Mercedes de Acosta was an American poet, playwright, and novelist. Four of de Acosta's plays were produced, and she published a novel and three volumes of poetry. She was professionally unsuccessful but is known for her many lesbian affairs with famous Broadway and Hollywood personalities and numerous friendships with prominent artists of the period.
She was born in New York City in 1893. Her father, Ricardo de Acosta, was of Cuban and Spanish descent and her mother, Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba, was Spanish and reportedly a descendant of the Spanish Dukes of Alba. De Acosta had five siblings: Aida, Ricardo Jr., Angela, Maria, and Rita. Maria married socially prominent A. Robeson Sargent, the Harvard-educated landscape architect and son of Charles Sprague Sargent. Rita became a famous beauty best known as Rita Lydig. She was photographed by Adolf de Meyer, Edward Steichen, and Gertrude Käsebier, sculpted in alabaster by Malvina Hoffman, and painted by Giovanni Boldini and John Singer Sargent among others. Under the name Mrs Philip Lydig, Rita wrote a novel, Tragic Mansions (Boni & Liveright, 1927), a society melodrama described as "emotionally moving and appealing" by The New York Times. De Acosta attended elementary school at the Covenant of the Blessed Sacrement on West 79th Street in Manhattan where Dorothy Parker was a classmate.
De Acosta married painter Abram Poole (January 1883 Chicago, Illinois – May 24, 1961) in 1920. They divorced in 1935.
She was described in 1955 by Garbo biographer, John Bainbridge, as "a woman of courtly manners, impeccable decorative taste and great personal elegance... a woman with a passionate and intense devotion to the art of living... and endowed with a high spirit, energy, eclectic curiosity and a varied interest in the arts."
De Acosta was involved in numerous lesbian relationships with Broadway’s and Hollywood's elite and did not attempt to hide her sexuality, which was rare in her generation. In 1916 she began an affair with actress Alla Nazimova and later with dancer Isadora Duncan. Shortly after marrying Abram Poole in 1920, de Acosta became involved in a five-year relationship with actress Eva Le Gallienne. De Acosta wrote two plays for Le Gallienne, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. After the financial failures of both plays they ended their relationship.
Over the next decade she was involved with several famous actresses and dancers including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ona Munson, and Russian ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina. Additional unsubstantiated rumors include Pola Negri, Eleonora Duse, Katharine Cornell, and Alice B. Toklas.
It has often been said that she once stated, "I can get any woman away from any man." However there is no evidence to substantiate this claim.
An ardent liberal, de Acosta was committed to several political causes. Concerned about the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, for example, she supported the loyalist Republican government that opposed the fascist Franco regime. A tireless advocate for women's rights, she wrote in her memoir, "I believed...in every form of independence for women and I was...an enrolled worker for women's suffrage."
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