Category: 1930s

NOVEMBER 9: Erika Mann (1905-1969)

The German actress and writer Erika
Mann was born on this day in 1905. She is most well-known for her fearless
anti-fascist artistic and journalistic work during World War II and for starting the cabaret Die Pfeffermühle,
which was a safe haven for Munich’s LGBT community during the 1930s.

During her lifetime, Erika Mann wrote three different novels and multiple plays (x).

Erika Mann was born on November 9,
1905 in Munich, Germany. She was the first child born to Thomas Mann and his wife
Katia. Although she was Jewish on her mother’s side and named after her
maternal uncle Erik, she was baptized Protestant. Her father was a Nobel-prize
winning author and afforded Erika a comfortable and privileged upbringing, but he
confessed to his brother in several letters his disappointment at having a
daughter as his first-born. A son named Klaus would follow soon, however. Klaus and Erika would have an incredibly close relationship for
their whole lives and were bonded by their shared experiences of same-gender attraction. Although not a strong student, Erika was interested
in theater and the arts from a very early age and even started a theater troupe
at her high school. After graduating by the skin of her teeth, she moved to
Berlin and began to further her studies in theater.

“Klaus und Erika Mann, Berlin,” 1930 by

Lotte Jacobi. Often nicknamed “the twins” by family members, Erika (right) and her younger brother Klaus (left) were kindred spirits in a multitude of ways. Klaus was a gay man and Erika was a lesbian and their shared experiences bonded the two for life (x).

Throughout the 1920s, Erika moved
between Berlin and Bremen working with two different theater troupes. She was
married twice in her lifetime; first to the famous German actor Gustaf
Gründgens and then later to the iconic poet W.H. Auden, but they were both lavender marriages – marriages between a gay man and a lesbian that
allowed them to conveniently move about the world of the early 20th century. One of her first lovers was an
actress named Pamela Wedekind who she met while performing in her brother Klaus’s
play Anja und Esther. While Klaus, Pamela,
Erika, and Erika’s first husband Gustaf worked on Anja und Esther, Klaus was engaged to Pamela and Erika was engaged
to Gustaf. These engagements were cover-ups for the real relationships: Klaus
and Gustav and Erika and Pamela. The foursome eventually parted ways in
1929. 

Erika Mann, Klaus Mann, and Pamela Wedekind photographed in the 1920s. Although Pamela was briefly married to Klaus, it was a cover-up for her relationship with Erika (x).

Erika’s other notable affairs would include Therese Giehse, Annemarie
Schwarzenbach and Betty Knox. Erika was in the landmark lesbian
film Mädchen in Uniform in 1931
and
founded the iconic cabaret establishment Die
Pfeffermühle
with her lover Therese Giehse in 1933. Most of the material performed
at the cabaret was penned by Erika herself and was staunchly anti-Fascist. It
only lasted two months before being shut down by the Nazi Party, but during its
short lifespan, Die Pfeffermühle
became a hub for the underground resistance fighters and LGBT community in
Munich.

Erika (far right) poses with other female war corespondents in 1944. One of Erika’s lovers who was also a popular war corespondent, Betty Knox, is pictured fourth from the left (x).

Erika eventually fled Germany and
worked as a journalist and war corespondent for the majority of World War II. After the
war, she, her parents, and Klaus moved to America. Tragically, Erika and Klaus
would soon come under FBI investigation for their illegal “homosexual
activities” and socialist political leanings, the stress of which would result in
Klaus committing suicide. The grief of losing her brother and closest confidant
would never leave Erika. For the rest of her life, she was dedicated to
preserving the work and memory of both her brother and father. Erika herself
passed away on August 27, 1969 from a brain tumor.

-LC

OCTOBER 23: Lilyan Tashman (1896-1934)

Film icon Lilyan Tashman was born
on this day in 1896. The bisexual American actress who rocked Vaudeville,
Broadway, and the silver screen throughout her lifetime is most well-known
today for her roles in Millie, Girls About Town, and So This is Paris.

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Publicity photo of Lilyan Tashman from Stars of the Photoplay (x).

Lilyan Tashman was born to a
working-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York on October 23, 1896. She was
the tenth and youngest child to be born to her immigrant mother and father, who
had been born in Germany and Poland respectively. She attended Girl’s High
School and worked as a fashion and figure drawing model throughout her teen
years to help support the family. Her modeling career eventually blossomed into
a Vaudeville career and by 1914 she was a part of a successful travelling
troupe. Performing became cemented as Lilyan’s career when she was picked up to
join the Ziegfeld Follies in 1916.

