Lilyan Tashman

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In honor of LGBT Pride Month…we celebrate a few of the men and women of Classic Hollywood who paved the way. A few brave trailblazers lived openly, many were closeted, but their contribution to movies is undeniable! Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter, Sal Mineo, Richard Chamberlain, Alla Nazimova, Ramon Novarro, Thelma Todd*, Patsy Kelly, William Haines, John Gielgud, Noël Coward, Michael Redgrave, Clifton Webb, Anton Walbrook, Farley Granger, Van Johnson, Dirk Bogarde, Lilyan Tashman, George Cukor, Dorothy Arzner, Margaret Lindsay, Elizabeth Taylor*, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, and Janet Gaynor.[*Note: Miss Todd & Miss Taylor are depicted here in support of their pals.]

Ziegfeld Follies Showgirl Lilyan Tashman, Photo by Fred Hartsook, 1920s. 

OCTOBER 23: Lilyan Tashman (1896-1934)

Film icon Lilyan Tashman was born on this day in 1896. The bisexual American actress who rocked Vaudeville, Broadway, and the silver screen throughout her lifetime is most well-known today for her roles in Millie, Girls About Town, and So This is Paris.

Publicity photo of Lilyan Tashman from Stars of the Photoplay (x).

Lilyan Tashman was born to a working-class Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York on October 23, 1896. She was the tenth and youngest child to be born to her immigrant mother and father, who had been born in Germany and Poland respectively. She attended Girl’s High School and worked as a fashion and figure drawing model throughout her teen years to help support the family. Her modeling career eventually blossomed into a Vaudeville career and by 1914 she was a part of a successful travelling troupe. Performing became cemented as Lilyan’s career when she was picked up to join the Ziegfeld Follies in 1916.

Her stint with the Ziegfeld Follies, although only lasting two years, allowed Lilyan to get a supporting role in the hit musical The Gold Diggers. She made her film debut in 1921 with the small film Experience, but after her attempt at leaping from the stage to the silver screen wasn’t going the way she planned, Lilyan moved across the county to California. Finally in Hollywood, her career took off; she appeared in five films in just the course of one year and eventually signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. Starring in over 66 films during her career, she became known to audiences for her roles as the “other woman” or the seductive “villainess.”

Originally posted by precodehollywood

Today, many consider Lilyan to have been a bisexual figure. Her first husband was a colleague from her Vaudeville days named Al Lee. The two were married in 1914, but soon divorced in 1921. Her second husband was longtime friend and fellow actor Edmund Lowe. The two lived together in their lavish Beverly Hills mansion called Lilowe, threw extravagant parties, and were touted by the media as being Hollywood’s new darling “it” couple; however, Edmund was a gay man and many believe their marriage to have been one of convenience. Lilyan herself was rumored to have had several trysts with women and even an intense relationship with Greta Garbo, which left Lilyan heartbroken after Greta called it off. There is even a legend that Lilyan was almost charged with assault (for the SECOND time) after she caught the actress Constance Bennett in a compromising position with her girlfriend at the time.

Despite her vitality and scrappiness, Lilyan tragically contracted abdominal cancer at the young age of 36. She would film five more films during the last years of her life, Frankie and Johnny being the last time America would ever see her on film. After entering Doctor’s Hospital on March 21, 1934, Lilyan passed away from cancer at the age of 37. Her funeral at the New York City synagogue Temple Emanu-El saw over 10,000 mourners, fans, and fellow Hollywood elite in attendance.

-LC

Lilyan Tashman and Edmund Lowe

In 1925 Lilyan Tashman married her old and dear friend Edmund Lowe. Tashman was a famously feisty blonde with an outrageously expensive wardrobe, who was almost always cast as the conniving bad girl. She also became known (amongst her peers) for her fiery affairs and relationships with a wide variety of women, including a romance with Greta Garbo. Edmund Lowe was also a backstage gay, and together they were one of the most glamorous couples of their era. They were often described as the perfect married couple, and featured in articles like Photoplay’s “How to Hold a Husband/Wife in Hollywood.”