To Paris with Love–A New Book!

Et je le referais, aka And I’d Do It Again, published by 2,3 Choses, arrives in stores and online on June 6th.

At long last, the French speaking public will have the opportunity to read And I’d Do It Again, aka Et je le referais, the high and mighty, autobiographic-ish life story of American heiress Aimée Crocker. Published by 2,3 Choses, it arrives in stores and online on June 6th.

Ms. Crocker’s cocksure, boisterous and highly dramatized book with the jaunty title, originally published in 1936, focuses on her saturnalian trip around the world in the mid-1890s.

Youngest daughter of railroad tycoon and art collector Edwin “Judge” Crocker, (also niece of the great Charles “Bull” Crocker, 10th richest man in America), the rambunctious heiress from the Wild West was given two official titles in her life: Princess Palaikalani — Bliss of Heaven, by King David Kalakaua when he gave her one of his Hawaiian islands, and Princess Galitzine, the day that she married her fifth and final husband, when she was 60 and he was 26. The press would give her a third royal designation–Queen of Bohemia.

Her sensational travel book was a sort of companion piece and a contrast to her cousin Templeton Crocker’s well received but far tamer The Cruise of the Zaca, published three years earlier, which chronicled his year-long, record-breaking trip around the world in his luxury yacht. After its release And I’d Do It Again quickly became a topic of conversation in newsrooms, classrooms, barrooms and at dinner tables throughout the country and in more than a few pubs and cafés in Europe and Asia. It was a world-wide field day for clucking tongues and wagging fingers.

“No fertile brained writer of fiction could concoct a more thrilling plot with more bizarre characters,” was the summary of one critic.

For the then Amy Isabella Crocker-Ashe-Gillig, circumnavigating the globe would be the thrill of a lifetime.

Amy would begin to tell her travel tales to the press in 1909. Spectacular stories came out depicting her as an international woman of intrigue. Stories about her ardent conversion to Buddhism and the strange Oriental atmosphere of her East Indian palace in New York. Stories about her three weeks as in inmate in a harem near Bombay (she claimed to be the first English speaking woman to spend time in a harem). Tales about living in a paper house in Japan, of selling cigarettes in a Burmese bazaar, of a English officer stealing a pearl from a Buddha statue in Rangoon to win her love.

A student of world religions and esoteric philosophies, Amy was said to have learned the mysteries of most of the faiths, rituals, and magics between Port Said and Shanghai during her trips around the globe.

Riding that wave of publicity, Crocker wrote a 91-page book of short stories in 1910, Moon Madness and Other Fantasies, which was touted as “the result of her world-wide experience in the higher Bohemian circles of nearly every capitol, including many cities of the Orient.” Her publishers called them “arabesques.” Crocker referred to her slender volume as “memoirs in fiction form.” Moon Madness would sell out five printings.

Amy assured readers that all the fantasy stories were founded on fact. On the turquoise blue cover, Amy introduced a new French spelling of her name — Aimée. The American heiress was a lifelong Francophile and kept a townhouse in Paris from 1912 until her death in 1941.

Before her life changing odyssey, the controversial heiress made the society gossip pages when she eloped with a young law clerk who “won” her in a round of poker dice. She became part of a national story when she was a passenger in a horrific train wreck at Tehachapi that killed 16 people in the car that she occupied, and again when her daughter Alma (later Gladys) was kidnapped by her husband and then lost at divorce court. She was the subject of gossip when she was caught frolicking in a gentleman’s club in Los Angeles and was roundly criticized for employing a black coachman to take her to the Bay City Race Track.

Aimée saved her wildest fin de siècle stories for her 1936 memoirs. Her love affairs on the road often included absolute mayhem. Shark attacks, hari-kari, headhunting warriors, the “Death of a Thousand Cuts”… A lust-mad, hashish addict dies during a sexual assault from apoplexy. An assassination attempt by knife wielding henchmen in Shanghai goes awry and kills her maid. The heiress discovers a double murder crime scene at a lesbian couple’s cottage in India.

One scene with vultures on Malabar Hill in Bombay at the Tower of Silence may make readers queasy.

Crocker tells the gruesome tales, one after another, with cheer and charm, as if she was talking about her trip to the Farmer’s Market on a breezy Sunday afternoon.