Her stint with the Ziegfeld
Follies, although only lasting two years, allowed Lilyan to get a supporting
role in the hit musical The Gold Diggers.
She made her film debut in 1921 with the small film Experience, but after her attempt at leaping from the stage to the
silver screen wasn’t going the way she planned, Lilyan moved across the county
to California. Finally in Hollywood, her career took off; she appeared in five
films in just the course of one year and eventually signed a contract with
Paramount Pictures. Starring in over 66 films during her career, she became
known to audiences for her roles as the “other woman” or the seductive “villainess.”

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Today, many consider Lilyan to
have been a bisexual figure. Her first husband was a colleague from her
Vaudeville days named Al Lee. The two were married in 1914, but soon divorced
in 1921. Her second husband was longtime friend and fellow actor Edmund Lowe.
The two lived together in their lavish Beverly Hills mansion called Lilowe,
threw extravagant parties, and were touted by the media as being Hollywood’s
new darling “it” couple; however, Edmund was a gay man and many believe their
marriage to have been one of convenience. Lilyan herself was rumored to have
had several trysts with women and even an intense relationship with Greta
Garbo
, which left Lilyan heartbroken after Greta called it off. There is even a legend that Lilyan was almost charged with assault (for the SECOND time) after she
caught the actress Constance Bennett in a compromising position with her
girlfriend at the time.

Despite her vitality and
scrappiness, Lilyan tragically contracted abdominal cancer at the young age of
36. She would film five more films during the last years of her life, Frankie and Johnny being the last time
America would ever see her on film. After entering Doctor’s Hospital on March 21,
1934, Lilyan passed away from cancer at the age of 37. Her funeral at the New
York City synagogue Temple Emanu-El saw over 10,000 mourners, fans, and fellow
Hollywood elite in attendance.

-LC

OCTOBER 11: Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Today, the legendary First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt would have turned 133-years-old. Although she might be one of the most quoted and revered women in American history, what is often glossed over about the life of Eleanor Roosevelt is her lesbian identity. 

Eleanor Roosevelt photographed in 1930 (x).

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 to wealthy socialite parents in Manhattan, New York. As a child, she preferred to go by her middle name of Eleanor, but her mother nicknamed her “Granny” for her oddly mature and serious manner. Despite her privileged beginning, Eleanor’s childhood would prove to be traumatic and breed a chronic depression that would follow her for the rest of her life. After her mother and little brother Elliott died of diphtheria in in 1892 and 1893, Eleanor’s father would descend into alcoholism and die of a seizure in 1894; three deaths in three years. For the rest of her childhood, Eleanor would live with her maternal grandmother in Tivoli, New York when she was not attending finishing school at the prestigious Allenswood Academy in London. 

Eleanor’s life changed when she just so happened to run into her father’s fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on a train back to Tivoli in 1902. Despite the opposition of several of their family members, Eleanor and Franklin were married on March 17, 1905. The couple settled in New York City’s Hyde Park area and remained there for many years, having six children from 1906 to 1916. Everything changed for Eleanor once again when her husband became the President of the United States on March 4, 1933. A “reluctant first lady,” Eleanor was dismayed at the idea that she would be so publicly shunned to the private, “womanly” sphere of the home and spend all her days playing hostess; however, Eleanor would go on to reinvent the role of First Lady and carry her feminist passions into her life in the White House. 

Although she had six children throughout her lifetime, Eleanor would reveal in private to her daughter Anne that she disliked having sex with her husband and that it was “an ordeal to be borne.” It is widely regarded today that Eleanor was a lesbian. She had a longtime relationship with the out lesbian journalist Lorena Hickock, whose love story with Eleanor we have covered on the blog before! It was also rumored that she had a short affair with the famous pilot Amelia Earhart, who was a close friend of Eleanor during her lifetime and who once sneaked her out of the White House so the two could attend a party together. The letters between Amelia and Lorena coupled with the fact that she was close friends with several known lesbian couples, such as Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman, and Esther Lape and Elizabeth Read, makes the fact of Eleanor’s lesbianism and her understanding of that culture and identity undeniable. 

