Bonjour, mes amis. Puetetre vous etes pissed off at moi parce-que mon terrible francais et le non posting a la blog pour un long time.
I get it. I’m sorry. Unemployment, depression, employment again, busy again, commuting, 7th grade French. The usual story. Let’s move on.
Disclaimer: I’m like 2.5 glasses in, and I FEEL GREAT.
Today, we’re going to talk about a lady named Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. But you might know her as the lady who wrote the novel on which the popular 1958 movie-musical starring Audrey Hepburn Gigi was based. Oh, no? You’re not a movie musical person? You didn’t grow up watching 1776 and The Music Man whenever you had a free minute after you finished all the homework you loved doing? No? Just us?
[And also LAUREN too, probably — she’s the Suggest a Scandal-er who’s getting a shout out today because of her Bad-A, spot on, and really, let’s be honest, inspiring suggestion.]
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was known, eventually, as “Colette.” Sort of like Madonna and Beyonce. She is an SBW* for many reasons, but (for me at least) the main one is this: She lived (as a functioning, conscious adult) in Paris during not just La Belle Epoch, not only the 20s, not merely the Vichy regime — but ALL THREE. She got to be one of an extremely limited number of people who died with memories of and significant cultural contributions to three at once uniquely beautiful, terrifying and distinct eras of French, NAY, European history. Pretty fricken cool if you ask me.
But not only did she live through and remember these time periods, she also had a boatload of sex during them. And isn’t that what’s important, after all?
We think so.
Let me just share with you the first four sections of her Wikipedia Index to give you a sense of the kind of charlatan (THAT WAS A HARD WORD FOR ME TO SPELL IN MY CURRENT STATE) we’re dealing with here.
- Early life and Marriage
- Music Hall** Career, and Affairs with Women
- Second Marriage, affair with Stepson
- Third Marriage
Not to copy Wikipedia’s format (which I so often do), but I think we should start with Marriage Numero Uno, which joined (legally speaking) the lady in question to a “literary…degenerate” who went by “Willy.” Colette wrote her first novel, Claudine, using “Willy” as a pen name. The novel was so shocking, so dirty, so scandalous that Willy started to earn his “degenerate” epithet. He was also sleeping with a lot of prostitutes, which helped, too.
Eventually, Colette started to tire of that, and left her husband for greener pastures. These pastures came in the form of the music halls** of le Belle Epoch Paris — you know, like, the Moulin Rouge, (that movie with Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, and Nicole whatsherface). Colette and a woman who went by the name of “Missy” (which is sort of saucy and erotic, for whatever reason) became a duo. And by duo, I mean they wrote and performed in an act that ended in a smooch, which caused a pandemonium that only police intervention could quell. They were practically the Amy and Tina of their time.
Oh, and they also were lovers who did it a lot and lived together. But after their riot-inducing performance at Paris’s most notorious house of sin, they weren’t able to live together openly. Even though it was Paris, Gerty and Alice hadn’t quite settled there, so them Boston marriages weren’t cool yet. But the two did still get busy widdit (and each other) off and on for about five more years, which is like an eternity in early 20th century Parisian leztime.
Meanwhile in 1912, Colette marries her second husband, Henri de Jouvenel, a newspaper editor. At this point (just to give you a little perspective) it’s the WW1 time frame and she is 39 years old. Henri has a really hot stepson named Bertrand, and they start to all live together (as a big, happy, effed up family) in 1920. It’s hard to imagine because it’s kind of a fat-kid name, but trust me, Bertrand was a looker, ‘specially when he was 16. (Yeah, I said it.) But it was at age 16 that he began a steamy, smoldering, super hot, hollywood movie-inspiring ro-MANCE (although I’m not sure one was every made) with none other than his 47 year old step mother. Many people believe that Colette’s famous novel Cherie (starring Michelle Pfeiffer and a hot guy whose name I don’t know) is based on her relationship with her stepson. BUT, it seems like they didn’t actually meet until about half of the novel was published already — so probably she was having a different affair with some other hot young thing when she was writing it. That’s the soundest logic there is.
Their affair was majorly on the DL due to the fact that Colette was married to the father of her lover. (Who vommed in their mouth a little just then? Whatever, get it, gurl.) But as soon as Henri found out that his son was boinking his wife (so the story goes) he packed his bags and left. It was a huge scandal in Paris — even the French, the inventors of fellatio were like, “Not cool, lady.” The scandal was over the 1920s equivalent of Page 6. But, I mean, think of the timeframe: this is when all the cool kids were there, so EVERYONE would have been talking about it in between the absinth binging and the trips to Gertrude Stein’s house. Colette was like, “Please don’t go. I ‘love’ you” to Henri. But despite that rock solid argument, he left anyway. A few hours later, Bertrand moved his fine ass into her house and they continued their affair.
Eventually that petered out, and Bertrand started shacking up with Martha Gellhourn (which marks the second time that Nicole Kidman has casually come up in this post so far. Coincidence? No. One. Will. Ever. Know.)
