Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Who? Mary Phelps Jacob or Caresse Crosby

Mary Phelps Jacob aka Polly to her friends was a woman who believed in living her life to the fullest. She had a very eventful and exciting life which also included not the best taste in men. Her first husband after returning from WWI, an alcoholic and was obsessed with watching buildings burn. She had two children with him, a son and daughter. While still married to Richard R. Peabody she began a relationship and scandelous affair with Harry Crosby many years her junior. After this went on for two years Richard granted her a divorce and Mary married Harry and moved to Paris to begin a new life. In Paris Harry Crosby and Mary joined The Lost Generation of American expatriates. They immersed themselves in the bohemian decadent lifestyle which also involved frequent drug use and numerous wild trips abroad. They had an open marriage as Harry had many affairs and after a while so did Mary. 

Caresse and Clytoris

In 1924 Mary took the name of Caresse after deciding against Clytoris, though they did decide to name their second whippet Clytoris. Harry thrived on trying to shock society and became more and more obsessed with death over the years. In 1925 they started publishing their poetry as Edition Narcisse and by 1928 they had renamed their press company Black Sun Press. They were patrons of the arts, had befriended Dali, Max Ernst and published early works of Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Bukowski and more. The couple continued their decadent lifestyle until Harry's death in 1929, in New York. Harry was found dead in the intimate embrace of his current lover, they were both dead from gunshot wounds to the head. This created another scandal as it was unsure if it was a murder suicide or the results of a suicide pact. After Harry's death Caresse added Mary back to her name.

Mary and Caresse

Mary Caresse returned to Paris and continued to run Black Sun Press until leaving because of unrest due to the upcoming war. Soon after returning to the United States she met and married Selbert Young, an unemployed, alcoholic actor many years younger then herself. Mary Caresse bought a Virginia plantation outside Washington, DC as Selbert had dreams of living on a farm. Mary Caresse finally divorced Selbert after one of his many drinking binges where he would disappear for days, months and even once a year. After the divorce Mary Caresse moved to Washington DC and started a long-term love affair in 1934 with the black actor-boxer Canada Lee. Canada and Mary Caresse had a difficult relationship due to the miscegnation laws of the times and were normally only seen in public together as a couple in Harlem. Their relationship continued into the 40's and during this time she became more and more of an activist. 

Mary Caresse had friendships with many outspoken activists over the years including Ezra Pound and Tiffany Thayer(publisher of Doubt/Fortrean Society Magazine). In 1952 she was arrested by the Greek police as a threat to the economy and politics of the country when trying to visit her house in Delphi, Greece. Mary Caresse was put under house arrest and then expelled from the country. She was a strong supporter of the World Citizen movement and in 1955 at a meeting of the "Commonwealth of World Citizens" she was appointed Counselor to the United States. She then proceeded to open a World Citizens Information Centre in Washington DC the same year. In the summer of 1956 she was elected the 1st President of the Council.

During the 1950's she also rented and later bought Castello di Rocca Sinibalda north of Rome, Italy. She used the castle to support various artists and had many poets seminars over the years. It became an Artists Colony was referred to as "Free World" and many artists visited for a weekend or an entire season.

Caresse's favourite mode of transportation while at castle
Mary Caresse put Rocca Sinibalda up for sale in 1970 shortly before her death in 1970 in Rome of pneumonia related to heart disease. The castle after many years of neglect has been restored and opened to the public in 2014 as a National Monument. They often have exhibits and theatre continuing with Mary Caresse's work and support of the arts.

Anais Nin said Caresse Crosby was "a pollen carrier, who mixed, stirred, brewed, and concocted freindships." Mary Phelps Jacob/Caresse Crosby/Mary Caresse Crosby is an important part of history and is often overlooked except for her claim to fame of "inventing the first bra."

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