Author of more than thirty plays, Sky Gilbert is also a poet, novelist, drag queen named Jane, and a longtime Toronto provocateur who called his memoir Ejaculations from the Charm Factory [Kindle]. His fiction includes Guilty, St. Stephen's, I Am Kasper Klotz, and Come Back about Judy Garland/Frances Gumm alive at 138 in the year 2050 pursuing her doctorate in feminist studies obsessed with the work of a dead queer playwright, Dash King.
Baby boomers who think they invented being young at sixty are forgetting about Elsie de Wolfe who at sixty-one in 1926 attended a costume ball in Paris dressed as a Moulin Rouge dancer and made her entrance doing handsprings. When she turned seventy, the world's most famous interior designer wrote her autobiography and noted that her daily exercise regimen still included yoga, headstands, and walking on her hands. Her design style was nearly as dramatic, banishing the dark, heavy Victorian look for new openness, airiness, and light. Starting at forty, she received her first major commission for Stanford White's Colony Club, after which she designed the interiors for the premiere families of her day, the Fricks, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Windsors. Ten years into her success, in her early fifties, she stopped to become a nurse in World War I in France and earned the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. From her late twenties onward she lived with Elisabeth Marbury, one of the first women to work as a theatrical agent, representing among others Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. They spent thirty-three years together as a classic butch-femme couple, mentoring a whole generation of younger lesbians including Mercedes de Acosta who would become Greta Garbo's lover. Then de Wolfe up and married Sir Charles Mendl because she wanted a title. Now Lady Mendl, she expected nothing to change with Marbury, given that her marriage was completely platonic, and the women remained lovers for seven more years, until 1933, when Marbury died.
The next time you discuss outing and public figures and privacy, you might bear in mind that in 1926, the New York Times ran a front page story calling de Wolfe's wedding "a great surprise" because "she makes her home with Elisabeth Marbury at 13 Sutton Place." Not that everything can be explained by early experiences, but the woman who spent her life making things beautiful grew up listening to her mother tell her she was ugly. When she was seventy, Parisian fashionistas named her the best dressed woman in the world. She is immortalized in song lyrics by Irving Berlin and by Cole Porter:
When you hear that Lady Mendl, standing up,
Now turns a handspring, landing up-on her toes