But I’ve focused too much on the scandalous things Colette has done. Well, I suppose that IS the point of the blog, so maybe I haven’t focused too much on it, but there are some aspects of Colette’s life that we need to honor and not just be entertained/turned on by. For starters, she left behind over 50 published works written over about a 50 year career as a writer and sex haver. Much of her work was autobiographical and dealt with much darker relationship/sexual issues than had ever been discussed in literature before — let alone by a woman. During the Vichy occupation of France, she was a baller at helping her Jewish friends, most notably husband number 3 who she hid in her attic Anne Frank-style throughout the war. And during the Great War, she converted her husband’s estate into a hospital and received the Legion of Honor in 1920 for her work there. OH, and did I mention that she discovered Audrey Hepburn? Like, literally, she just saw her walking through a hotel and was like, “She’s my Gigi.” So, I think it’s safe to say that we have her to thank for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not to be confused with The Breakfast Club, which I ALWAYS do) and Sabrina. She was also the first woman in French history to receive a State funeral.
It’s women of the past like Colette who remind women of today to get out there and get what’s theirs. Even if it’s their hot, teenage stepson. AMIRIGHT, PEOPLE?
*Strong Black Woman, what have you never read this blog before?
Worth a try, amiright?!
For the first installment of Ex-Pats Theme Week, we’ll be turning to everyone’s favorite 20th century lesbians, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas who were, admittedly, not that hot. Or scandalous, if we’re being honest. Explicitly at least. Because even in 1920s hipper-than-austin-tx-during-a-film-festival Paris, to be a lady who was into other ladies was still pretty taboo. But regardless of their scandalosity, Stein and Toklas were the uncontested leaders and organizers of the 1920s expat scene in Paris and no For Shame! ex-pat theme week would be complete without them. So we’ll do the best we can here, and if I have to make up some imaginary lesbian sex dialogues, so be it.
Stein and Toklas met in Paris in 1907 on Toklas’s first day in the big city, and it was love at first sight. This is what Alice wrote about Gerty the first time she saw her:
She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else’s voice– deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto’s, like two voices.
Did your heart just melt a little? Yeah, mine too. Bitches be sweet. They were swapping panties from that day until 1947, when Stein died of stomach cancer. During their life together, their home in Paris was the most important Salon for budding writers and artists during Europe’s interwar period.
They collected paintings, they read manuscripts, they sat for paintings, they rejected paintings, they rejected manuscripts, they sold paintings, they stood for paintings, they sat for readings – Stein and Toklas were the artistic and literary barometers of 1920s Western Europe. It is arguable that Thornton Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso among others are all well known because Stein encouraged and promoted their work and deemed it good. If she had told Hemingway that he sucked and his work was no good, we probably wouldn’t know who he is now. If she hadn’t started buying Picasso’s painting or letting him paint her, or other people, in her salon, he’d just be some Spanish douchebag with a paintbrush and sex problem. Point is, we have these bitches to thank for, like, half the MOMA’s permanent collection, and probably a third of the Penguin Classics. As they say, behind every good artist is a good lesbian.*
To keep this puppy short, let’s just do a good ol’ list of ways that Stein and Toklas scandalized shit up in their time as Europe’s #1 lesbian couple:
- Stein’s book, Q.E.D. (Things As They Are), which was published by Toklas posthumously, is considered to be the first coming out story in history. Pretty big fucking deal if you asked me. It was also the first book to use the word “gay” to mean “homosexual.” And she used it over, and over again. So people who didn’t understand that thought it was just a book about a lot of really happy women.
- Stein’s most famous book, from which you probably read an excerpt in high school, or on an AP exam or something, is called Tender Buttons. WHICH I JUST FUCKING REALIZED IS A METAPHOR FOR CLITORISES!!! How did I miss that all these years? She was the biggest lesbian in the world and her most famous book is called Tender
Buttons. DUH. OF COURSE IT IS. Why didn’t Mr. Snyder, my 11th grade English teacher, tell us that?! In the text, she repeatedly uses the words “snatch” and “box,” (MRG and my favorite vaginal euphemisms, respectively.) That sneaky, sneaky bitch. Tender fucking buttons. You sneaky bitch, Gertrude Stein!
- I just learned this while doing my “research” for this post. Did you know that Stein and Toklas were hard-core political conservatives? Weird, right? Considering they had vaginas, and liked vaginas so much, and were both Jews from the Bay Area. But it’s true. During WWII, they retired to a little cottage in the French countryside and weren’t bothered by Jew Hunters because they had a friend in politics who collaborated with the Vichy government. Wuuttt?? And then, after the war, when their buddy was imprisoned for being a collaborator, they helped to fund his escape! So maybe that wasn’t exactly scandalous, but kind of surprising right? It subverted my expectations, ‘aight?
And now, as promised, an imagined lesbian historical dialogue from For Shame!’s resident thesBian (that’s me), unto you:
Gerty: Alice, TWAT did you think about Pablo’s latest work?
Alice: I TWAT it was rather pedestrian.
Gerty: Really? I was thinking I might SNATCH it up!
Alice: That’s curious, because I would put it in my BOX of things that suck.
* Joke courtesy of good friend and lover of the blog, LP.
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?