What We Talk About When We Talk About Lilyan Tashman*

Lilyan TashmanI have seen exactly one Lilyan Tashman performance (in the magnificent pre-Code Girls About Town), which is pretty much enough to make one fall in love with her. Made for the world of Art Deco, she was a legendary clotheshorse with an unswerving sense of style, and her throaty voice was distinctive enough to make me wonder if Howard Hughes had Lauren Bacall model her own voice on Tashman’s.

Originally a showgirl, Tashman hit Hollywood running, marrying her gay best friend Edmund Lowe and engaging in a lengthy, fractious affair with America’s favorite Swede, Greta Garbo. She had her servants serve her cats high tea. She dyed her toilet paper red and white to match her new decor. She spent a million dollars on clothes. And she was generally the fan mags’ favorite go-to-gal for copy.

She died of cancer in 1934 at just 37, and her Brooklyn funeral nearly caused a riot—as did her lack of a will when it came time to dividing up all those clothes and jewels between her two surviving sisters. But best of all is this bit from Wikipedia (itself taken from The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood):  “In Hollywood, she was known to initiate sex in rest rooms with women of all ages, and, if repulsed, would forge ahead with a promise of complete silence on the matter and assurances that such sexual activity was common and very pleasurable.”

*Assuming anyone talks about Lilyan Tashman anymore.

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