Photos of Eleanor and her longtime lover Lorena Hickok side by side. The letters between the two were not studied as evidence of an explicit love affair until the publication of Eleanor and Hick by Susan Quin in 2016 (x).

Even after her time at the White House was up and her husband had famously lost his battle with polio, Eleanor maintained a career as a social activist. She became the very first United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and spearheaded the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The laundry list of progressive and feminist organizations Eleanor was either a supporter of or was directly involved in is almost never-ending and her contributions to mainstream America’s understanding of women’s rights is immeasurable. She passed away from cardiac arrest on November 7, 1962 an American hero.  

-LC

OCTOBER 6: Janet Gaynor (1906-1984)

The famous actress and one of America’s first “sweethearts,” Janet Gaynor, was born on this day in 1906! She is most well-known for being the very first winner
of the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1929.

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Walt Disney specifically asked his animators to model the titular princess of Snow White after Janet Gaynor (x). 

Laura Augusta Gainor was born on
October 6, 1906 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest in the family
and had an older sister who nicknamed her “Lolly” as a child. Her father worked
as a theatrical painter and began encouraging Janet to sing and dance when she
was just a toddler, which led to her joining school plays as soon as she was
old enough. When her parents divorced in 1914, she, her sister, and her mother
moved to Chicago and then later to San Francisco. She graduated from San
Francisco Polytechnic High School in 1923. Soon after, the family
moved to Los Angeles so that Janet could be closer to the entertainment industry
action and could hopefully succeed in her acting career. Her first role was as
an extra in a small comedy short and she eventually worked her way up to a
supporting role in the 1926 film The
Johnstown Flood
. That same year, her career really took off after she was
named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars alongside Joan Crawford and Mary Astor.

As Janet’s star grew, her image
became that of the sweet, wholesome woman in contrast to many of the famous
movie star “vamps” of the day. Her performance in 7th Heaven earned her the Best Actress award at the first ever
Academy Award Ceremony in 1929. Throughout the 1930s, she was one of the few
actresses who was able to make the leap into sound films with hits such as Daddy Long Legs (1931), A Star is Born (1937), and The Young in Heart (1938). Janet retired
from acting when she was at the top of her game in 1939.

Janet photographed enjoying a day at the pool with her fellow actress friend and close “gal pal,” Margaret Lindsay. Today, it is known that the two were actually romantically involved for a time (x).

Many have speculated about whether
Janet was a lesbian or was bisexual, but there is no denying that she had
relationships with other women. She was married to men three times throughout
her life and had a son named Robin with her second husband, Adrian. In the 2001
book Behind the Screen: How Gays and
Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910-1969
, author William J. Mann asserts that
Janet was a lesbian who entered into “lavender marriages” with gay or bisexual men; it was a well-known “secret” in the theater community that her second husband Adrian Greenberg was a gay man. Janet is known to have had at least two serious relationships with women – fellow actresses Margaret
Lindsay and Mary Martin. Janet and Mary’s relationship was the longest of
the two and they often traveled to a vacation home in the Brazilian town of Goiás
together throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Actor Robert Cumming is famous for
having quipped, “Janet Gaynor’s husband was Adrian, the MGM fashion designer.
But her wife was Mary Martin.”

On September 5, 1982, Janet, her
third husband Paul, her lover Mary, and their friend Ben Washer were hit by a
drunk driver while riding in a taxi cab in San Francisco. Washer was killed,
while Janet and the other passenger sustained serious injuries. Janet would
never fully recover from her injuries and would eventually pass away on  September 14, 1984. She is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery 

-LC

SEPTEMBER 20: Mädchen in Uniform is released (1931)

On this day in 1931, the film Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform)
was released in the United States. Directed by the out lesbian director
Leontine Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform is
an lesbian cult classic.

An original poster for the film as it was displayed in 1931 shows Manuela (center)  gazing longingly at her teacher,

Fräulein von Bernburg (left) (x). 

The film follows a 14-year-old girl named Manuela
von Meinhardis, whose mother and father have both died and whose aunt has stuffed her away in an all-girls boarding school. The conditions at the
school are brutal and the headmistress forbids any kindness or leisure be allowed to the students. Manuela’s only brightness in life is Fräulein von Bernburg, the only compassionate teacher at the school. One day when Manuela arrives to
class in old, torn clothes, von Bernburg pulls her aside  and offers
to let her borrow some of her own clothes. In a narrative turn that changed the history of film, Manuela bursts into tears and admits
that she is in love with her, to which von Bernburg replies that they can never
be. The rest of the film follows Manuela as she deals with the secrecy of her
love for von Bernburg coupled with her classmates’ secret plot to report their
headmistress’s brutal behavior to the authorities.

