Paris during the 1920s was notoriously a mecca for gay
artists – painters, writers, and partiers
whatever your art form, you were all going to the same cafes, the
same salons, and the same bookstores (hello, Sylvia Beach). This definitive chaos,
this wealth of cultural history, would have all been lost to time if it were
not for the work of journalist Janet Flanner.
Janet photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1927. (x)
Janet was born in 1892 in Indianapolis. Her father owned a
mortuary, her mother was a housewife, and life was as suburban as it could get
in the 19th century. She had a brief stint at the University of
Chicago, but left after two years and became a movie critic with the Indianapolis Star. At the age of 26,
Janet decided she needed to get out of the Midwest. Although she was enjoying a
successful journalism career with the Indianapolis
Star, Janet and her friend William Lane Rehm entered into a marriage of
convenience and set out for the Big Apple – New York City – together. Once in
the city, Janet quickly found her people (which is to say, gay people). She
threw herself into the Bohemia scene of Greenwich Village and eventually met one
of the loves of her life, Solita Solano.
Janet and her partner Solita Solano photographed while exploring Greece. (x)
Solita and Janet enjoyed several years in New York City,
both working steadily as journalists. It was there where Janet was scooped up
Harold Ross to work for The New Yorker,
a gig that would go on to change Janet’s life and define her legacy.
Eventually, Solita was offered a job with National Geographic that allowed the
couple to travel the world. The two eventually settled in Paris and, once
again, Janet found her people. Her column for The New Yorker became the iconic “Letters
from Paris” – all of America’s front row seat to the craziness and gaiety that
was Parisian Bohemia. Janet wrote “Letters from Paris” under the penname Genêt.
Legend has it that her editor accidentally bequeathed the name to her, mistaking
Genêt to be the French spelling of Janet. Nevertheless, Janet entertained
American audiences with the goings-on of celebrities and artists such as Pablo
Picasso, Josephine Baker, Jean Cocteau, and Henri Matisse for over 50 years.
Many credit Janet’s distinctive voice to be the creator of what is now simply
referred to as the voice of The New
“Letter from Paris” by Janet Flanner as it appeared in The New Yorker October 9, 1926 p. 79. (x)
World War II drastically changed Janet’s life and career.
She moved back to New York, fell into an affair with a woman named Natalia
Danesi Murray (while still maintaining a relationship with Solita), and started
to cover more harrowing war stories for The
New Yorker. After the war, Janet returned to Europe and for decades covered such crucial stories as the Nazi trials, the Soviet invasion of
Hungary, and the Suez Crisis. Frequently travelling due to her line of work,
Janet simultaneously built a life with Solita, who was in New York, and a life
with Natalia, who was in Paris in what could now possibly be interpreted as a
long-distance polyamorous relationship. Janet died in 1978 at the age of 86.
Her last “Letter from Paris” had appeared in The New Yorker just three years
before in 1975.