he had his father’s eye for women

Harry Crosby (1898–1929) was an American heir, a bon vivant, poet and publisher. He was the son of one of the richest banking families in New England.

Harry and friend found here

Tired of the rigidity of everyday life, he said he wanted to escape “the horrors of Boston virgins.” Profoundly affected by his experience as an ambulance driver in World War I, Crosby vowed to live life on his own terms.

image found here

He had his father’s eye for women and in 1920 met Mrs. Polly Peabody, six years his senior. Harry reportedly fell in love with the buxom Mrs. Peabody in about two hours, confessing all in the Tunnel of Love at the amusement park. Their open affair was the source of scandal and gossip among blue-blood Bostonians. Polly divorced her alcoholic husband and married Crosby. Two days later they left for Europe, where they enjoyed a decadent lifestyle, drinking, smoking opium, traveling frequently, and having an open marriage.

image found here

Harry worked at Morgan, Harjes et Cie, the Morgan family’s bank in Paris. They found an apartment overlooking the Seine, and Polly would don her red bathing suit and row Harry down the Quai d’Orléans in his dark business suit, formal hat, umbrella and briefcase. As she rowed back home, the well endowed Polly would enjoy whistles and waves from workmen. She said the exercise was good for her breasts.

“The Young Rower” found here

Even by the wild standards of Paris in the 1920s, Harry was in a league of his own. The couple lived a hedonistic life. Harry was a gambler and a womanizer; he drank “oceans of champagne” and used opium, cocaine, and hashish. They wrote a mutual suicide pact, and carried cremation instructions with them.

more of Harry’s photography to be found here

In 1924, Harry persuaded Polly to formally change her first name, as he felt Polly was too prim and proper. They briefly considered Clytoris before deciding on Caresse. Harry and Caresse became known for hosting small dinner parties from the giant bed in their palatial townhouse, and afterwards everyone was invited to enjoy their huge bathtub together, taking advantage of iced bottles of champagne near at hand.

image by Burt Glinn found here

Crosby claimed to be a “sun worshiper in love with death.” He added a doodle of a “black sun” to his signature which also included an arrow, jutting upward from the “y” in his last name and aiming toward the center of the sun’s circle: “a phallic thrust received by a welcoming erogenous zone“.

In Morocco Harry and Caresse took a 13-year-old dancing girl named Zora to bed with them. His seductive abilities were legendary and he engaged in a series of ongoing affairs, maintaining relationships with a variety of beautiful and doting young women.

NOT this Zora (Hurston) found here

His wildness was in full flower during the drunken orgies of the annual Four Arts Balls. One year, Caresse showed up topless riding a baby elephant and wearing a turquoise wig. The motif for the ball that year was Inca, and Harry dressed for the occasion, covering himself in red ocher and wearing nothing but a loincloth and a necklace of dead pigeons.

pigeon ring necklaces found here

Embracing the open sexuality offered by Crosby and his wife, Henri Cartier-Bresson fell into an intense sexual relationship with Caresse that lasted until 1931. Meanwhile, in 1928 Harry found 20-year-old Josephine Rotch. Ten years his junior, they met while she was shopping in Venice for her wedding trousseau. She was dark and intense and had been known around Boston as fast: a ‘bad egg’ with sex appeal. 

image by Cartier-Bresson found here

Josephine and Harry had an affair until the following June, when she married Albert Smith Bigelow. Briefly, their affair was over, but only until August, when Josephine contacted Crosby and they rekindled their love. But unlike Caresse, Josephine was quarrelsome and prone to fits of jealousy. 

In December, the Crosbys returned to the United States. Harry and Josephine met and traveled to Detroit where they checked into the Book-Cadillac Hotel as Mr. and Mrs Harry Crane. For four days they took meals in their room, smoked opium, and had sex. On December 7, the lovers returned to New York. Crosby’s friend Hart Crane threw a party to bid Harry and Caresse bon voyage, as they were about to sail back to France. Josephine said she would return to her husband but instead stayed in New York, writing a poem to Harry, the last line of which read: Death is our marriage. 

refurbished Book-Cadillac Hotel found here

On the evening of December 10, Harry was nowhere to be found. It was unlike him to worry Caresse needlessly so she called Stanley Mortimer, whose studio Harry had used for trysts. Mortimer forced open a locked door, behind which he found Harry and Josephine’s bodies. Harry was in bed with a .25 caliber bullet hole in his right temple next to Josephine, who had a matching hole in her left temple, in what appeared to be a suicide pact. 

