Archive for the ‘Harlotography’ Category

Thargelia…made her onslaughts upon the most influential men [of her time].  –  Plutarch

Thargelia by Victor Tchetchet (1930s)In these harlotographies, I try to alternate between modern ones (who died in the 20th or 21st centuries) and those of earlier times.  Unfortunately, even those of earlier times tend to have lived in the Renaissance or later; a precious few date to medieval or classical times, and none at all from earlier.  As I wrote in my biography of Thaïs,

…it seems as though Rhodopis of the 6th century BCE may be about as early as I’m able to go; her life story is a mixture of fact, surmise and legend, and though we know the names of earlier whores…they are largely inhabitants of the sphere of legend.  This is really not so surprising when one considers that we know little more than the names and dates of most kings from earlier times, and virtually nothing about anyone else unless they had some impact on the affairs of kings…

Most of the hetaerae I have discussed lived in or near the time of Alexander, and a couple (Aspasia and Lais) were born in the 5th century BCE.  As Thargelia flourished only half a century or thereabouts after Rhodopis, y’all probably won’t be surprised at how little is known about her, but since what is known is quite fascinating, I wanted to share it with y’all.  Like Aspasia, she was from Miletus; like Lais, she is sometimes considered to be two different women with the same name; and like Thaïs, her claim to fame is bound up in the story of the Greco-Persian conflicts that dominated the 5th and 4th centuries BCE.  But while Thaïs gleefully witnessed the collapse of the Persian Empire from the train of its conqueror, Thargelia was born a Persian subject and worked to sway Greek opinion toward the Empire when the Wars were just beginning.

Here’s what we know with a fair degree of certainty about Thargelia:  she was an exceptional beauty with an exceptional brain and devastating powers of persuasion who managed to bring more than a few of her powerful and influential lovers over to the Persian side.  Her name is also the name of an important spring festival of Apollo and Artemis, celebrated in prehistoric times (like so many ancient Greek festivals were) with human sacrifice; it probably had the same sort of ring in her culture that the names “May” or “Easter” might have in ours.  Hippias of Elis claimed that she had been married fourteen times, but this seems highly unlikely; he may have garbled reports about the number of important clients whose support she won for Darius.  Other accounts claimed that she married Antiochus, ruler of Thessaly, and ruled for thirty years after his death; the latter is known to be false because it was Antiochus himself who ruled for 30 years, and he was succeeded by Thorax of Larissa.  She was eventually assassinated by an anti-Persian politician from Argos whom she had used her influence to imprison.

It’s such a pitifully meager amount of information, yet it’s enough to inspire the imagination: given a few more years to work, who knows how many great men she would have lured into the Persian camp?  And had that happened, Darius’ invasion of Greece might have gone very differently…and with it the entirety of European history.  In a world where that unnamed Argive had been killed rather than merely imprisoned, Thargelia might have been the most influential whore in history instead of a mere footnote.

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The whore is despised by the hypocritical world because she has made a realistic assessment of her assets and does not have to rely on fraud to make a living.  –  Angela Carter

Because of the stigma against it, sex work is often taken up by women whose choices are otherwise limited; in other words, it is often the best of a limited range of options.  And for much of recent history, it was virtually the only worthwhile option available to women viewed as sexually “soiled” or “ruined”, often through no fault of their own.

Squirrel Tooth AliceTake Mary Elizabeth Haley, for example.  She was born in Belton, Texas in 1855 to James and Mary Haley, a fairly well-to-do couple.  Unfortunately for Libby (as she was called), if her family hadn’t had bad luck it would’ve had none at all; first they were financially ruined by the Civil War, and then the nine-year-old was abducted by Comanche Indians in 1864.  It took her father three years to raise the ransom the Comanches demanded, and even after she was released her ordeal was far from over:  “civilized” whites assumed she had been raped by the Indians, and her parents found themselves with an unmarriageable daughter.  Her father seems to have been deeply in denial about her ostracism, however; when young Libby’s looks and personality attracted a suitor mature enough not to care about her “reputation”, her father responded by shooting the man to death because he was too old.

