Mercedes de Acosta


Mercedes de Acosta
Mercedes de Acosta

Poet, playwright
Born March 1, 1893(1893-03-01)
New York City
Died May 9, 1968 (1968 -05-09) (aged 75)
New York City
Occupation Poet, Novelist, Playwright
Nationality American

Mercedes de Acosta (March 1, 1893 – May 9, 1968) was an American poet, playwright, and socialite, best known for her numerous lesbian affairs with Hollywood personalities including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Alla Nazimova, Eva Le Gallienne, Isadora Duncan, Katharine Cornell, Ona Munson, Adele Astaire and, allegedly, Tallulah Bankhead, amongst others, which she documented in her controversial autobiography Here Lies the Heart.[1]

It was a reputation not appreciated by everyone. As Alice B. Toklas, the lover of Gertrude Stein, wrote to a disapproving friend, Anita Loos,

"...you can't dispose of Mercedes lightly—she has had the two most important women in the US—Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich."[2]

Four of de Acosta's plays were produced, and she published a novel and three volumes of poetry.

Contents

Background

She was born in New York City in 1893 to a Cuban father, Ricardo de Acosta (of Spanish descent), and a Spanish mother, Micaela Hernandez de Alba y de Alba, reportedly a descendant of the Spanish Dukes of Alba. She had several siblings: Aida, Ricardo Jr., Angela, Maria, and Rita. The last would become a famous beauty best known as Rita Lydig.

De Acosta married Abram Poole (1882–1961), a painter and socialite, in 1920. They divorced in 1935.

Personal life

Although she showed no particular talent in her professional field, it is no doubt her personal life that has made her famous in Hollywood and gay circles. She became involved in numerous lesbian relationships with Hollywood's elite, claimed many more, and did not attempt to hide her sexuality.

In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova, and shortly thereafter, allegedly started an affair with young actress Tallulah Bankhead, and later dancer Isadora Duncan. Shortly after marrying Abram Poole in 1920, de Acosta became involved in a turbulent five-year relationship with actress Eva Le Gallienne. The two women vacationed and travelled together often, at times visiting the salon of famed writer and socialite Natalie Barney in Europe.[3] De Acosta wrote two plays for Eva during that time, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. Neither were successful, and the combined financial failures of both plays and de Acosta's possessive and jealous nature brought the affair to an end.[3]

Over the next decade she had other famous female partners, all of whom were either rising stars, or aging stars. These included Rudolph Valentino's alleged fiancée, actress Pola Negri, a film star during the 1930s, writer Edith Wharton, writer and stage actress Katharine Cornell, socialite Dorothy ("Dickie") Fellowes-Gordon, and writer Amy Lowell.

In 1920 de Acosta met and became involved with the married Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina in a relationship and friendship that lasted throughout her life. Karsavina was one of the few who continued to be friendly toward de Acosta following her controversial autobiography.

Affair with Greta Garbo

In 1931, she met and claims to have quickly become involved with Greta Garbo. The two were introduced to one another in 1931 by Garbo's close friend, author Salka Viertel. Her affair with Garbo was sporadic and volatile with Garbo always in control. The two were close for lengthy periods, occasionally taking vacations together, then apart for long spells without Garbo acknowledging de Acosta. By all accounts, de Acosta remained in love with Garbo for the rest of her life.

Garbo apparently did not share these feelings. In 1944, Garbo ended the on-again off-again relationship for a time, insisting that de Acosta stop sending her poems and letters. In any case, they remained friends for nearly thirty years and had an active mail correspondence in the 1950s.

Travels in India

In the 1930s Mercedes had acquired an interest in Eastern spirituality through one of her acquaintances, Princess Norina Matchabelli, a follower of the Indian mystic Meher Baba. For many years de Acosta was captivated by Meher Baba and spent time in his company when he visited Hollywood. In fact, Meher Baba made mention of de Acosta's affection for Greta Garbo, saying they had been married in a previous life (of Garbo, Meher Baba said she was the most spiritual of the Hollywood actresses of that era). De Acosta also went to India to meet with Meher Baba. Over the years however she lost focus on Meher Baba until the 1950s, when she met him for the last time.[4][5] According to her published memoir Here Lies the Heart, Mercedes also met Ramana Maharishi, with whom she was more impressed than she was with Meher Baba.

Later life, controversial autobiography

In 1960, when de Acosta was seriously ill with a brain tumor and in need of money, she published her memoir, Here Lies the Heart.[6] Its revelations, though highly sanitized, resulted in the severance of several friendships with women who felt she had betrayed their sexuality. Garbo also ended their friendship at this time but there is no evidence that the memoir was the cause. Eva Le Gallienne in particular was furious, denouncing de Acosta as a liar and stating that she invented the stories for fame. This assessment is unlikely since many of her affairs are confirmed in personal correspondence. While her book was not a success, it was rediscovered in the late 1960s and widely read in the underground gay community.

De Acosta died at age 75 in relative poverty. She is buried at Trinity Cemetery in Washington Heights, New York City.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ Vickers, Hugo (1994). Loving Garbo: The Story of Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton, and Mercedes de Acosta. Random House.
  2. ^ Schanke, Robert A. (2004). That Furious Lesbian: The Story of Mercedes de Acosta. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 978-0-8093-2579-5. 
  3. ^ a b "Le Gallienne, Eva (1899–1991)". glbtq.com. Retrieved March 5, 2009.
  4. ^ Awakener Magazine, Volume 18, Number 1, 1978, p. 15
  5. ^ Kalchuri, Bhau (1986). Lord Meher. p. 1940.
  6. ^ de Acosta, Mercedes (1960). Here Lies the Heart. ISBN 978-0-405-07360-1. 
  7. ^ "Person Detail: Mercedes De Acosta". New York State Literary Tree. New York State Council on the Arts. 2011. http://www.nyslittree.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/DB.PersonDetail/PersonPK/1169.cfm. Retrieved November 4, 2011. 

Further reading

  • McLellan, Diana (2001). The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0-312-28320-9. 
  • Stern, Keith (2009), "de Acosta, Mercedes", Queers in History, BenBella Books, Inc.; Dallas, Texas, ISBN 978-1-933771-87-8 

External links


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