A picture of Zora, the 13-year-old girl he had sex with in Egypt, was reportedly found in his wallet. The coroner reported that Harry’s toenails were painted red, and that he had a Christian cross tattooed on the sole of one foot and a pagan icon representing the sun on the other. The coroner concluded that Josephine had died at least two hours before Harry. There was no suicide note, and newspapers ran sensational articles for days.

Harry’s poetry possibly gave the best clue to his motives. Death is “the hand that opens the door to our cage, the home we instinctively fly to.” Harry’s biographer Wolff wrote:

He meant to do it; it was no mistake; it was not a joke. If anything of Harry Crosby commands respect, perhaps even awe, it was the unswerving character of his intention. He killed himself not from weariness or despair, but from conviction, and however irrational or ignoble this conviction may have been, he held fast to it as to a principle. He killed himself on behalf of the idea of killing himself.

found here

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 8:22 am  Comments (53)  
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the aristocrats go gaga

Scopolamine is a drug with a long dark history in Colombia.

image found here

Legend has it that Colombian Indian tribes used the drug to bury alive the wives and slaves of fallen chiefs, so that they would quietly accompany their masters into the afterworld. The tree which naturally produces scopolamine grows wild around the capital and is so famous in the countryside that mothers warn their children not to fall asleep below its yellow and white flowers. It’s popularly known as the “get-you-drunk” tree and the pollen alone is said to conjure up strange dreams.

image found here

Colorless, odorless and tasteless, scopolamine is slipped into drinks and sprinkled onto food. Victims become so docile that they have been known to help thieves rob their homes and empty their bank accounts. Since scopolamine completely blocks the formation of memories, it is usually impossible for victims to ever identify their aggressors.

image found here

There are so many scopolamine cases in Colombia that they usually don’t make the news unless particularly bizarre. One such incident involved three young Bogota women who preyed on men by smearing the drug on their breasts and luring their victims to take a lick. Losing all willpower, the men readily gave up their bank access codes. The breast-temptress thieves then held them hostage for days while draining their accounts.

image found here

In 1929 several Russian emigres in Paris were overwhelmed by the side effects of scopolamine which caused a condition they referred to as gaga-ism

“It seems that Prince Yusupoff’s valet encouraged another valet to put the drug in the tea of the latter’s masters and their guests. The polite poisoning had been going on for months, producing a state of complete stupidity which none of these aristocrats found strange.

aristocrats found here

Memory vanished, general conversation lagged, the two children dropped behind in their studies and became unable to add two and two without exciting comment from their proud parents. Casual guests dropping in for ‘le five o’clock’ were led back to their limousines in a state of complete imbecility, and an aunt fell flat on her face after having sipped a cup of weak Orange Pekoe.

image found here

Also, the unfortunate Comte de Lareinty-Tholozan, who had been imbibing from the scopolamine bottle steadily since the previous November, each day lost a little more sense, according to his admiring spouse. The hilarity among red-blooded mortals caused by these blue-blood disclosures was said to be as good as a revolution…..”

a Proustian moment in time

In a Paris hotel in 1922, two society hosts brought off an amazing coup when they threw a party for Proust, Joyce, Diaghilev, Stravinsky and Picasso.

Diaghilev and Stravinsky found here

The party was a gem of cultural history. The Majestic was second choice as a venue; the Ritz had been discounted because it did not allow music to be played after 12.30am. The menu was chosen to appeal to both the Russian exiles in attendance – caviar and Russian hors d’oeuvres – and to the Proustians within the group, with dishes plucked straight from the pages of his novels – asparagus, boeuf en gelée, almond cake and coffee, and pistachio ice cream.

Cacao Pistachio Florentine and Mint Ice Cream Sandwich found here

The Schiffs might have been the hosts, but Diaghilev was the master of ceremonies. He “netted” Stravinsky and Picasso, who were both involved with the Ballets Russes, but the Schiffs really wanted the two great modernist novelists, James Joyce and Proust, both of whom were notoriously flaky when it came to social engagements.

