don’t acosta my sista

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.

image found here

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

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 7:27 am  Comments (43)  
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43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. ‘showing her how to operate his personal dirigible’ And did she show him how to navigate her personal landing strip?

    • Ha! Naughty naughty Miss Synchy 😉

  2. Oh God as if i’m not horny enough..these tales of threesomes and sexual liasons are getting me all hot and bothered!!!

    • From my personal experience I would say don’t waste your energy. Threesomes are highly over rated.

  3. “Cecil Beaton, who, though for the most part homosexual” – I’m wondering which part exactly wasn’t …..

    • I believe it was the left clavicle

      • Haha!

  4. I loved this post Nursemyra! Why did the Bishop refuse the marriage?

    I’m in love with Mercedes now even though she is long dead. She was smoking hot. And I had no idea that Garbo or Dietrich were switch hitters. That is freaking awesome.

    • He refused because she was a divorcee

      • Haha…switch hitters. I totally forgot about that term.

  5. Cool story nursie and its got lesian nuns to boot.

    • Make that lesbian!!

      • If it makes you feel any better FJ, I was going to say lesion…

  6. Fascinating people who had remarkably exciting lives. And to think this was all well before the so called “sexual revolution”.

    • People have always been like this, they were mostly just more secretive about it then.

  7. now, to figure out which sister i’d want to be? it’s a no-brainer… Aida. Flying a blimp? i’d take that over tempermental lesbitarian actresses, or buying clothing, any day!

  8. Wow… Garbo, Dietrich, Izy Duncan- nailed ’em! What a hit list. Or maybe it was love in all its sweet sincerity, every time.

    Hiam Impressed

  9. Sorry for butting in on all of the commments, NM.

    I love this post! Had my History teacher told stories like these, I wouldn’t have skipped class so often…

    • They were a fascinating family weren’t they?

  10. Rita and Aida? Are you kidding? I love that. Wish I had slept with Garbo and Dietrich. Where would you go from there?

  11. “showing her how to operate his personal dirigible”

    Is that what they called it back then???

  12. hilarious, sexy, upper class frivolities and high jinks- i should despise them but i cant…

    • Oh you can’t despise a woman who could fly like that… you have a great blog btw 🙂

  13. Incredible that things were so normal even back then. I bet she broke a lot of hearts, Mercedes.

  14. up here in cali i see bears on bikes most every day…. often in pairs. and one time in tandem even.

    • This kind of bear?

      • aussie bear.

        (get it? like fozzy bear. you know, the muppet. the bob newhart of the muppet world, fozzy.)

  15. I keep flashing on the fact that she was raised as a boy called “Rafael”. Plus I was unaware that Isadora Duncan was a lesbian. Always an education, nursemyra!

  16. Wonderful post – I love these sisters!

  17. Lesbians and dirigibles… I think I have a movie idea, tentatively titled “Box Munching Air Pirates of the Pacific.”

  18. i’d let her fly my plane anytime…

  19. Just bought Six Degrees of Separation a month ago. It’s always interesting to trace connections. My g-ma was in the Petticoat Pilots, a group of women from North Carolina who were pilots. She was the 2nd woman in the state to get twin-engine rated. I bet she wished she also had a wardrobe worthy of museum exhibits.

    • Your grandmother sounds really interesting too. Is she still alive?

  20. Another great post. I never knew about Dietrich and Garbo.. fascinating- the love life of artists of an earlier day.

  21. so does *everyone* lead a more interesting life than mine? or has life just become so much less interesting since man landed on the moon?

    • I dunno about ‘everyone’ Sera. I mostly stay at home with my nose in a book…..

  22. Ahh Truman Capote . . .

  23. ‘ an incident involving two nuns who were apparently lovers. ‘

    They made a movie of that didn’t they… cause it seems so familiar…

  24. I am pretty sure the photo of ‘Mercedes’ is actually the actress Maude Adams (see, but fascinating post just the same.

    • Thank you so much for pointing this out. I don’t know if you noticed but I had a question mark next to that photos because she seemed so much more beautiful there than in any of the others.

      Have replaced it with one I believe to be genuine.

      Thanks again!

      • No problem! I enjoy reading your blog, it’s quite different from the typical fodder I find out there in the ether!

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