It appears to me that more people in the arts have polygamous relationships than us ordinary folk. Or maybe no one writes about the ordinary folk who are having them
“Wonder Woman was created by Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston, who wrote the stories under the pseudonym Charles Moulton. Marston is also known as the inventor, or at least the most enthusiastic advocate, of the polygraph lie detector. Marston led a colorful and unconventional life. In his first of several popular psychology books, Emotions of Normal People, he discussed emotional states in terms of “elementary behaviour units” in the activities of dominance, compliance, submission and inducement.
One study in Marston’s book involves the “baby party,” a strange sorority ritual held at Jackson College. Freshman initiates were required to dress like babies, bound, prodded with sticks, and wrestled when they resisted. One of Marston’s theories was that America would become a matriarchy, and in many of his writings he espoused the view that women could and would use sexual enslavement to achieve dominance over men. His ideas landed him the post of consulting psychologist for the women’s magazine Family Circle.
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His research assistant on that study, Olive Byrne, was also the woman who, as Olive Richard, conducted the seminal interview published in Family Circle. In fact, Olive moved in with Marston and his wife Elizabeth. William Marston fathered two children each by each woman, and the extended family lived together harmoniously.
Artist Sir Stanley Spencer also had an unconventional love life.
“He viewed sexual union as a sacrament. ‘A man raises a woman’s dress with the same passionate admiration and love as the priest raises the Host on the altar,’ he wrote.
Stanley met his first wife, Hilda Carline in 1923 and they eventually married in 1925. Their first daughter, Shirin, was born the same year and their second, Unity, in 1930.
In 1933 a fellow artist, Patricia Preece, began to model for him, first in a conventional way – there is a portrait of her in striped jersey in front of his gramophone – and later wearing increasingly few clothes.
Patricia Preece – Self Portrait
Stanley quickly became infatuated. Hilda wrote to a friend: ‘She vamped him to a degree unbelievable except in cinemas. If he went to her house, she always received him half or a quarter dressed. He showered her with presents, from the lacy lingerie in which he painted her, to gifts of cash.
Carline divorced Spencer in 1937. A week later he married Patricia, knowing she, however, was a lesbian. She continued to live with her partner, and though she frequently posed nude for her husband, refused to consummate the marriage.
Patricia found herself trapped by a fetishist. As she said years later, he bought her ‘innumerable pairs of bright, beastly shoes with enormously high heels, in which he stared at my legs and feet with fascination‘. When Spencer’s bizarre relationship with Patricia finally fell apart (though she would never grant a divorce), he returned to visiting Hilda.
Then there’s Australian actor Jack Thompson who spent 15 years in a ménage à trois with two sisters, Leona and Bunkie.
“Know how difficult it is living with the woman you love?” Thompson is fond of saying. “Try doubling it”. Though the living arrangement came to an end, Thompson has no regrets, “I wouldn’t have missed it for quids.”
Glenda Jackson & Jack Thompson 1975
Perhaps most famous of all were the complicated goings on of the Bloomsbury Set.
Duncan Grant had always been actively homosexual but a relationship blossomed with Vanessa Bell who was in a relationship with his friend, artist Roger Fry. Grant eventually moved in with Vanessa and her two sons by her husband Clive Bell. Then Grant’s new lover, David Garnett arrived.
Vanessa Bell aged 2
Relationships with Clive Bell remained amicable, and he too stayed with them for long periods fairly often – sometimes accompanied by his own mistress, Mary Hutchinson. Vanessa very much wanted a child by Duncan, and became pregnant in the spring of 1918. Although it is generally assumed that Duncan’s sexual relations with Vanessa ended in the months before Angelica was born, they continued to live together for more than 40 years.