After her two extended tours of Hawaii, (then the Sandwich Island) and before her Grand Tour of the World in 1894-95, amorous Aimée was driven out of liberal California after a much publicized court case against her maid who she accused of grand larceny. The jury, the press–the entire state–ruled against young Aimée. The heiress was depicted as frivolous and careless, spoiled and untrustworthy. All of the magnificent gifts that the Crockers bestowed upon the state (and the country) wouldn’t make up for having such a morally suspect daughter. She moved from pretentious Nob Hill and provincial San Francisco forever to set up camp in glamorous New York–Empire City.

Aimée Crocker, circa 1890, Hawaiian and Pacific Collections
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library

Crocker was informed, traveled, witty and crafty… and a gifted story-teller and yarn spinner. She enjoyed playing cat and mouse. The press enjoyed showcasing and embellishing her talents. A few months before her world tour, during her second marriage, Aimée was caught keeping company in a rented New York townhouse with the literary genius and Lothario, Edgar Saltus. Gossip columns would write of liaisons and love affairs with dozens and dozens of men throughout her life. Stories were told of of duels fought to win her love. Of roaming the jungles with devoted native boys. Of snake orgies in her Parisian townhouse…

The truth of her love life, after piecing together the overwhelming deluge of these articles, is far more sensational than any single reporter of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages could have imagined, if only half of the tales were half true. Besides the men that she married: the gambling/turfman/state senator, the prestidigitator/opera singer/Commodore, the Broadway ragtime songwriter, the fake Russian prince and the real Russian Count, she was linked romantically to actors, novelists, an ambassador/composer, a Chinese baron, a prince from Borneo, a legendary occultist and a king…

And I’d Do It Again is very much a weighty admonition to the eras persnickety “Mrs. Grundys” (the Victorian/Gilded Age ultra-conservative busy bodies and slut shamers) who dogged Aimée Crocker her entire life.

Two of Aimée’s sensual/sexual experiences stand out as breathtaking and titillating tales skillfully told. One details an orgasmic interlude with a Chinese violin at the House of the Ivory Panels. The other narrates the night she slept in the coils of a 12-foot boa constrictor.

Her rescue of young woman caught in a “white slavery” sex trafficking scandal at an opium den in Shanghai takes a dramatic turn.

The thrill seeking heiress enjoyed slumming in tawdry red-light districts in the dregs of the Bowery and Chinatown in New York, the Barbary Coast in San Francisco, and lower Montmartre, or Pigalle, in Paris. Aimée writes about visiting Columbia Hall aka “Paresis Hall” in the dank and dangerous Bowery neighborhood of New York City in her memoirs. The infamous club, which took its nickname from a term for syphilitic insanity, was the entertainment center of the city’s homosexual nightlife and a flophouse where mostly underage male prostitutes would solicit men under an effeminate persona. Upstairs was the first known transgender advocacy group in America, the Cercle Hermaphroditos.

In the 1910s the million-heiress reached the crescendo of her pyrotechnic, multi-orgasmic career in the limelight. The press coronated her “Queen of Bohemia.” Aimée was glorified as an eccentric and unconventional woman with a roving propensity and unorthodox beliefs. To others, especially those in Mrs. Astor’s 400, (aka the Mrs. Grundys) she was considered a debaucherous renegade and a sexual heretic with subversive ideas. In And I’d Do It Again, when she breaks Victorian guidelines and codes by commingling with “the natives” and wearing their costumes, she is ostracized. In the foreign colonies in Bombay and in Shanghai, the heiress was completely without Western friends. In Honolulu, her own countrymen tried to expel her.

Crocker was romantically linked to six men simultaneously in the press in the 1910s. The international line-up according to a San Francisco Call article, included a Russian opera singer, two composers (one with a flair for ladies’ fashion, the other a part-time Argentinean diplomat), an editor, a French actor who starred opposite the great Sarah Bernhardt, and the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Sahara. They didn’t catch wind of her decade-long love affair with legendary magician and world-class hedonist Aleister Crowley, “The Wickedest Man in the World.”

Her season of dance parties before the Great War got a lot of press. Especially the “Dance of All Nations” costume ball at the glorious Crocker five-story townhouse in Manhattan which resembled the interior of a genie bottle, or one of the apartments of the Sultan of Turkey with its grinning bulbuls, pearl-eyed Buddhas, giraffe plants, naked nymphs suspended in heavy gilded frames, samovars, fountains and jeweled lamps.

The Harem Glide, the Siberian Whirl and the Vienna Viggle were in the lineup that evening. The Dance of the Seven Veils was featured, of course. Dogmeena, the tribal chieftainess performed La Danse des Igorrotes, and La Mazurka Russe was danced by the famous Maurice Mouvet. Six Kanaka maidens and two men danced the Hula Kui for Crocker’s illustrious guests. The ancient hulu dance was first resurrected by King Kalakaua of Hawai’i, a good friend of Aimée Crocker, at his inauguration after being banned for 50+ years. In Aimée’s interpretation, as the dancers whirled and shimmied, they dance the leaves off their skirts one by one.