Libby was both intelligent and pragmatic, and thus understood that her hotheaded father would either murder or frighten away any man willing to overlook her history, so at 14 she ran away to Abilene, Kansas and became a dance-hall prostitute.  Nobody in the boomtown knew anything about her, so it wasn’t difficult for her to find a boyfriend:  a professional gambler and sometimes-cowboy named Billy Thompson, younger brother of the gunslinger Ben Thompson.  From 1870 to 1876, the couple drifted across (mostly) Kansas and Texas, following the cattle drives or running from the law and/or people Billy had cheated; each brought in money by their professional skills, and they were married in 1873 after the birth of their first child.

Near the end of 1876, however, their luck began to change.  In October, Billy was arrested by Texas Rangers and extradited to Kansas to stand trial for the 1873 murder of Sheriff Chauncey Whitney; miraculously, he was acquitted, and for the first time they felt as though they might actually settle somewhere.  Both Billy and Libby were quite good at their professions, and had put aside a sizable stake;kissing prairie dogs they purchased a ranch and a dance hall/brothel in Sweetwater, Texas, and moved into management (Billy as a rancher, Libby as a madam).  During the years they had spent much of their time on the range, Libby had developed a fondness for prairie dogs; now that they lived in town she started keeping them as pets (some said she even walked them on leashes).  From this and the prominent gap between her front teeth, Libby at last gained the name by which she is known to history:  Squirrel Tooth Alice.

The next twenty years went quite well for them; both businesses prospered (especially the brothel), and Alice’s fame spread across the West.  They had nine children in all and their marriage lasted for 24 years, until Billy died of some sort of stomach condition in 1897.  Alice continued to run the brothel until she retired in 1921 at the age of 66.   Alas, her declining years were not as happy as they could have been; though several of her daughters followed their mother into our honorable profession, several of her sons inherited their father’s worse characteristics and turned to crime.  Alice lived in the homes of several of her children who had settled in Palmdale, California, and when she became too ill to care for themselves she moved into the Sunbeam Rest Home in Los Angeles.  There she died on April 13, 1953, at the ripe old age of 98.

Prohibitionists are fond of pretending that because sex work is often a constrained choice, that this is an argument for criminalizing it (as though it made any moral or logical sense to remove the best choice from a limited range of options!)  How would it have helped young Libby Haley to cut off the means of her escape from the narrow-minded bigots of her home town?  Prostitution not only allowed her to make a living, but also to find love, acceptance, fame and personal satisfaction; I guess the prohibitionists would prefer she had died a lonely charity case, unsullied by either men or money.

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How infinitely one of Your own Sex ador’d You, and that, among all the numerous Conquest, Your Grace has made over the Hearts of Men, Your Grace had not subdu’d a more intire Slave.  –  Aphra Behn

Some women are whores out of necessity, some by circumstance and some by nature, but Hortense Mancini carried whoredom in her blood.  She was an especially wild, bold and lusty whore from a family of whores, and a number of her descendants followed in her footsteps.  The fact that she, her family, her clients and her lovers were all noble as well does not change her essential whorishness, as we shall see; it did, however, ensure that her assignations, adventures and escapades would be recorded for posterity.

Hortense (or as her father called her, Ortensia) was born in Rome on June 6th, 1646; she was the fourth of five daughters borne by Girolama Mazzarini to her husband, Baron Lorenzo Mancini, who dabbled in astrology and black magic and died rather suddenly in 1650.  Fortunately, Giraloma’s older brother Giulio had joined the clergy, become active in politics, and risen to the rank of both cardinal and chief minister to Louis XIV of France (where he was known as Cardinal Mazarin); she therefore packed up her brood and moved them to Paris, where she hoped their powerful uncle would find them rich and influential husbands.  And that he did; Laure married Louis de Bourbon, duc de Vendôme; Olympe married Eugène-Maurice of Savoy-Carignano; Marie was the first love of the young Louis XIV, but was married off to Prince Lorenzo Colonna of Italy; and Marie Anne married Maurice Godefroy de la Tour d’Auvergne, duc de Bouillon.  But Hortense was the most beautiful and most favored by her uncle, so it’s unsurprising he turned down the suit of the penniless Stuart who was only a few months later restored to the throne of England as Charles II.  The cardinal then offered Charles a dowry of 5 million livres to make Hortense Queen of England, but Charles refused; this, however, does not mean he never got to bed the girl he was so enamored with; he just had to wait a few years.

