Mercedes De Acosta

Mercedes De Acosta"Star-struck,"
 "a lover to the stars," "a social butterfly," "the dyke at the top of the stairs," "the greatest starfucker ever."

These are typical descriptions of Mercedes de Acosta. She was notorious for walking the streets of New York in mannish pants, pointed shoes trimmed with buckles, tricorn hat, and cape. Her chalk white face, deep-set eyes, thin red lips, and jet black hair slicked back with brilliantine prompted TallulahMercedes De Acosta 
                  by Arnold Genthe Bankhead to call her Countess Dracula.

After Cecil Beaton accompanied her 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." She often boasted of her sexual prowess, saying "I can get any woman from any man." There was perhaps justification for Alice B. Toklas's observation, "Say what you will about Mercedes de Acosta, she's had the most important women of the twentieth century." Even though these women included Isadora Duncan, Eva Le Gallienne, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, sheNazimova is usually portrayed as something of a perverse psychopath.

In 1916, Mercedes met the Russian actress Alla Nazimova   who had wowed all the critics with her sensational performanDuncan ces of Ibsen's heroines. A romantic relationship quickly developed between them.

A year later, Mercedes established a long-time liaison with the internationally famous dancer Isadora Duncan.  One afternoon while I was doing my research at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, I stumbled upon a poem written in pencil that Isadora Duncan wrote for Mercedes. It overflowed with sexual images. Poole

 In spite of her desire for other women, in 1920 she contemplated marriage to Abram Poole, a wealthy portrait painter, whose family was in the Social Register. But when he proposed, she balked. "I couldn't make up my mind," she wrote. "As a matter of fact I was in a strange turmoil about world affairs, my own writing, suffrage, sex, and my inner spiritual development."

Le GallienneUndoubtedly contributing to her turmoil was meeting the young, attractive, and ambitious actress Eva Le Gallienne just three days before Mercedes's marriage. Soon after her honeymoon, she began a five-year romantic relationship with the actress.  While Le Gallienne toured around the country in 1922 in the play Liliom, she mailed to Mercedes 3 or 4 letters daily.  The Le Gallienne literary estate, which is owned by Eloise Armen, does not allow those letters to be quoted directly. They can be read, however, at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.

In 1931, soon after she moved to Hollywood, she met Greta Garbo.   For the next 12 years, they had a unpredictable relationship.  At times Garbo would shower Mercedes with flowers and gifts.   Mercedes became so enamored that she pasted photos of Garbo into her Bible.  They vacationed together, sunbathed in the nude, and even lived together for a time in 1932. Garbo occasionally asked Mercedes to do some shopping for her and even enlisted her aid in finding places to live, both in Hollywood and in New York.

In 1946 she penned in her message to Mercedes almost verbatim her famous 'I vant to be alone.' Garbo pleaded with Mercedes not to bother her. She was simply not up for it.  In 1954, in a particularly cantankerous mood, Garbo demanded that Mercedes stop assaulting her with letters. She refused any future meeting until she was more prepared to deal with Mercedes. The Garbo literary estate which is owned by her niece, Gray Horan, will not grant permission to have the letters quoted directly even though they can be read at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.

Gopal Ram Gopal, her good friend of 30 years, told me that "Once Mercedes met Garbo, all she did was dream of Garbo." But Garbo was afraid of having her life exposed. "Garbo needed to dominate," Ram observed. "When she felt someone else dominating, she'd pull back. Poor Mercedes," he sighed, "She had to love. Loving was like breathing. She gave all of herself in a relationship and wanted back all that she gave."

The last poem Mercedes de Acosta wrote for Garbo was in 1944, after Garbo had pretty much rejected her. Mercedes laments 
 You belong to me.  Some things just belong to other things; There is no other way. Why not let us then say,
 for example . . . the salt to the sea,
A bird to the sky . . . and you to me!

DietrichAt one point, when Garbo was being particularly aloof, Mercedes engaged in a love affair with another screen goddess Marlene Dietrich. Though Dietrich was married, it did not prevent her from showering Mercedes daily with bouquets of roses and carnations. When Dietrich was setting off for Europe, she wrote, "It will be hard to leave Hollywood now that I know you." She mailed Mercedes dozens of letters and telegrams, always signing off with love and kisses and saying, "I kiss your beautiful hands and your heart." On one occasion when Dietrich knew she would be late arriving to a dinner party hosted by Mercedes, she sent the following message:

"My Love. . . . please do eat and go to bed and wait for me there."

I discovered a poem Mercedes wrote for Marlene that she had scribbled in an address book.

For Marlene,  Your face is lit by moonlight breaking through your skin soft, pale, radiant. No suntan for you glow  For you are the essence of the stars and the moon and the mystery of the night.

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