maybe you don’t see the hilarity yet, but you will. Because we’ve decided that Well I’m Glad You Asked will be For Shame’s first feature!
So in an effort to be seasonally appropriate, the inaugural Well I’m Glad You Asked is transcribed from a Facebook message between JAF and myself:
MRG: i can’t wait. and it might or might not be st. patrick’s day when we go to [there], which means…well, you know.
JAF: wait, what is this “st patrick’s day?” I don’t understand.
MRG: well i’m so glad you asked…
st. patrick was the original name of the st. bernard dog breed, but st. bernard killed st. patrick (who was italian) over a game of bocce. i mean st. patrick was italian, so he was really, really good at bocce. so good that he could win while eating gelato and flirting with unwilling young women simultaneously, because that’s what italians do according to cultural stereotypes.
so st. bernard, being un-italian, had a significant handicap. and he practiced and practiced and practiced, but he still lost.
and so great was his anger that when st. patrick won, st. bernard killed him by pulverizing his head with a bocce ball. and then to rub salt in the wound, he went to the american kennel club (which absolutely existed in this unspecified time) and got the name of the st. patrick breed changed to st. bernard. and because the dogs had been so loyal to st. patrick when he was alive, st. bernard punished his newly-eponymous pups by sending them into the alps, where he ruthlessly forced them to carry heavy barrels full of bourbon or whiskey around their necks through the snow, just to be a huge douche.
so that’s why we have st. patrick’s day. it’s a day of remembrance. for the dogs. and I guess also for st. patrick. and we drink a lot of alcohol on this day to metaphorically lighten the load of the poor st. patrick/st. bernard dogs up in the alps.
So there you have it, the first edition of Well I’m Glad You Asked. And shit’s so seasonal.
Charles Stewart Parnell was the father of Irish Home Rule. And also of three illegitimate children.
All right. Let’s not get ahead (aha! head) of ourselves. (I swear, we’ll stop with the BlowJ puns eventually.)
Back in the late 19th century — that’s the 1800s, for those you who have trouble with that (Mom) — an Englishman named William Gladstone was trying to push an Irish Home Rule bill through parliament. See, England had been fucking with Ireland for some time now. Since, like, 1066. And as one of the first single-issue politicians in history, Gladstone had decided that it was time to “pacify Ireland.” Our story isn’t about Gladstone, but it’s probably important and totally relevant to mention that he was an evangelical christian obsessed with saving the prostitutes of London’s slums, who also engaged in self-flagellation as punishment for his frequent participation in masturbation. He should really have his own entry. We’ll work on that. But anyway, his idea about Irish Home Rule came from a guy named Charles Stewart Parnell.
Parnell was an Irish MP in Parliament who was promoting this idea of home rule for Ireland. Home Rule would allow Ireland to govern itself with only some superficial, but still very real, connection to the crown. (Like how Canada and Australia are now. Which brings me to another irrelevant point: You know what, Canadians? I like your syrup, I do. But take a look at your coinage, will you? You’re not really your own country, are you? And July 3 is the stupidest day for an independence day ever.)
But Parnell actually didn’t coin the term “Home Rule.” It was a guy named…get ready…Isaac Butt. Yeah. You can’t make this shit up, people. But Parnell is really thought of as the father of this Home Rule idea because he’s the one in parliament working with Gladstone to push this bill through.
The bill fails. Gladstone and Parnell try again, it fails a second time, but there’s more hope the second time.
Parnell probably could have tried again, because he was the only really popular Irish nationalist political leader around at the time, and would have…Except for that he became involved in the biggest sex scandal of the British Isles in the late 19th century. (Which, just as a quick reminder to my mother, is the late 1800s.)
Here’s what went down. So Parnell had been living and fornicating with a woman named Katherine O’Shea (who now has lots of pubs named after her). And they had three children together, one of whom died as an infant. The only teeny-weeny (haha!) issue was that Kate was married to one of Parnell’s colleagues, a fellow MP named Captain O’Shae (who we’ll call “the Captain” because it’s funnier that way). In the beginning, the Captain’s only real act of defiance towards Parnell was challenging him to a duel, which never ended up happening. And he wouldn’t divorce his wife because she was supposed to be getting a big phat inheritance from a relative who wasn’t quite dead yet. But when Kate’s aunt did finally kick it, the money the Cap thought she was getting actually went into a trust.
He filed for divorce almost immediately and named Parnell as a co-respondent. This created a BFD situation in good ol’ Victorian England and Ireland. Apparently adultery was still a No-No for a lot of people. Parnell’s parliamentary party totally abandoned their support of him and so did his Catholic Irish constituency along with the Church with a capital Cee. He faded into obscurity, and did get to marry his baby-mama eventually. But he died soon after in 1891 of a heart attack at the ripe young of 45.
And so it was that the 7th commandment (or whatever the adultery one is) scandalously killed Irish Home Rule and the Irish Nationalist fight for freedom was never the same again.
So in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I would like to raise a pint of Guinness to our friend, Charles. Whose actions may have cost Ireland its liberty, but at least he got what was his.
To getting what’s yours!
I’ll drink to that.