Three months before her 15th birthday, Hortense was married off to Armand Charles de La Porte, Duc de La Meilleraye, one of the richest men in Europe; unfortunately, his miserliness and prudishness matched his wealth and he was also mentally ill.  Among his more bizarre behaviors were searching Hortense’s room for hidden lovers before locking her in at night, having his maidservants’ front teeth knocked out to make them unattractive, and vandalizing art to eradicate the genitals of human figures.  But this doesn’t mean he was uninterested in sex with his wife; within five years she had borne him four children.  Still, one can only imagine the dreariness of sex with such a man; sometime in 1666 she began a lesbian affair with Sidonie de Courcelles, and when he discovered them he sent them both to a convent (from which they escaped after tormenting the nuns for a while).  Finally, her brother helped her to escape her awful husband just a week after her 22nd birthday; he hired an escort to take her to Rome, where she moved in with her sister Marie (now the Princess Colonna).  King Louis was still very fond of Marie, and as a favor to her he granted Hortense an income of 24,000 livres.  She also became the mistress of the Duke of Savoy, whom her uncle had turned down as a suitor ten years before; he gave her a house, where she lived until his death in 1675.  At that point, two things happened:  the Duke’s jealous widow evicted her, and her husband managed to get a judgment freezing all of her income, including the royal pension.

Hortense was desperate; she only knew one way to get money, and nobody wanted to cross her powerful and vindictive husband.  In stepped Ralph Montagu, the English ambassador to France; he secured her passage to England (she made the voyage in male drag) and an introduction to her former suitor, Charles II…and Hortense did the rest.  By the summer of 1676 she had displaced Louise de Kerouaille as chief mistress, securing thereby an income of £4,000 (English money, inaccessible to her husband).  His Majesty did not much mind her lesbian affair with Anne, his 16-year-old daughter by Lady Castlemaine (except for the time they had a fencing match in their nightgowns in St. James’s Park); her affair with Louis I of Monaco, however, was another thing entirely.  He even cut off her income, and though he relented on the money less than three days later, he did not restore her to her position (which was again taken up by Louise de Kerouaille).

History does not have much to say about Hortense’s lovers after the King, except for a lesbian affair with the writer Aphra Behn.  After Charles’ death her income was continued by his brother James II, whose wife Mary was her cousin; even after James was deposed in 1689, Queen Mary II continued to support her (though at a lower level).  She spent her time running a salon in her home, and died of drink (or suicide, depending on whom one believes) on November 9th, 1699; she was 53 years old.  Her long-estranged husband then added a creepy epilogue to her story by claiming her body and taking it around France for months before finally allowing it to be buried in the tomb of her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin.

Back in the first paragraph I mentioned that several of Hortense’s descendants followed in her footsteps.  Her son, Paul Jules de La Porte, duc Mazarin et de La Meilleraye, had two children, a son and a daughter.   The son, Guy de la Porte, had a great-granddaughter who married Prince Honoré IV of Monaco in 1777 and thus became the ancestress of the current Prince.  But the daughter, Armande, married Louis de Mailly, Prince d’Orange and became the mother of five beautiful daughters, of which four would later become mistresses to King Louis XV of France; she herself became the mistress of the King’s chief minister, the Duc de Bourbon.  For some women, whoredom is only skin deep; some have it in their blood, and others are whores to the bone.  But Hortense Mancini was a whore down to her genes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that many of her descendants are still plying the trade in one way or another to this day.

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I’d rather drink and die.  –  Barbara Payton

I’ve often pointed out that the professions of actress and whore were at one time indistinguishable from one another, and that even now they are at best two branches of one stem (with a large area of overlap in porn and explicit general cinema).  Furthermore, it’s not unusual for actresses in difficult circumstances to practice the more stigmatized branch of our shared profession in a more direct fashion.  But generally, such deals are both highly discreet and in the “high end” price range; the case of Barbara Payton is an extreme and notable exception.

