The de Acosta sisters had more than their fair share of beauty and brains. Aida was the first woman to fly a powered aircraft solo, doing this after taking only three flying lessons.
Aida flying in 1903
“On June 29, 1903 in Paris, at the age of nineteen, Aida de Acosta charmed Brazilian pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont into showing her how to operate his personal dirigible. Santos-Dumont was the toast of Paris at the time, frequently flying his dirigible downtown to his favorite restaurant and parking it on the street while he had dinner. Acosta flew Santos-Dumont’s aircraft solo while Santos-Dumont rode his bicycle along below, waving his arms and shouting advice”
Her sister Rita was regarded as the ‘most picturesque woman in America’ and was photographed, sculpted and painted by many famous artists.
“She also wrote one novel, Tragic Mansions (1927), under the name Mrs Philip Lydig, a society melodrama described as “emotionally moving and appealing” by The New York Times.
In 1921 Rita announced her engagement to Reverend Percy Stickney Grant, rector of the Church of the Ascension. Their wedding plans were broken off in 1924 when Bishop William Manning refused to authorise the marriage. Rev. Grant died shortly afterwards, leaving his personal fortune to the woman he had hoped to marry, and she spent large sums of money on fashion, art, furniture, and other objects to overcome her grief. She died of pernicious anaemia at the Gotham Hotel shortly after, at the age of 54. Her personal wardrobe became the basis for the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
image by Gertrude Kasebier found here
Perhaps the most well known of the de Costa sisters was author, poet, screenwriter, playwright and costume designer Mercedes.
Her mother, a descendant of the Duke of Alba, raised her as a boy, calling her “Rafael” and dressing her in boy’s attire. After the death of her father in 1907, however, Mercedes’ mother became concerned about her lack of femininity and dispatched her to a convent school in France, from which she was removed after an incident involving two nuns who were apparently lovers.
In 1929, she moved to California, where she met Greta Garbo and almost immediately became her lover. The affair with Garbo was an intense and stormy one, and Acosta frequently found herself in rivalry for the aloof Garbo’s affections, with men as well as women. Indeed, one of the more curious of these triangulations, one that lasted for over two decades, involved Acosta, Garbo, and photographer Cecil Beaton, who, though for the most part homosexual, was nonetheless obsessed with the enigmatic screen idol.
image of Cecil Beaton by George Hoyningen-Huene found here
After a highly emotional split with Garbo in 1932, Acosta began an affair with Marlene Dietrich, which lasted, on and off, for the rest of the decade, although she continued to be Garbo’s lover intermittently through those same years.
image found here of Marlene photographed by Mercedes
Other lovers of Mercedes included the great actresses Alla Nazimova and Eva Le Gallienne and the legendary inovator of dance , Isadora Duncan. In the glory days of Hollwood , folks used to play a “six degrees” connection game (think of the popular “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game of the 1980s) . The less number of degrees it took to make a connection between two people, the more points one got. Truman Capote used to say that Mercedes was his trump card becuse you could connect her so quickly to so many via bed or intellect.”
image of Truman Capote found here