James Joyce found here

James Joyce eventually rolled through the doors, visibly intoxicated and paralysed with nerves, as the diners were drinking coffee. The Schiffs were delighted, but the evening wasn’t complete until 2.30am, when “a small dapper figure … clad in exquisite black with white kid gloves … entered with an insinuating air“. Marcel Proust had arrived.

Marcel Proust found here

His attendance was a coup. Proust, one-time social butterfly, became a recluse in his final years, too fond of his sickbed-cum-writing desk to leave his apartment. This party was his first outing for a fortnight; he had been too ill to socialise since scorching his throat with a hefty dose of adrenalin, taken, ironically, to give him strength for dinner with the Schiffs.

image found here

On New Year’s Eve 1921, he built up to the evening’s celebrations with typically hysterical panache. “From fear of being unable otherwise to come to you, I have taken drugs in such profusion that it will be a man half-aphasic and especially wobbly on his legs, from vertigo, that you behold,” he wrote in advance to the host. He also asked his maid Céleste to call ahead 10 times to ensure that he was greeted with “a cup of scalding tea“, and that there were no draughts at the venue. In the last year of his life, this hypochondria became so extreme that he requested his morning post to be steamed in disinfectant. 

ducklings in a teacup found here

The inveterate social climber was no doubt tempted out of his bed by the stellar company on the menu at the Majestic. Diaghilev, “the most wonderful Falstaffian character”, impressed the author. He was fascinated by Diaghilev’s turbulence in his emotional life, his desperate, passionate love for sometimes very inappropriate young men, for which he was willing to risk artistic success.

Diaghilev and Serge Lifar found here

As for Picasso: “Although one mustn’t read too much into this, Proust was quite attracted to stocky, not very tall, southern-looking men. The great love of his life, his chauffeur, Alfred Agostinelli, looked like a plumper version of Picasso. So Proust was definitely pro-Picasso, though I don’t suppose Picasso was pro-anyone very much except Picasso.

Picasso found here

Proust’s conversation with Stravinsky had a less-than-auspicious start. Princesse Violette Murat flounced out of the party, looking daggers at him as he arrived. Gossip about her meanness was rife, and she was mortally offended by rumours that one of Proust’s particularly parsimonious characters was based on her. With her strange lack of physical proportions, he once said of her “She looks more like a truffle than a violet

The meeting of the two modernist minds was by far the most eagerly anticipated of the evening and, as a result, there are varying accounts of the exchange between Proust and Joyce. Joyce  was quoted as saying, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘no’. Proust asked me if I knew the duc de so-and-so. I said ‘no’. Our hostess asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of Ulysses. Proust said ‘no’. And so on. The situation was impossible.”

when the hunter becomes the game

Back in the ’70s a young inexperienced promoter named Michael Roberts got the chance to bring Hunter S Thompson out to Australia.**


“Hunter was a chronic consumer of anything and everything, predominately fast drugs and Wild Turkey. From the moment he arrived in the country he didn’t hit the bed for five days. Thompson’s appearance at the National Press Club is now the stuff of legend. He sat at a table covered in a long white cloth beneath which he had placed multiple lines of white powder before the conference began. During the session he’d be asked a question, excuse himself, lean under the table then emerge, rub his nose for an embarrassingly long time then attempt to answer the question.


In another memorable incident, two medical students arrived at his hotel with a cylinder of laughing gas. They were both wearing white hospital smocks and the cylinder was almost as tall as they were. They just wheeled it into the foyer and went up in the lift to Hunter’s room as if it were the most natural thing in the world.


On day five Michael and Hunter were eating in the hotel restaurant. For Michael it was an early lunch but Hunter probably thought it was a late dinner. He ordered some soup and then, mid-conversation, collapsed head first into the bowl and passed out, not waking again for over 24 hours.


Thompson hated the city of Melbourne and was determined to leave it as soon as possible. There was a problem with his flight booking so a small private plane was chartered instead. He had to be dissuaded from smoking marijuana before boarding as the pilot would be able to smell it so he took LSD tabs instead. Checking that he had enough cocaine for the journey (3 grams was deemed sufficient) he stopped at the nearest bottle shop for two large bottles of tequila, 2 dozen bottles of Carlton Draught, glasses and ice.