Barbara PaytonBarbara Lee Redfield was born in Cloquet, Minnesota on November 16th, 1927, to Erwin and Mabel Redfield.  Her family moved to Odessa, Texas when Barbara was 10, and though she was very  fortunate in the looks department of the genetic lottery, another of her inheritances eventually destroyed her: both parents were alcoholics.  Barbara eloped with her high-school boyfriend William Hodge just after her 15th birthday, and though her parents had the marriage annulled she was determined to get out of their house via matrimony; just two years later she dropped out of school and married a decorated combat pilot named John Payton, with whom she moved to Los Angeles.  Barbara dreamed of Hollywood success, and persuaded her husband to have some professional photos done; she quickly attracted attention and was a very successful model before she turned 20 (despite the birth of her son in March of 1947).

But success went to her head, and Payton eventually tired of being married to a party girl; they separated in July of 1948 and were divorced in 1950.  Her self-promotion had already attracted the attention of William Goetz of Universal Studios, however, and in January of 1949 he signed her to a $100/week contract (about $1000/week today).  After a couple of minor films, she won critical attention for her performance in Trapped (1949), and was highly praised for her work in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) opposite James Cagney.  The star’s brother, William Cagney, was so taken with her that he bought out her contact with Universal and got her one with Warner Brothers for $5,000/week, an unheard-of amount for such an inexperienced performer.  Despite this, her career began a sharp decline by the following year, when she appeared in Bride of the Gorilla (1951) with Raymond Burr; by 1955 Hollywood was done with her.  Ironically, her career was destroyed by the same thing which had first ignited it: her hard-partying lifestyle.

From the very beginning, Barbara used speed to keep her weight down, tranquilizers to sleep and alcohol for just about everything else.  She was incredibly promiscuous, and was not afraid to ask for money; soon after she signed with Universal she caught the eye of Bob Hope, who gave her an allowance and kept her in a luxurious apartment.  But Hope dumped her when she started demanding more money, and she took up with her drug dealer, a sometimes-movie-extra named Don Cougar; that ended sometime after Cougar beat up Payton’s elderly landlady over a rent dispute.  Over the next couple of years she is known to have been involved with Howard Hughes, Guy Madison, George Raft, John Ireland, Steve Cochran, Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper, plus many others who weren’t involved in the movie industry.  In 1950, Franchot Tone fell in love with her and proposed; she accepted, but began an affair with a minor actor named Tom Neal.  While Tone was away she even invited Neal to live with her (in the apartment Tone was paying for); when Tone returned she kicked him out.  She went back and forth between the two men until September 14th, 1951, when Neal beat Tone so severely he was hospitalized; she then married Tone on September 28th, lived with him for 53 days and then returned to Neal, who as you might expect beat her regularly as well.  The two never married, but stayed together for four years; and though both their careers were badly damaged by the scandal, the straw that broke the camel’s back in racist 1950s Hollywood was Payton’s relationship with her next boyfriend, black actor Woody Strode.

I Am Not AshamedHer life soon followed her career onto the rocks; she began pawning valuables to pay bar tabs and was arrested for giving bad checks to a liquor store.  She was temporarily reprieved in November of 1955 by marrying George Provas, a furniture store owner, but after their divorce in August of 1958 she resumed her downward spiral.  Her face and figure ruined by hard living, she was no longer able to attract patrons of the caliber of Bob Hope or Howard Hughes, and turned to streetwalking to survive; on February 7th of 1962 she was busted for prostitution on Sunset Boulevard.  She was homeless for much of that year, and was beaten on multiple occasions; she lost several teeth and once was severely stabbed.  In 1963 she got $1,000 for a ghostwritten autobiography entitled I Am Not Ashamed, but the money didn’t last long and things just kept getting worse.  In 1964 she was arrested for shoplifting, and in 1965 for possession of heroin.  Finally in 1967 she admitted she could not survive on her own, and moved back in with her parents (who now lived in San Diego); there she died on May 8th of heart and liver failure.  She was only 39 years old.

