Thursday, October 22, 2015
Marion “Joe” Carstairs - Beret Wearer Extraordinaire
Born in 1900 in London, Marion “Joe” Carstairs was a cigar-smoking, cross-dressing, motorboat-racing lesbian, who had tumultuous affairs with leading actresses, including Tallulah Bankhead, Mabel Mercer and Marlene Dietrich.
With her close-cropped hair and exquisitely tailored Savile Row suits, Carstairs was delighted when anyone actually mistook her for a man. An heir to the Standard Oil fortune, she abandoned civilization at the age of 34 to become the self-appointed ruler of a 9-mile-by-4-mile island in the Bahamas. There she lived for more than 40 years, attended by a kaleidoscopic parade of beautiful women, avid sports and fishing enthusiasts, hearty partygoers -- and a small leather doll named Lord Tod Wadley, whom she treated as her best friend and lifelong companion.
In 1925, after inheriting the bulk of her fortune from the much-contested estates of her mother and maternal grandmother, Carstairs embarked on a short-lived competitive motorboat racing career. She won the Duke of York’s Trophy in 1926 -- Britain’s premier motorboat racing event -- and was determined to take the Harmsworth Trophy, then the most prestigious motorboat prize in the world. Carstairs spent an estimated half-million dollars building custom-designed boats and training for this event, but lost in three consecutive attempts: 1928, 1929 and 1930.
In 1933, facing tax problems in Britain and the United States, Carstairs bought the island of Whale Cay, in the West Indies, for $40,000. She built a Spanish villa, put up a power plant, radio station and schoolhouse, and even constructed a museum that was essentially a shrine to her own accomplishments and interests.
Carstairs never made any attempt to hide her sexual orientation. On her island she kept an ever-shifting succession of lovers well into her 70s. Her physical standards were as exacting as those of any aging male millionaire auditioning potential mistresses: partners needed to be young and were invariably drop-dead gorgeous. Carstairs took care to retain a photograph of each woman she bedded but none was allowed to spend the night with her.
Despite her own promiscuity, Carstairs forbade sex outside of marriage on her island and punished adulterers by banishing them from the settlement. But she was generous in many ways to her employees, setting up a health-care fund and selling them, at cost, food and provisions imported from the mainland.