The 6 seater took off with the party in full swing in the back seats. Thompson demonstrated how to urinate into a vomit bag as the plane had no toilets – then cautioned his fellow passengers to “make sure you tie the bag up tight and put the bastard somewhere where it can’t be ruptured.”

**from Stuart Coupe’s book The Promoters

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 7:28 am  Comments (37)  
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a quiet day at the temple

Havelock Ellis is widely known for his scientific studies of sex. He also was very interested in mind altering substances.

“On Good Friday I found myself entirely alone in the quiet rooms in the Temple which I occupy when in London, and judged the occasion a fitting one for a personal experiment. I made a decoction of three buttons of mescaline, the full physiological dose, and drank this at intervals between 2.30 and 4.30 p.m.

At first there was merely a vague play of light and shade which suggested pictures, but never made them. Then, in the course of the evening, they became distinct, but still indescribable-mostly a vast field of golden jewels, studded with red and green stones, ever changing. This moment was, perhaps, the most delightful of the experience, for at the same time the air around me seemed to be flushed with vague perfume.

Carole Bouquet played Melina HAVELOCK in For Your Eyes Only

I was further impressed, not only by the brilliance, delicacy, and variety of the colors, but even more by their lovely and various textures — woven, polished, glowing, dull, veined, semi-transparent — the glowing effects, as of jewels, and the fibrous, as of insects’ wings, being perhaps the most prevalent.

image of Victorian microslide found here

It occurred to me that it would be interesting to have the experiences of an artist under the influence of mescal, and I induced an artist friend to make a similar experiment. To make sure of success the experiment was repeated with four buttons, which proved to be an excessive and unpleasant dose. There were paroxysmal attacks of pain at the heart and a sense of imminent death, which naturally alarmed the subject.

(feeling alarmed by imminent death)

Mescaline is used in the peyote religion of the Native American Church.

“The evangelistic spread of what is commonly called Peyotism is well documented . Aside from North American peyotism being an inter-tribal affair, there have at times been mixed or all-race NAC groups, anglo-american and afro-american groups or members.

Peyote church fan found here

An unusual case of harassment under the Drug Control Act took place in North Dakota, in October 1984, when a white couple, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Warner, were arrested by the FBI for possessing peyote, a controlled drug. The two were members of the NAC of Tokio,  North Dakota, and had been for a number of years, and Mrs. Warner was custodian of the supply of peyote for the Tokio congregation. A jury in Grand Forks Federal Court found the defendants innocent of breaking the law, since they were able to prove that although they were not Indians, nevertheless they were members in good standing of the local congregation of peyotists. The charges were dismissed.”

I found the image of a peyote button at this link where you can read the story of another peyote enthusiast who considers it a key element to his religious beliefs

Published in: on March 4, 2010 at 7:26 am  Comments (45)  
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not that Melba, not that Jackie

Jackie Curtis was a transgendered film star, poet and playwright.

image found here

“Jackie Curtis is not a drag queen. Jackie is an artist. A pioneer without a frontier”, Andy Warhol said of his associate. One of her plays was Glamour, Glory and Gold, which also starred Candy Darling, Melba LaRose and Robert De Niro in his first appearance on stage.

image of Jackie and David found here

Apart from acting, Curtis also wrote poetry and sang. The poem, B-Girls, much of which is based on his observations of people who visited Curtis’ grandmother’s Bowery bar, Slugger Anns, led to his inclusion in the 1979 book, The Poets’ Encyclopedia.

‘I’m not a boy, not a girl,” Curtis maintained. ”I am not gay, I am not straight, I am not a drag queen, I am not a transvestite, I am Jackie.” Tall and athletically built, he didn’t try to act especially feminine when dressed as a woman, and he repeatedly affected a macho image modeled after James Dean.

image of jackie and divine found here

Curtis is named in Lou Reed’s song “Walk on the Wild Side” which was about the ‘superstars’ Reed knew from Andy Warhol’s studio The Factory. The verse speaks of his drug addiction and fascination with James Dean: “…Jackie is just speeding away – Thought she was James Dean for a day… then I guess she had to crash, Valium would have helped that bash”

image found here

Her friend and actress Melba LaRose went on to become the Artistic Director of NY Artists Unlimited,*** a non-profit theatre company that brings professional theatre productions to under-served audiences. In this entertaining interview she recalls the days of Glamour, Glory and Gold.