Mädchen in Uniform’s love plot between two women is not told
through code or subtext, but is an essential part of the film’s story, and for
this reason the film has often been dubbed the very first lesbian movie of the
western world. Berlin, Germany of the 1930s was thriving with an LGBT nightclub
scene, where the film made a huge splash. Although it was almost banned in the
United States for a goodnight kissing scene between the two protagonists, First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s highly positive review of the film was able to turn the
public opinion (#lesbiansolidarity). Later on when the Nazis began to rise to
power, instead of destroying the film as they did to many LGBT-themed
works of art, the ending of the film was rather altered to seem like a pro-Nazi
production. In 1958,when  the film was re-made under the same title, the plot followed the
ending of the original 1931 production.

-LC

SEPTEMBER 18: Greta Garbo (1905-1990)

One of the most iconic actresses
of the 20th century, Greta Garbo, was born on this day in 1905.
Despite her image in the American imagination as the eternally heterosexual
romantic lead and starlet, Greta lived a lonely, closeted life.

Greta Garbo first traveled to the United States at the age of 19 and not two years later she would be one of the most well-known actresses in the country (x).

Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born
in the slum of Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden on September 18, 1905. She was
the third and the youngest child born to a working class family – her mother
worked at a jam factory and her father was a janitor. Poverty haunted her
childhood and she is remembered as having been a shy, daydreaming child who was
interested in theater and performance from an early age; a former classmate remembered
a 10-year-old Greta declaring that she wanted to be an actress when she grew up
“because it’s posh.” After leaving school at the age of 13, she began working
as a cleaner girl in a barber shop, but eventually took a job at the PUB
Department Story. It was there where Greta was picked out for her beauty and
chosen to model women’s hats. Modeling gigs turned into commercial gigs, which
eventually lead her to starring in short films.

In 1922, the director Erik Arthur
Petschler spotted one of Greta’s commercials and invited her to star in his
small comedy film Peter the Tramp.
Seeing a real future in acting, she studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s
Acting School for two years before getting shipped off to America on the request of
MGM Vice President Louis B. Mayer. After the studio forced her to straighten
her teeth, lose 30 pounds, and lean English, Greta became a superstar and
starred in over 20 silent films. In 1929, she became one of the few stars who
was able to make the jump over to “talkies” with the film Anna Christie. Over the next decade, she would star in hits such as
Grand Hotel, Camille, and Anna Karenina
and would receive three Oscar nominations.

Video footage of Greta arriving at Gothenburg Harbor in 1935 overplayed with words from one of her loves, Mercedes de Acosta

Closely associated with the line
from Grand Hotel, “I want to be alone; I just want to be alone,” Greta hated
publicity and was a recluse later in life. Many historians have theorized that Greta’s social
anxiety and depression were results of her lesbianism and the pressure placed
on her to hide that part of her life from the world. Actresses Lilyan Tashman,
Mercedes de Acosta, and Louise Brooks have all admitted to having sexual
relationships with Greta, but if she had an ultimate love it had to have been
Mimi Pollack. Mimi was a Swedish actress who Greta met during her time at
the Royal Dramatic Theater and the two maintained a close correspondence for
the rest of their lives. The romantic tone of their letters is undeniable;
Greta writes:

 “’The letter from you has aroused a storm of longing within me,” “’I
dream of seeing you and discovering whether you still care as much about your
old bachelor. I love you, little Mimosa,” “’We cannot help our nature, as God
has created it. But I have always thought you and I belonged together.” 

When
Mimi’s son was born, Greta even wrote that she was “incredibly proud to be a
father.”

Greta’s relationship with Mimi
would not become known to the mainstream public until 2005 with the publication of the
Swedish book Djävla Älskade Unge by Tin Andersen Axell. At the time of Greta’s
death on April 14, 1990, it would be over ten years before the
public who claimed to adore her would know a sliver of who the actress truly
was.

