Overheard

 

“Say what
you will about
Mercedes de Acosta,
she’s had the
most
important
women
of the
twentieth
century.”

~Alice B. Toklas

 

Cattily described as “star-struck,” “a social butterfly,” “lover to the stars,” and the maliciously salient “dyke at the top of the stairs,” Mercedes de Acosta could, and did, boast of the greatest conquests of her day.

“I can get any woman from any man,” she confidently declared.

Not idle braggadocio when one considers a lineup that included the likes of Isadora Duncan, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Eva Le Gallienne.

After the divine and dandyish consort of the day, Cecil Beaton, accompanied Mademoiselle de Acosta to the theater one night in 1930, he wrote in his diary that he sensed people looking at him and questioning why he associated with “that furious lesbian.” (One can almost hear him sputtering over the heavily scratched pages.)

This, from the carefully constructed persona of an enormously gifted genius not known to be a loyal friend, a humble talent or a genuine soul. A bit of the pot calling the kettle black, you might say. Who of Mr. Beaton’s acquaintance, after all, has not been assiduously maligned in his legendary diaries?

As rebels, nonconformists and those ‘ahead-of-their-time’ know, only too well, reputations are rarely fair, hardly just, and often borne of the subject’s own troubling misbehavior. Notorious for walking the streets of New York in mannish pants, pointed bucked shoes, a long flowing cape and a jauntily tilted tricorn hat, the eye-catching Mercedes did create something of an unforgettable spectacle. Her chalk white face, deep-set eyes, thin red lips, and jet black hair slicked back with brilliantine prompted the actress, Tallulah Bankhead, to anoint her the Countess Dracula.

Sadly, it was a label that fit. Throughout her life, the oddly perplexing femme was portrayed as something of a perverse psychopath. When she published her autobiography, Here Lies the Heart, in 1960, it received excellent reviews, but meager sales.

While the book openly discussed her female friends with no direct reference to their sexual proclivities, many readers were outraged by the implications. Some of the ladies mentioned felt they had been “outed.”

Garbo, for one, not only snubbed Mercedes on the sidewalks of New York, but refused to see her on her death bed. Le Gallienne never forgave her, telling everyone she thought the book should have been called “Here the Heart Lies and Lies and Lies.”

Curiously, upon Mercedes death, it was the infamous diaries of Mr. Beaton that provided her final epitaph:

“I cannot be sorry at Mercedes de Acosta’s death. I am only sorry that she should have been so unfulfilled as a character. In her youth she showed zest and originality. She was one of the most rebellious & brazen of Lesbians. … I am relieved that her long drawn out unhappiness has at last come to an end.”

 

A LATE ADDITION: One of my readers, Author, of A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, kindly dug up this enchanting photograph of the young Mercedes de Acosta. It seems her distinctive sartorial style was evidenced early, as was her beauty.

 

 

Additional Reading: That Furious Lesbian: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta, Robert A. Schanke

 

Photograph: (Top) Mercedes de Acosta by Arnold Genthe
(Bottom)Young Mercedes de Acota, unknown

 

 

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~ by eaesthete on 07/05/10.

10 Responses to “Overheard”

  1. Fascinating and extremely well written post as always! This comment barely deserves to be posted but I just also wanted to boringly note that you used a larger type face that was extremely easy to read -for me on my home computer at least. Whatever typeface or size that you continue to post in, I will be an avid reader :-)

    • Dear AD,

      I am happy that you mention the typeface. Truth be told, this site is very rudimentary, with nary a variation from its originally created Wal-Mart template. Moreover, I am one of those challenged by the mysteries of html.

      When funds and time permit, I intend to find one of those gifted few who might assist me in refining it, concentrating on enhanced space and a variety of font styles and sizes.

      In the meantime, I greatly appreciate your squinting patience.

  2. Let them say what they will, those buckle shoes are divine.

  3. Welcome back! Hope you had a lovely time. Thanks for this posting… I was not aware of either of these books as I apparently have been under a stone :)

    In doing a bit of web searching, I came across this great photo of a young Mercedes deAcosta here in full uniform. Hope it works

    http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://27.media.tumblr.com/ZZytuRBovoczqvppPQGKxoxoo1_400.jpg&imgrefurl=http://lostsplendor.tumblr.com/post/537212495/hottiesfromhistory-hotty-from-history-9&usg=__SbZWPbyp_9S6c4WvpizoteM3COc=&h=500&w=376&sz=109&hl=en&start=20&itbs=1&tbnid=DinLLS_qpTJO3M:&tbnh=130&tbnw=98&prev=/images%3Fq%3DMercedes%2Bde%2BAcosta%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1

    • Author,

      A wonderful find, indeed, and already prominently featured. Thank you for enhancing her loveliness and originality that clearly began at a young age.

  4. thank you

  5. This post is absolutely fantastic, fascinating… as always beautifully written EA. I would love to read her autobiography I am sure it’s a page-turner. Love.. Nuit

  6. Brilliant post…as always they leave us wanting for more!!

  7. I do not believe the second photo, the one in military garb, is of Mercedes. More than likely, it is of her sister Rita Lydig. Rita and her first husband had traveled to Russia where she bought some fashions. This photo is probably of her.

    • Robert,

      Thank you so much for that. I just had a request from someone who was interested in using this photograph for an app he’s creating and we were unable to authenticate the source so you may very well be right.

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