you will about
Mercedes de Acosta,
she’s had the
~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