The star dancer of the evening was Aimée Crocker herself. She delighted the company when she danced La Madrilena, an Argentine tango, with one of her most recent admirers.

Some of these modern dances brought women into unprecedented physical contact with their partners. Designed for arousal, they unbridled female sexuality. Aimée’s dances were not just taboo or risqué, they were banned in certain communities, districts, even entire countries. Countless editorials, short stories, and articles condemned the dances as a dangerous violation of sexual, ethnic, and class norms. Two years later, Pope Pius X would declare the tango as immoral and off-limits to Catholics. He insisted that anyone who performed the dance go to confession.

Crocker’s soirée was an assault against the suffocating gender roles, a rallying cry for pre-19th amendment, repressed, suppressed and oppressed women the world over.

Aimée later responded, “The Dance of All Nations at my home last month created a furor of curiosity and a little tempest of criticism proves only once again that for every one who steps out of the stupid beaten path of custom, brickbats await… The new [is] attacked and my jolly informal dance is pilloried because it was novel. The artistic will always be to some minds a synonym for wrong.”

Aimée Crocker was known for her sensational parties that featured risque dances

By the mid-1910s American women, following Crocker’s example, had gone “dance mad” and were fraternizing with “lounge lizards,” “cake eaters,” “tango pirates” and “flapperoosters” who, for money and pleasure, stimulated female desires both on the dance floor and off. Crocker consorted with Rudolph Valentino himself, then 19-years-old, who she took on as a tango protege at the famous nightclub Maxim’s in Manhattan.

After living in New York in the 1890s and nineteen aughts, Aimée would become bi-continental, a part-time expatriate and full-time citizen of the world. In June of 1912, Crocker, then the widow Mrs. Jackson Gouraud, paid $150,000 (4.6 million today) for a fine residence, her queen’s castle, in the Passy-La Muette district of the 16th arrondissement, near the Bois de Boulogne, a fashionable quarter of Paris. Between Broadway seasons in New York, where she danced among Gotham’s glitterati, Crocker would be seen gallivanting in Paris, enjoying the French capital’s artistic and intellectual vitality and cultivated tastes. Aimée also thoroughly enjoyed its pompous display, frivolity and relaxed morals.

In no time Crocker was a celebrity as firmly established as the top stars of the theater, and was the talk of the smart set. Aimée was as clever as a steel trap and terrifyingly witty. The press devoted columns to descriptions of her jewels, her furs, the rampant aigrettes, and her parties. On the Champs Elysees’s Sunday morning parade of frocks, frills, and furbelows, the tattooed and pearled heiress often attracted more attention than women younger and more beautiful wearing flamboyant hats preposterously trimmed into an aviary of bird wings or a flower stand of roses. She mingled with the debonair bluebloods at the racetracks at Auteuil and Longchamps. She wandered about exclusive art exhibit openings and added a colorful touch to charity bazaars.

Aimée Crocker with one of her favorite Asian idols, dressed in her famous pearls. From the cover of And I’d Do It Again, 1936.

In Paris Aimée stole the show at iconic fashion designer Paul Poiret’s lavish Arabian themed “The Thousand and Second Night” fête. All guests were required to dress in Persian-styled costumes. The magnificence of Aimée’s costume and jewels outshone all the splendor around her. In the middle of her forehead she wore her famous immense emerald, held in place by a magnificent rope of pearls. The most dazzling accessory that she wore that evening was her date, Romanian actor Édouard de Max, “The Most Beautiful Man in Paris.” She became an A-list party guest in the cultural capital of the Western world and skyrocketed to superstar status.

Aimée and De Max aligned with the aesthetes of the time who thought everything was art, leisure and fiction, and believed the beautiful should be made theatrical. The Parisian couturiers and the orientalist art scene helped guide the elites and later the masses out of the prim and grim, repressed and corsetted Victorian era.