image found here

Dan Sullivan said I was “Jean Harlow down to the leaden voice and incipient pot belly.” And Candy was reviewed as a woman: “This is the first impersonation of a female impersonator I have ever seen.” It wasn’t until “Give My Regards to Off-Off-Broadway” that anybody knew Candy was a man.

image found here

Jackie went all over town trying to find ’30s costumes for the show and ended up raiding the closets of his Grandmother Slugger Ann – who ran the bar Slugger Ann’s on 2nd Avenue, his aunt, and his mother. On opening night, we burst onto the stage and heard Slugger bellow from the audience, “They’re wearing my fuckin’ clothes!!!”

image found here

Jackie could often be found at his grandmother’s bar, in whichever gender. His doctor said it was amazing how his body survived going back and forth so many times with the hormones. I remember when he called and was on his way to visit me in LA, a friend said, “Aren’t you going to dress up?” I said, “For Jackie? Are you kidding? I don’t even know what sex he’ll arrive in.”

***NY ARTISTS UNLIMITED is dedicated to taking professional theatre to under-served audiences. The company focuses on works that evoke dignity of the individual and sanctity of the human spirit. A multicultural nonprofit touring company, we travel self-contained to NY’s inner city neighborhoods as well as to remote regions of the Northeast. Audiences are composed of people who, because of economics, geographical location, disability, age, and the like, cannot afford tickets or gain access to thought-provoking entertainment.

Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 7:37 am  Comments (31)  
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the prince of the assassins

Hotel Pimodan found here

Dr Jacques Joseph Moreau and his friend Theophile Gautier were the driving force behind the setting up of Le Club des Haschischins in 1844 which met every month at the Hotel Pimodan on the Ile St Louis. The order was under the command of a ‘shiek’ called the Prince of the Assassins. This role was played by Dr Moreau himself, who would distribute green hashish paste among his assembled “assassins.”

image found here

Gautier wrote about the experience here

The doctor stood by the side of a buffet on which lay a platter filled with small Japanese saucers. He spooned a morsel of paste or greenish jam about as large as the thumb from a crystal vase, and placed it next to the silver spoon on each saucer.

The doctor’s face radiated enthusiasm; his eyes glittered, his purple cheeks were aglow, the veins in his temples stood out strongly, and he breathed heavily through dilated nostrils.

Dr Purple and his team found here

“This will be deducted from your share in Paradise,” he said as he handed me my portion.

Already some of the more fervent members felt the effects of the green jam: for my part, I had experienced a complete transformation in taste. The water I drank seemed the most exquisite wine, the meat, once in my mouth, became strawberries, the strawberries, meat. I could not have distinguished a fish from a cutlet. That strange visitor, hallucination, had come to dwell within me.

Strawberry meat found here

Little by little the salon was filled with extraordinary figures, such as are found only in the etchings of Callot or the aquatints of Goya; a pêle-mêle of rags and tatters, bestial and human shapes; at any other time I should have been uneasy in such company, but there was nothing menacing in these monstrosities. Only in a grin of good humor could one discover the uneven fangs and pointed teeth.

Courtyard of Lunatics by Goya found here

One of the club members, who had not taken part in the voluptuous intoxications, in order to survey the phantasma and prevent those of us who believed we possessed wings from leaping out the windows, got up, opened the piano, and sat down. His two hands plunged together into the ivories of the clavier and a glorious chord, resounding forcefully, silenced the clamor and changed the direction of the drunkenness.

read about turkey parachuting here

A veil was torn away from my mind’s eye, and it became apparent to me that the club’s members were none other than Cabalists and sorcerers who wished to sweep me to my doom.

Then vertigo enveloped me completely; I became mad, delirious. I was overcome with despair, for, in lifting my hand to my skull, I found it open, and I lost consciousness.

skull cake found here

The dream had ended. The hachichins each escaped separately to their houses, like the officers after Malbrouck’s funeral.

As for myself, I went down that stairway which had caused me such tortures with a light step, and several minutes later was in my own room, in full reality; the last, lingering mists of the hashish had disappeared. My reason had returned, or at least that which I call reason, for want of a better term. My lucidity would have been just sufficient to grasp a pantomime or vaudeville, or to make verses rhyming in three letters……

Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 7:27 am  Comments (34)  
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