Barbara Payton had always been a whore from the time she first realized that she had sexual power over men, in her mid-teens; it’s a sign of our society’s deep misunderstanding of harlotry that nobody ever really accused her of it until she lost control of her behavior and was unable to actually make a living at it any more.  The most successful whores are never so labelled, and the greatest legal penalties and social stigma fall upon the least.

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Unlike Takao who is very much missed, Komurasaki is missed by no one.  –  a Yoshiwara courtesan, quoted in 1683

By now the regular reader should have noticed three recurring themes in my harlotographies: one of them pertains only to whores of pre-modern times; the second up to at least a century ago (though it is more pronounced in ancient stories); and the third up until the present day.  Taking these in reverse order, they are as follows: the inability of amateurs to simply report biographical facts without embellishing, dramatizing and romanticizing them; the difficulty of ascertaining even numeric biographical details with any certainty; and the confusion of more than one harlot with the same name.  All three principles are highly noticeable in the tale of Takao, a Japanese oiran (courtesan) who lived from 1640 to 1659; the lady in question was one of at least six courtesans (some sources say as high as eleven) with that name, and so is generally designated with the unimaginative moniker “Takao II”.  Very little is known about her with any certainty other than the day of her death, December 5th, 1659; however, that didn’t stop talespinners from turning her story into one of the most popular of kabuki plays.

I’ve written at length about the world of the oiran, but this passage bears repeating:

Until 1617 prostitution was completely legal in Japan, but in that year the Tokugawa Shogunate issued an order restricting prostitution to certain areas on the outskirts of cities.  Yujo (“women of pleasure”) were licensed and ranked according to an elaborate hierarchy, with oiran (courtesans) at the top and brothel girls (who were essentially slaves) at the bottom.  These “red-light districts” were not implemented for the moralistic reasons which spurred their creation in the West, but rather to enforce taxation and keep out undesirables such as ronin (masterless samurai); prostitutes were also not allowed to leave the district except under certain rigidly-controlled circumstances.  Soon the districts grew into self-contained towns which offered every kind of entertainment a man might want, all entirely run by women.  Once a girl became a prostitute her birth-rank ceased to matter, and her status was determined by such factors as beauty, personality, intelligence, education and artistic skills.  Even among the oiran there were ranks, of which the highest were the tayu, courtesans fit to entertain nobles…

Takao was a tayu under contract to the Great Miura, the largest brothel of the Yoshiwara district.  Though we know absolutely nothing about her personality or skills, they must have been as striking as her beauty for her to achieve the position of “top girl” at the Miura house soon after her debut, and to become the most sought-after courtesan in Yoshiwara within a short time thereafter.  Every contemporary source (of which there are three) say she died of tuberculosis; Takabyōbu kuda monogatari (Tales of Grumbling Otokodate) also states that several of Takao’s clients paid for her funeral even though they had failed to visit her on her deathbed.  But despite “consumption” being the traditional cause of courtesan demise in Western romance, Takao’s tragic death at the peak of her success wasn’t nearly dramatic enough for kabuki; for that love, treachery and violent death needed to be added. 

Enter Date Tsunamune, who had become Lord of Mutsu at the age of eighteen after the death of his father.  Some of his kin, however, plotted against him and managed to trick him into visiting Yoshiwara as a means of getting him out of the way.  While there he hired Takao and immediately fell in love with her, proposing to buy out her contract and marry her.  This much is largely historical; Tsunamune was a real person whose did indeed face opposition from his family (and was deposed in 1660).  He may indeed have visited Yoshiwara, though a letter claimed to be from Takao to him has been proven a nineteenth-century forgery.  But the rest of the story as told for generations is the stuff of fiction.  Naturally, Takao is supposed to have rejected his offer; some sources feel mere dislike for the man or a desire for independence after the termination of her contract are insufficient motivations for the rejection, and invent a lover who had pledged to marry her when her term of indenture was up.  I’m sure y’all can guess where the story goes next:  Tsunamune refused to take “no” for an answer and made the brothel owner an offer she couldn’t refuse, Takao’s weight in gold for the contract.  The owner accepted, but took advantage of Tsunamune’s lust by putting iron weights into the sleeves of Takao’s robe, boosting her weight to 75 kilograms.  Some storytellers say that on the boat trip from the brothel, Takao hurled herself into the river to drown, counting on the weights to take her to the bottom; others say Tsunamune caught her in the attempt and killed her with his sword instead, then dumped her body.  Still another version says that Tsunamune had one of her fingers broken for every day she refused his bed, and after he had gone through both hands he had her hanged.  But all of these say that her death (whether by murder or suicide) was the excuse used by Tsunamune’s uncle to remove him from power.

