1893-03-01

On this date the American poet, playwright, costume designer, and socialite MERCEDES DE ACOSTA was born. (d. 1968). She is best remembered for her numerous love relationships with Hollywood personalities including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Alla Nazimova, Tamara Karsavina, 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.

Although talented in her professional field, it is no doubt her personal life that has made her famous in Hollywood circles. She became involved in numerous Lesbian relationships with Hollywood’s elite, claimed much manier, and did not attempt to hide her sexuality.

In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova, and shortly thereafter 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. 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.

Over the next decade she amassed an ensemble of female partners, all of whom were either rising stars, or aging stars. These included Rudolph Valentino’s alleged fiancée, actress Pola Negri, the writer Edith Wharton, writer and stage actress Katharine Cornell, socialite Dorothy (“Dickie”) Fellowes-Gordon, and the writer Amy Lowell.

De Acosta was involved with married Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina throughout her life, after their first meeting in 1920. The two were as much friends as they were lovers, and Karsavina was one of the few who continued to be friendly toward de Acosta following the controversial autobiography released by the latter, exposing many of her relationships to the public.

Her memoir, Here Lies the Heart, was published in 1960 because Mercedes was seriously ill with a brain tumor and in need of money.  Its revelations, though highly sanitized and supported as fact, resulted in the severing of numerous friendships of famous women who preferred their sexuality remain private, including that of the mercurial Garbo. Eva Le Gallienne in particular was furious, and completely did away with anything reminding her of de Acosta. Many denounced her as a liar, stating that she invented these stories for fame. This is unlikely, as most of the affairs have been confirmed through personal correspondence, and many of the affairs were known to Hollywood insiders, but were kept out of the headlines for the sake of the actresses’ careers.

She found herself cut off from many of her friends and increasingly in financial straits. De Acosta died at age 75 in relative poverty and obscurity. She is buried with her mother and sister, Rita Lydig at Trinity Cemetery in Washington Heights, New York City.

Alice B. Toklas, the lover of Gertrude Stein, wrote to her friend, Anita Loos, “…you can’t dispose of Mercedes lightly — she has had the two most important women in the U.S. — Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.”