-LC

SEPTEMBER 13: Claudette Colbert (1903-1996)

The French actress turned American femme fatale, Claudette
Colbert, was born on this day in 1903. The possibly bisexual performer had a
successful acting career that lasted over two decades.

Two of Claudette’s most scandalous roles were in The Sign of the Cross (1932) and Cleopatra (1934) where she appeared topless and semi-nude, respectively (x).

Émilie “Lily” Claudette Chauchoin was born on
September 13, 1903 in Saint-Mandé, France. In an ironic twist of fate, she was
nicknamed Lily by her family after the New Jersery-born actress Lillie Langtry
and the family would later migrate to New Jersey themselves. Claudette attended Washington Irving High School and
became heavily involved in their theater program, but still set out for Art
Students League of New York after high school with her sights set on becoming a
fashion designer. It wasn’t until she scored a small role in the Broadway play The Wild Westcotts in 1923 that
Claudette started to seriously pursue acting.

With her sights now set on acting as a career goal, Lily
Chauchoin became Claudette Colbert; Claudette from her middle name and Colbert
from her maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She started out with a five-year
contract with Broadway producer Al Woods, but eventually made the transition
over into films in 1929 with The Hole in
the Wall
. She found her niche and became a household name in 1932 when
Cecil B. DeMille cast her as the femme fatale in his historical epic The Sign of the Cross. To Claudette’s dismay,
she would then become known as one of the leading femme fatales in Hollywood
and for her overly sexual roles. By 1933, she had starred in over 20 films and
was ranked as the 13th  biggest box office star in America. A year later, she would win the Academy Award for Best Actress for It Happened One Night.

Claudette and one of her supposed lovers, Marlene Dietrich, on the slide during Carole Lombard’s party at Venice Pier Amusement Park, June 1935 (x).

Claudette was married twice; first to a man named Norman
Foster who was a director and her Broadway costar, but after they divorced she
wed a UCLA surgeon named Joel Pressman. Despite both her marriages being seemingly legitimate and loving, rumors of Claudette’s affairs with other actresses such
as Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Marlene Dietrich followed her for her entire career. Most
notably, Claudette had a very public intimate relationship with the out lesbian
artist Verna Hull in the 1950s. Although Claudette denied the rumors that she
was bisexual or a lesbian, she and Verna rented a home together in New York City
and even had neighboring vacation homes in Barbados. The relationship ended abruptly
and on bad terms in the early 1960s after the death of Claudette’s husband.
When Claudette passed away on July 30, 1996, she left her entire estate to
another woman named Helen O’Hagan, who she instructed in her will to be treated
“as her spouse.”  

-LC

SEPTEMBER 10: Mary Oliver (1935-)

Happy 82nd birthday to Mary Oliver, who was born
on this day in 1935!! Having published over 40 poetry collections and
nonfiction books in her lifetime, Mary is a lesbian icon of the literary world.

As of 2017, Mary Oliver has won over 11 prestigious poetry and book awards (x).

Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935 in a suburb of
Cleveland, Ohio called Maple Heights. Her father was a high school teacher and
athletic coach while her mother was a stay-at-home wife. She recalls having
written her first poem at the age of 14. When she was 17, Mary visited the home
of the late great poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, New York, which
greatly affected her outlook on her own writing and the study of literature as
a whole. In the 1950s, she attended both Ohio University and Vassar College but
eventually dropped out of both before she could receive a degree.

Her first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963 when Mary was only
28-years-old. The collection was a critical and commercial success and by the
time her fifth poetry collection, American
Primitive
, was published, she was nominated for and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Mary work is grounded in nature and she has been compared to naturalist writers
such as Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. Her home state of Ohio as well as
her “adopted home” of Provincetown Massachusetts, where she lived with her
partner for over 40 years, are both featured heavily in her work.

Mary photographed with her partner Molly Malone Cook at the couple’s home in Provincetown, Massachusetts (x).

Mary met Molly Malone Cook in the 1950s while visiting
Austerlitz for a second time. The poet and the photographer hit it off
immediately; Mary has written that she “took one look and fell, hook and
tumble.” The two lived together until Molly’s death in 2005. After Molly’s
passing, Mary compiled her partner’s photographs of the life they had shared together
and published a book titled Our World.
Despite feeling “very, very lonely” after Molly’s death, in a 2011 interview
with O Magazine, Mary revealed that she has been continuing her writing and is “happier
now than she’s ever been.”

