Caresse Crosby


Biography of Caresse Crosby

Caresse Crosby (April 20, 1891–January 26, 1970), born Mary Phelps Jacob (nicknamed "Polly" by her parents), was an American patron of the arts, poet, publisher, and peace activist. At age 19, she invented the first modern brassiere to receive a patent and gain wide acceptance.

Crosby's parents, William Hearns Jacob and Mary Phelps, were both descended from American colonial families, William from the Van Rensselaer family and Mary from William Phelps. Her life at first followed convention. In 1915, she married the well-to-do Richard R. Peabody, whose family had arrived in New Hampshire in 1635. They had two children, but following Richard's service in World War I, Richard turned into a drunk who loved to watch buildings burn. 79 She met Harry Crosby at a picnic in 1920 and they had sex within two weeks. Their public relationship scandalized proper blue blood Boston society.

Two years later Richard granted her a divorce and Harry and Polly were married. They immediately left for Europe, where they joined the lost generation of American expatriates. They embraced a bohemian and decadent lifestyle, living off of Harry's trust fund of US$12,000 a year. 397 (or about $162,000 in today's dollars), had an open marriage with numerous ongoing affairs, a suicide pact, frequent drug use, wild parties, and long trips abroad.

At her husband's urging, Polly took the name Caresse in 1924. In 1925 they began publishing their own poetry as Éditions Narcisse in exquisitely printed, limited-edition volumes. In 1927 they re-christened the business as the Black Sun Press. They became instrumental in publishing some of the early works of many emerging authors who were struggling to get published, including James Joyce, Kay Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, Hart Crane, D. H. Lawrence, René Crevel, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

In 1929 one of her husband's affairs culminated in his death as part of a murder-suicide or double suicide at the studio of a friend. His death was marked by scandal as the newspapers speculated wildly about whether Harry shot his lover or not. Caresse returned to Paris where she continued to run the Black Sun Press. She was friends with many of the eminent authors of her time, including Robert Duncan, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. She left Europe in 1936 and bought Hampton Manor in Virginia outside Washington D.C. She married Selbert Young, an unemployed, alcoholic actor sixteen years her junior. She helped Henry Miller by taking over writing pornography for an anonymous Texas oil baron. Her guests at Hampton Manor included Buckminster Fuller, Salvador Dalí, Ezra Pound and other friends from Paris. She began a long- term love affair with black actor-boxer Canada Lee, despite the threat of miscegenation laws. She founded Women Against War. She continued after World War II to try to establish a Center for World Peace at Delphi, Greece. When rebuffed by Greek authorities, she purchased Castello di Rocca Sinibalda, a 15th-century castle north of Rome, which she used to support an artists' colony. She died of pneumonia related to heart disease in Rome in 1970.

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