By Shelly Roberts
Nostalgia IS What It Used To Be.
Now that being out is as practically natural as, oh, say, acupuncture, I'm hearing an odd nostalgia for some good old days we've worked darn hard to shed. The days of being a secret "Jo-sent-me" society, when butches were men, and femmes were women. (An odd time to be nostalgic for, I have to tell you.)
And most of the sighing is coming from women who weren't there in the first place. Odd, Girls.
There is a lately longing for the mystic, and the mystery. The grand allure, and probably, frankly, the implied sexuality of good old days, which, I hasten to remind you, also included raids, jailings, lying, beatings and insane asylums, (they certainly were), electro shock cures, public humiliation, ruination, and, if you read all the books, great sex.
Hmmm. Maybe there's the key to all the retrospecting. And the glamour.
I can't say I'm personally all that hungry to go back to the days of terror and theorizing. But, now that everybody knows everybody else's business as a matter of public policy and political correctness, I will agree that there is one great nostalgia game I do miss. "Is she, or isn't she?"
Oh, not the in-the-office stuff that is a matter of ordinary course today, as everyone shops for next lovers or new friends. I mean the real old fashioned movie queen variety. Star-studded stuff that you could dream on. Staring small at a big silver screen. At dames with fifteen foot faces. And in your secret heart of hearts, well, a girl could dream, couldn't she. Close her eyes and pretend that it wasn't Cary, but Mary wooing the fabulous Goldyn Girls.
Attention K-mart shoppers: Axel Madsen to the rescue. In his definitive (?) book, The Sewing Circle, Hollywood's Greatest Secret: Female Stars who loved other women, he can still set your heart aflutter, and your queries to rest. In the interest of keeping lesbian herstory alive, Axel provides the horse's mouth on some star quality lesbians from an era that could have had these women on suicide watch if we'd only known then what he is willing to share now.
Sick and tired of waiting for Jody? Since the book is remaindered, and hard to find, let me steal some of his scene, and fill you in on the oldies but goodies. It's old dish, but still tasty:
Garbo. Vat was the question.? Her most famous line, "I vant to be alone." According to Madsen really translates as "I don't vant to be found out." Ms. Garbo was not singularly affectionate, but preferentially, she was one of ours.
Eva Le Gallienne, the darling of Broadway, was also the darling of several she's in the sewing set.
Marlene Dietrich was also a boy-girl-boy-girl-girl-girl-boy kind of gal. No surprise. Conveniently married to a man who mostly stayedaway, and came with his lovers to visit.
Joan Crawford was indeed someone's dearest. According to legend, probably everyone's. Though she crossed over frequently, sweet young things were her specialty. (Call her "Billie" if you want to sound like you "knew" the lady.
Barbara Stanwyck? Her best friends in Hollywood were Dietrich and Crawford. Hmmmm. Rumor was that she tried to seduce Bette Davis. (double hmmmmm.) And she did marry (wink wink) Robert Taylor.
Myrna Loy, along with Crawford and Stanwyck, were referred to in inside Hollywood as the "Gilette Blades" for cutting both ways.
A name your might not have suspected, or if you're an Xer, even known: Katherine Cornnell, star of stage, screen and closet.
Not to mention (or forget) Tallulah Bankhead, Daaahling (in a very deep voice).
And then there's Kate. Oh, Kate. Miss Hepburn to us all. From ages nine to thirteen, Kit shaved her head and called herself Jimmy. Margaret Sullavan, Kate's agent, Leland Hayward's third wife, called her, according to Madsen, "that dikey bitch." She was inseparable with certain of her women companions. What about Spencer? Unavailable men are soooo convenient, aren't they. These were the real nature denying days, remember.
This used to be such a fun game.
Edith Head called her eight Oscars "the men in my life." Was Agnes Moorhead bewitching starlets? Capucine admitted that she wouldn't mind a fling with Barbara Stanwyck. Patsy Kelly, Judy Garland, Elsa Lanchester, Martha Raye are all implicated.
Not to mention Janet Gaynor, Maude Adams, Lynn Fontanne, Isadora Duncan, Laurette Taylor, Spring Byington, (Spring Byington?!!) and Dame Judith Anderson.
Don't take my word for it. Please. Leave the defamation suits to Mr. Madsen. I'm just a jubilant quoter here. It was a fun game to play in the olden days (or last week) discovering that our screen heras WERE who we hoped they would be.
Waiting for Ellen kind of pales in comparison.
On the other hand, Marjorie Maine. It's such a shuddering thought, making it with Ma Kettle.
Well, that was fun. Guess it's time to get back to some serious work.
Even cold dish can sometimes be hot.
(C) 1997. Shelly Roberts. All rights reserved. Roberts is the author of Roberts' Rules of Lesbian Living. (Spinsters Ink.)