Co-opting the lives of sex workers to tell lurid stories of woe and tragedy is nothing new; it’s been done for centuries, perhaps millennia, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.  But at least in the Japanese variety, the tragedy derives from the freely-chosen actions of a proud, accomplished woman in defiance of fate, rather than from the pathetic subjugation of a cookie-cutter victim stereotype.  And I don’t think there’s any need to explain which I prefer.

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A cleaner, sweeter bed-fellow does not exist.  –  Greville’s letter praising Emma to Lord Hamilton

When Mandy Rice-Davies compared herself to Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress, it is doubtful that any of the reporters who made her famous for the reference had any confusion about what she meant.  But the 1960s were a more sexually honest time than our own, and nowadays writers are even more likely to prevaricate about Lady Hamilton’s harlotry than they are about Rice-Davies’; a BBC article on the famous affair even goes so far as to say that “[Nelson and Hamilton] had fallen out of love with their partners”, as if the Lady had married her patron due to “falling in love” in the first place.  In fact, there’s another modern term for the way they came to be together, more pejorative  even than “prostitution”; read on and you’ll see what I mean.

Amy Lyon, the daughter of a blacksmith named Henry Lyon and his wife Mary, was born on April 26th, 1765 in Cheshire, England.  Her father died when she was an infant and her mother raised her alone, later sending her to live with her grandmother in Wales.  At twelve she started working as a maid and soon met another maid named Jane Powell, who aspired to be an actress; through her Amy found work at the Drury Lane theatre as a maid to several actresses, during which time she lived in the home of a brothel madam named Mrs. Kelly.  Her beauty and grace attracted the attention of James Graham, the doctor who owned an establishment called the “Temple of Health and Hymen” where couples could pay £50 a night (over £3000 today) to have sex in the “Celestial Bed”, which administered mild electric shocks that were supposed to cure infertility and encourage the conception of “perfect” babies.  Amy’s job was to be a hostess, model and erotic dancer, presumably to augment the effects of the electric bed.  When she was sixteen she was hired by Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh to provide entertainment at a several-months-long standing party; she is known to have danced nude on the dining room table at this shindig, and her other activities may be guessed by the fact that she was pregnant by the end of the summer, presumably by Sir Harry.

As was typical in those days, Sir Harry blamed the pregnancy entirely on Amy, so though he was still supporting her she decided to become the kept woman of Charles Francis Greville, an MP and the second son of the first Earl of Warwick.  Though Greville was in love with Amy, he was quite domineering and appears to have viewed her as a piece of property.  When the baby, who was given the name Emma Carew, was born, he sent her away to be raised by a couple named Blackburn; around this same time he also demanded that Amy change her own name to Emma, specifically “Emma Hart”.  When he had her portrait painted by his friend George Romney, the painter became obsessed with her; he made so many sketches of her (both nude and clothed) at this time and later that he was able to paint a number of portraits of her without further sitting.  Because Romney was a popular painter, Emma became well-known in London society both for her wit and personality and as an artist’s model.

Unfortunately, Greville spent far beyond his means, and by 1783 he needed a new source of funds; he decided to acquire them by marrying the young heiress Henrietta Middleton, but since it was common knowledge that Emma was his lover he had to be rid of her.  He therefore convinced his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, to accept her as his mistress.  Hamilton was an art collector, and no doubt viewed the now-famous beauty as a valuable find; he also wanted to facilitate his nephew’s marriage so as to eliminate his frequent requests for money.  The deal was therefore made without Emma’s input or knowledge, and she was shipped off to Naples (where Hamilton was the British envoy) under the guise of a six-month holiday while Greville was supposedly away on business.  She was, in other words, “sex trafficked”, sent from one owner to another in a different country.