-LC

AUGUST 21: Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo (1936-2008)

The “Red Duchess” of Spain, Luisa Isabel

Álvarez de Toledo,
was born on this day in 1936. As the 21st Duchess of the ducal family of
Medina-Sidonia, Luisa hailed from one of the most prestigious noble families in
Spain and rose to prominence for her controversial political activism and lesbian
identity.

Not only was she a Spanish duchess, but Luisa was also a committed and celebrated historian (x).  

Born on August 21, 1936 in Estoril, Portugal, Luisa’s full
name and title was Luisa Isabel María del Carmen Cristina Rosalía Joaquina, Duchess
of Medina Sidonia. She was the only child born to her parents, but her family
line boasts plenty of famous names in Spanish history; her grandfather, Atonia
Maura, was the former Prime Minister and her cousin, Carmen Maura, is a famous
actress. As an adult, Luisa worked as a historian and published multiple novels
and studies. Despite being born into a noble family, Luisa had strong political
opinions all her life and was even a member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’
Party, which was illegal in the country for much of her life. It was through
her involvement with the Worker’s Party that Luisa earned the nickname the “Red
Duchess” and eventually became imprisoned at Alcalá de Henares for a time in
the 1960s.

Liliana Maria Dahlmann (left) and Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo (right) enjoyed an over 20-year relationship before Luisa’s death in 2008 (x).

Despite having married fellow aristocrat, José Leoncio
González de Gregorio y Martí, in 1955 and having three children throughout the
course of their marriage, Luisa was a lesbian and wrote about her experience of
compulsory heterosexuality in her memoir My
Prison
. She met the love of her life in 1983 when a woman named Liliana
Maria Dahlmann became her personal secretary. The two’s professional
relationship soon evolved into a romantic partnership. Sadly, Luisa and Liliana’s
relationship wasn’t recognized legally until 11 hours before Luisa’s death on March
7, 2008. With 71-year-old Luisa on her death bed, the two were married in a
civil ceremony and Liliana remains the president of Luisa’s estate to this day.

-LC

AUGUST 17: Rebecca is published (1938)

The classic novel Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier was first published on this day in 1938! The bisexual
Daphne’s magnum opus and its film adaptation has lingered in LGBT culture for
decades due to its heavy lesbian-coding of the character Mrs. Danvers.

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Ever since it first hit shelves, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca has been a best-seller and is even still in print in the year 2017 (x). 

Inspired by events in Daphne’s own life, Rebecca tells the story of a woman named
Mrs. de Winter who finds herself being psychologically haunted by the ghost of
her husband’s first wife whose name was, you guessed it, Rebecca. Having
married Mr. de Winter just a year after Rebecca’s tragic death in a boating
accident, the new Mrs. de Winter (who is never given a first name) is a very unwelcome
addition to the family’s home and social circle. Her primary tormentor is Mrs.
Danvers, the creeping housemaid who is resentful of the fact that the new Mrs.
de Winter is encroaching on Rebecca’s memory. Painted as a vindictive villain
who has been obsessed with Rebecca ever since she was a child, Mrs. Danvers has
long been read as a lesbian character; albeit a derogatory stereotype of one,
but a lesbian all the same. When the novel was adapted to the screen in 1940,
the lesbian subtext became even more prominent. Before the film was completed the Motion Picture Production Code sent a message to its director
regarding the subtext: “If any hint of this creeps into this scene, we will of
course not be able to approve the picture.”

The iconic scene from the 1940 film adaptation where Mrs. Danvers clings to Rebecca’s lingerie was featured in a 1995 documentary about the history of LGBT characters across film history titled

The Celluloid Closet for its obvious lesbian subtext. 

Although Daphne du Maurier was happily married to her
husband, she also had multiple affairs with women and wrote
in her private diaries about preferring both men and women. The titular
character of her novel My Cousin Rebecca
was highly influenced by Ellen Doubleday, the wife of Daphne’s publisher and
also her lover of several years. We have also written about Daphne’s affair with the
British actress Gertrude Lawrence in the past
. Sarah Waters, who is arguable
today’s most popular lesbian author
, has cited Daphne as a big inspiration for
her own work and has spoken publicly about her belief that Daphne wrote lesbian-coded
characters as a way of working through her own “unruly feelings” about women or
perhaps releasing her own feelings of internalized homophobia.

-LC