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?