But though Emma was furious upon discovering what was really expected of her, she eventually adapted to her situation.  Hamilton’s home was beautiful and his art collection renowned, and he was a widower who, far from viewing her as an embarrassment, instead encouraged her modeling, singing and other performance.  The form for which she became known was called “attitudes”; this consisted of an act in which she would wear a simple gown dressed up by scarves and shawls which helped her to evoke images from history and classical mythology by posing.  The audience was then supposed to guess who she was portraying.  Though this may sound a bit silly to modern ears, the effect was apparently very striking; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “The performance is like nothing you have ever seen before.  With a few scarves and shawls she expressed a variety of wonderful transformations.  One pose after another without a break”.  Within a few years of her first performance in the spring of 1787, a number of other actresses took up the art; over the years Emma herself evolved from mere posing into acting out short pantomimes, most famously portraying Medea.

Sir William eventually married Emma on September 6th, 1791; he was sixty and she twenty-six.  The match gave her the title by which she was forever known afterward, though friends still called her “Emma”.  It also gave her the duties of a diplomat’s wife, among them entertaining Horatio Nelson (then a mere post captain) when he came in 1793 to request reinforcements from the King of Naples.  By the time he returned in 1798 he had lost an arm, an eye, most of his teeth and the majority of his health, but had won both the Battle of the Nile and worldwide fame.  Sir William invited the great man to recuperate in their home, nursed by his young wife, and it was at this time that the two began their affair.

But while one might think this a betrayal of hospitality, the truth is that Sir William definitely knew about and seems to have even encouraged the affair; he and Nelson respected and admired one another, and Emma and Nelson had similar feelings for one another.  Indeed, the relationship soon developed into a ménage a trois; after the Neopolitan Revolution of 1799 the ailing Hamilton was allowed to retire and return to England, accompanied by Nelson, who openly moved in with the Hamiltons despite having a home (and wife) of his own.  In fact, the arrangement became such a huge scandal that the Admiralty ordered Nelson back to sea to keep him away from Emma.  The public, however, was fascinated and the Hamiltons seemed completely unconcerned with what anyone said; when Emma gave birth to a daughter on January 31st, 1801 she named her “Horatia”, flagrantly advertising her paternity.

Alas, their happiness was not to last long.  Sir William, whom Emma had grown to love, died in 1803 and Nelson returned to sea to fight Napoleon soon afterward.  The daughter Emma was carrying at the time died soon after her birth early the next year, and she consoled herself by gambling and otherwise wasting money; when Nelson died at Trafalgar in October of 1805, she had nothing left but Hamilton’s £800/year pension, which she exhausted trying to build up Merton Place (the house Nelson had bought for the three to live together in) as a monument to the great man.  Now the government decided to have its revenge on the woman it considered a double embarrassment for tarnishing the reputations of two of its favored sons: Emma was barred from Nelson’s funeral, and his request that she and Horatia be provided for was totally ignored; money and gifts were instead showered upon Nelson’s widow, brother and other family members.  As her looks and figure were long gone, Emma could no longer attract a patron; she fell deeply into debt and after Nelson’s love letters to her were stolen and published in 1814, the government exacted one more act of petty vengeance by throwing her into debtor’s prison.  After her release that autumn she fled to France with Horatia, where she died on January 15th, 1815.  Men in power are never kind to women who have embarrassed them, and neither Lady Hamilton’s title nor the exalted reputation of her most famous lover could save her from being treated like any other troublesome whore.

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Well he would, wouldn’t he?  –  response when told Lord Astor had denied having her

As I’ve written many times, the maintenance of the Madonna/whore dichotomy demands the erasure of all ambiguity; women must solidly be classified as one or the other, “good” women or “bad”, “empowered” women or “fallen” ones, without a hint that a single woman could play both roles at different parts of her life (much less at the same time).  And so women who succeed in other careers after sex work, especially if they’re popular and well-liked, must never ever ever be described as sex workers; they might be dancers, or perhaps masseuses, or models, or even mistresses, but not what they actually were: prostitutes, no different from me or any inhabitant of any red-light district.  Of course, it helps when the prostitution is genteel and privately arranged and the whores have other “legitimate” jobs as showgirls or hostesses; then they can be described politely as “party girls” and their clients as “lovers”, and the transactional nature of their “affairs” can be glossed over on the BBC or in polite newspapers.

