MERCEDES DE ACOSTA (b: 1893) died on this date. De Acosta was a Cuban-American poet, playwright, costume designer, and socialite best known for her lesbian affairs with Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Alla Nazimova, Eva Le Gallienne, Isadora Duncan, Katharine Cornell, Edith Wharton, Amy Lowell, Maude Adams, Ona Munson (“Belle Watling” in the film Gone with the Wind), Adele Astaire, and others. 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.”
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. Four of her plays were produced, and she published a novel and three volumes of poetry.