MARCH 1: Mercedes de Acosta (1893-1968)

365daysoflesbians:

Poet, playwright, and novelist Mercedes de Acosta, otherwise
known by legendary epithets such as “the dyke at the top of the stairs” and
“the greatest starfucker ever,” would have been 124 years old today.

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Born in 1893, Mercedes was a true trust fund baby. Her Cuban
father was a member of the New York elite and her Spanish mother was the subject of
a wild rumor that said she was related to the Duke of Alba. Growing up, Mercedes was
surrounded by a whirlpool of eclectic artists, writers, and actors whose
larger than life reputations would later influence her own work. Despite writing collections of
poetry, plays, and novels such as Streets
and Shadows
and Archways of Life,
it is not Mercedes’ creative works that earned her fame, but rather the careful
cultivation of her daring lesbian persona and her various affairs with women
celebrities such as Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo.

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Greta Garbo (left) and Mercedes de Acosta (right). (x)

Mercedes’s attention to the #aesthetic was undoubtedly ahead
of its time, and she was known for strolling around the streets of New York
with slicked back hair and “mannish” clothing. A friend of Mercedes’s once wrote
in his diary about attending the movie theater with her and feeling that people
were staring at him, wondering, “why do you associate with that furious
lesbian!” Her sexuality was no secret and she also openly blurred the lines of
her gender identity. She once reportedly said, “I am not a boy and I am
not a girl, or maybe I am both — I don’t know.
And because I don’t know, I will never fit in anywhere and I will be lonely
all my life.” While she expressed loneliness privately, publicly, Mercedes was
known as a female Lothario and once boasted, “I can get any woman from any
man.” One of the most intense relationships Mercedes had was with stage actress
Eva Le Gallienne, who she first met just three days before her wedding to the
well-known portrait painter Abram Poole. Despite going through with the
marriage, Mercedes continued to have a relationship with Eva for the next five
years. Legend has it that Mercedes mailed Eva at least two to three letters a
day.

Perhaps one of the most infamous affairs in Hollywood
history was Mercedes’s relationship with the actress Greta Garbo. The two met
in 1931 and would have a wild on again/off again relationship for the next
twelve years. They were inseparable at times and even lived together for a
while in 1932. Mercedes was head over heels for Greta, showering her with
flowers and gifts and even pasting photos of Greta into her Bible. However, one of the
first rifts in their relationship began to appear when a screenplay Mercedes had been
drafting for Greta was shot down by MGM executive Irving Thalberg. Thalberg did
not take too kindly to Mercedes’s idea of having glamorous starlet Greta Garbo
spend an entire film “dressed as a boy.” After several rifts and repairs, Greta ended the affair in 1946 for reasons unknown.

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One of Mercedes’s notebooks with photos of Greta Garbo pasted inside.(x

In 1960, Mercedes released a controversial autobiography titled
Here Lies the Heart. Although
Mercedes never candidly discusses her lesbian relationships in the book,
several of her old flames – Le Gallienne and Garbo included – felt they had
been outed by the mentions of their “friendships” with Mercedes and permanently severed ties with her as a result. Mercedes died in 1968, but not in shame. Although
she was in poor health and virtually blacklisted from Hollywood, she became close
friends with Andy Warhol and remained in the center of the New York gay scene
up until her death.

-LC