August 4, 2021

Mercedes de Acosta, "that furious lesbian" | Culture

Mercedes de Acosta, "that furious lesbian" | Culture


Born in New York in the last decade of the nineteenth century and died at age 75 in 1968, Mercedes de Acosta became famous in life for his eccentric male wardrobe (he liked to wear a coat, pants and shoes with a toe and buckle in the style of pilgrim parents), and for their stellar love life. Isadora Duncan, Marlene Dietrich, Pola Negri, Tallulah Bankhead and, above all, Greta Garbo – with whom she established a resounding and toxic relationship – appeared on her emotional list. But De Acosta was more than a sexually voracious and transgressive socialite, she was also a playwright, film screenwriter, essayist, novelist and poet. Under the title Impossible, the Torremozas publishing house gathers an anthology in bilingual edition of its three poems, Moods (Mudanzas, 1919), Archways of Life (Arcos de la vida, 1921) and Streets and Shadows (Streets and shadows, 1922). The compilation of 55 poems aims to restore, beyond its noisy biography, the work of this US Hispanic who "embraced urban modernity".

"We are always looking for interesting authors who are not known in Spain, we think it is fundamental to bring their voices closer and get them to read them," says Marta Porpetta, editor of Torremozas. "When we met Mercedes de Acosta, we thought she was a fascinating woman and we thought it was essential to make her poems known, which had been left in the shadow of her famous biography," she adds.

Jesús J. Barquet and Carlota Caulfield, in charge of editing and translation together with Joaquín Badajoz, admit that Mercedes de Acosta herself contributed to nurturing her love legend to the detriment of her work. In the sixties, impelled by his economic troubles, he published his memoirs, Here Lies the Heart (Here lies the heart) that, according to Barquet, "complicate" even more the story of his life. "His relationship with Greta Garbo catapulted his public profile and the interest of farandulero journalism," he explains. The theater historian Robert A. Schanke published in 2003 a biography entitled That furious lesbian – in allusion to what Cecil Beaton called her, photographer, set designer and rival for the heart of the Garbo. In it, she unraveled the truth behind the woman that Tallulah Bankhead dubbed "Countess Dracula" and that Truman Capote referred to as "the best card" in her board game of beds and famous The International Daisy Chain. De Acosta was a character of Broadway and of the New York night, a city whose contradictions are present in his poems. His most outstanding play, Jacob Slovak (1923), addressed the anti-Semitism of a small town in New England. In other poems, reflects his struggle for personal acceptance: under the arrogance that gave him his social position and strong personality hiding the melancholy of knowing a weirdo. Of Cuban origin, his paternal grandfather was a Spaniard who settled in the province of Matanzas, and his maternal family was linked to the Spanish nobility. "To my land / Land of Spain, sad and tragic land / Place of warm hearts, hair and dark eyes," he writes.

"He dared to live putting social conventions

Jesús J. Barquet

Mercedes was the youngest daughter of eight brothers. Her mother, Micaela Hernández de Alba and Alba, wanted a boy and not only treated the girl as a boy, but Mercedes Rafael called her during his early years, who until he was 7 years old thought he was a boy. The fascination with his eccentric and aristocratic mother marked his whole life. As the prologue of the book recalls, her premature "withdrawal from female conventions" made her proclaim from an early age the ambiguity of her sexual identity: "Who among us belongs to a single sex? I, at times, feel androgynous", he affirmed.

"He dared to live his life putting in solfa innumerable social conventions," says Barquet. Latina and feminist – "in 1919 she was already a restless activist in the movements for women's rights and, among them, the right to vote," the book reads – despite the security it exhibited in public, it was a woman harassed by the uneasiness. Despite being openly lesbian, between 1920 and 1935 she was married to the painter Abram Poole, also a homosexual. The fear of being "insatiable" arises in some of his most existential poems. "I think that any state of insatiability for any reason – and she confesses to having it – can be, in itself, a form of self-torture," says Barquet, who blames her relationship with Garbo for the poet's emotional ups and downs. "Mercedes loses control of her life and becomes extremely dependent on a capricious Garbo and with, apparently, another agenda of life in which Mercedes was not the priority.In my opinion her relationship with the Garbo uncovered another form of flagellation in her that perhaps already existed before without it was then so harmful, and that we could qualify as an obsession to figure, which is also a contemporary issue to be analyzed.

Covers of two of the works of Mercedes de Acosta.
Covers of two of the works of Mercedes de Acosta. THE COUNTRY

When the writer died, Cecil Beaton, another fascinating character but harassed by her class complexes and irreverent viperino, wrote: "I do not feel sorry for the death of Mercedes de Acosta, my only regret is that I have lived unsatisfied. She was one of the most rebellious and brazen lesbians I met, it's a relief that her long sinking in unhappiness has come to an end. "

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