Marilyn Rice-Davies was born in Wales on October 21, 1944 and after a fairly conventional upbringing began modeling at 15.  After playing a window-dressing part in the film Make Mine Mink, she ran away to London at 16 and quickly got a job as a showgirl at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho; there she met and befriended Christine Keeler and the two lived together for a while.  Keeler introduced her to the well-connected osteopath Stephen Ward, who both delighted in and profited by introducing ambitious young women like Keeler and Rice-Davies to his wealthy friends.  Mandy soon became the mistress of slumlord Peter Rachman, who had previously kept Keeler, but the arrangement ended abruptly with Rachman’s death by heart attack on November 29th, 1962.  Rachman was a notorious character who had been under constant police investigation since 1959; he had been prosecuted twice for brothel-keeping and among his expensive gifts to Mandy was a new Jaguar (which was, alas, seized by his widow).  But Mandy later insisted that there was no profit motive involved in her relationship with the short, dumpy Rachman, a statement repeated without question by journalists and others ever since.

It was after Rachman’s death, however, that Rice-Davies’ ship finally came in, via the Profumo Affair and the associated persecution of Stephen Ward.  She had always hoped to achieve stardom, and since coming to London had appeared in several advertisements, but the free publicity afforded her by her appearance as a prosecution witness at Ward’s trial gave her career a mighty boost.  This is not to say that she intentionally capitalized upon Ward’s misfortune; in fact, she only agreed to testify after the cops trumped up charges involving a fake ID (and later, a supposedly stolen television set) so she could be threatened with a long stretch in Holloway if she refused to “cooperate”.  But once the trial started, she clearly both enjoyed and took advantage of the publicity.  The cameras loved her, and her comparing herself to Lady Hamilton (Lord Nelson’s mistress) made her the talk of the papers for a few weeks.  After the trial ended with Ward’s suicide at the end of July, Mandy was offered a job as a cabaret singer in Germany and quickly became involved with another wealthy patron, one Baron Cervello.

For several years she toured the world, taking whatever singing gigs she could find, then in 1966 she moved to Israel; there she met and married nightclub owner Rafael Shaul and converted to Judaism, founding a chain of restaurants and nightclubs called Mandy’s.  The couple amicably divorced in 1971 but remained business partners, and Mandy appeared in a number of Israeli films in the ‘70s, then European ones (and television show episodes) in the ‘80s.  She also published her autobiography, Mandy, in 1980 and a novel, The Scarlet Thread, in 1989.  During this time she had a number of liaisons with ever-wealthier men and an extremely short-lived marriage to the French restaurateur Jean-Charles Lefevre.  But it was her third marriage, to British businessman Ken Foreman, which accelerated what she called her “long descent into respectability”; among Foreman’s friends was Sir Denis Thatcher, and Mandy – now going by Marilyn Foreman – is known to have holidayed with Thatcher and his much more famous wife, Margaret.  She died of cancer just three weeks ago, on December 18th, and was the subject of laudatory obituaries in the Guardian  and Telegraph, among many others.

But despite her respectability and long-maintained insistence that she had never really taken money for sex, Mandy never attempted to distance herself from the Prufumo Affair and the Ward trial; in fact, in 2013 she was consulted by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his short-lived stage musical, Stephen Ward.  At the time, she revealed that she had not spoken to her old flatmate, Christine Keeler, in over three decades; while Rice-Davies had embraced the publicity and used it to advance her own interests, Keeler had been embarrassed by the whole thing and vanished from the limelight for 20 years after it was over.  Their different ways of reacting to the debacle had driven a wedge into what was never a particularly close friendship to start; “I don’t think she liked me,” Mandy said in an October 2013 interview.  And though neither of the two ever (publicly) considered themselves sex workers, their very different post-scandal lives demonstrate an important truth about two kinds of women involved in the work:  those who consider it to have been a humiliation, and those who embrace it as a means of attaining their goals.

(This month’s harlotography first appeared in Cliterati on January 4th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.)

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