Thursday, 20 January 2011

Joe (Betty) Carstairs

When I heard that Marlene Dietrich had nicknamed Carstairs "the Pirate" my ears pricked up. Back in 2008, I had a real thing for dressing up in Pirate garb! A very good friend even created a treasure hunt around Norwich for me to follow!

I'm definitely intrigued by Carstairs...she was doing androgeny back in the 1920s - long before Bowie became Ziggy Stardust. She led an extremely bohemian life in London and Paris, before escaping to Whale Cay in the Bahamas.

In 1934 "Joe" Carstairs became the fastest female speedboat racer in the world. After that, the publicity she got was more to do with her being a cross-dresser who favoured women. After an affair with Dolly Wilde - the niece of Oscar - she dallied with a string of actresses, Tallulah Bankhead among them.

But the love of her life was a rare thing indeed - a leather man-doll, about a foot high that she was given as a gift. His name was Lord Tod Wadley. Wadley was a boy who would never grow up. Carstairs had dozens of studio portraits made of her doll: one shows him alone with his reflection in a mirror and is labelled "Narcissus". Wadley was everything to Carstairs: companion, protector, alter ego. She showered him with gifts: suits from Savile Row, shoes from Italy, golf clubs, cowboy outfits, sailor's suits, a wristwatch that ticked. Poems were written and sculptures made in his honour. "We're like one," she said. "He's me and I'm him. It's a marvellous thing. If everybody had a Wadley there'd be less sadness in the world." What I particularly admire about this is her refusal to live a conventional life and her reluctance to grow old gracefully ... it seems like her childlike wonder and restlessness was ever present. And there's a lot to be said for only needing a doll to make you happy!


1 comment:

Helena said...

I'm so pleased to have tracked you down again! I bought two zar-zar-zines several years ago, as a present for my partner. We came across them again today and had a good giggle with them. Then I decided to see if you were still making them..... hope to see you in blogland again soon!