Aimée Crocker’s most remarkable Parisian palace (there were several) was declared “The House of Fantasy” by some members of the press. It was a surrealist abode, filled with Dali-esque touches and precious souvenirs gathered from her travels. A tour of Crocker’s Bohemian mansion would spark not just conversation but an inquisition. Perplexed and somewhat petrified tourists would be led on a higgledy-piggledy journey both around the Occident and the Orient and through the deeper recesses of the heiress’s complex psyche. Her friend screenwriter Gertrude Orr, aka actress Gertrude Barrett, aka Baroness de Beckendorff, described her first visit to Mrs. Gouraud’s extraordinary home, which she dubbed the “Court of Pearls”:

It was like entering the treasure chamber of a Bagdad caliph who has looted king’s palaces in every quarter of the globe. A Crusader in full armor guarded the reception hall. A Peruvian sun-god rubbed shoulders with an Alaskan totem pole and a Malay war drum. Machetes, dueling pistols, Zula assegais, Arabian scimitars, a cowboy’s spurs, shared the wall space with photographs of theatrical beauties, Japanese prints, and paintings that ranged from a Paul Gauguin original to several of Raphael Kirchner’s voluptuous opium princesses.

Her salon was modern, lively and liberal. Constitution Magazine furnished a detailed description of her Parisian salon, her “Palais D’Orient,” describing it as “a riot of undiluted paganism.” There were splendid lacquered chairs and settees from ancient China. There were iron storks and porcelain dogs and bronze pythons in the act of striking. There was a mantel-piece from India and above it a large painting of a nude woman with a sinuous boa constrictor caressing her shapely limbs by artist Gabriel Ferrier. There were quaint kakemonos, Chinese wall paintings, paneled brocades from Japan, beautiful Persian rugs, elephants, dragons, and delicate silk embroideries. A permanently growling Siberian tiger’s head and hide laid ominously on the floor.

Gabriel Ferrier’s Salammbô

The chateau included a “vert pistashe” dining room (named after the nut?) with a toy railroad on the table and contained a little theater in which Monsieur de Max performed. There was a laboratory for her inventory/engineer adopted son. There were countless Buddhas, bronze and copper, silver and gold, fat and thin, smiling and serious, with halos and without. They were Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Singhalese, Burmese and Indian. One of the finest shrines featured a carved enthroned Confucius. There were figures of Siva and the jolly Japanese god of happiness, guardian of children, and patron of bartenders–Hotei .

Ms. Crocker had a truly catholic taste in gods.

The heiress had two portraits painted of her that she would hang in her newest Parisian mansion. One portrayed Aimée as the Buddha with one hand giving and one hand receiving, which was painted by Irene Prahar, who once worked under Rodin. The second, painted masterfully by Delsartean demi-god Edmund Russell, depicted Aimée as an Indian snake charmer.

Hand-wrought bronze doors taken from an Indian harem opened into her bedroom. The chief ornament was a wonderful Chinese bed made of solid ebony encrusted with ivory. Huge white polar bear-skins spread underneath the bed provided a sharp contrast. The general design was that of a boat. The carvings were said to represent “the fantastic progress of an opium smoker’s dream.”

Pictures of world celebrities, all personally given to Madame Gouraud, adorned the walls. Her bathroom was turned into a veritable art gallery with photographs of handsome actors, dancers, acrobats and prize fighters… over 500 dashing men, including her five husbands and Paul Swan, the aesthetic, sometimes nude dancer once billed as “the most beautiful man in the world.”

One reporter claimed, “It is without exaggeration, the strangest house in Europe.”

Today Aimée Crocker is most famous for introducing and popularizing French bulldogs in the United States (she helped form the French Bulldog Club of America and won at Westminster three years in a row), for her long love affair with the great Aleister Crowley (she was a ninth degree initiate in his Ordo Templis Orientis sex cult/secret society), and her magnificent tattoos (she was among the first celebrities photographed showing off her body art). In addition to this beautifully illustrated full-color French edition of And I’d Do It Again, a short documentary came out this year about her tattoos. An historical novel about her life comes out in August, The Thirteenth Husband, by USA Today bestseller Greer Macallister. It is a wonderfully written, inventive piece that belongs on every fan’s bookshelf. A Crocker musical is in development in Valenciennes, France. 2024 is not just the Year of the Dragon, it is the Year of Aimée Crocker.

One of the many beautiful illustrations in Et je le referais by Adélaïde Lebrun

 

Aimee Crocker

Et je le referais

Autobiographie

Traduction: Annick Marion

Préface: Kevin Taylor

Illustrations: Adélaïde Lebrun

Cahier intérieur: Asie et Art déco

Livre broché 300 pages – 12×18 cm 

EAN 13 : 9782493820075 prix : 21

 

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If you would like more information about Aimée Crocker, please call Kevin Taylor at 213.210.7519, or email frugoliandtaylor@gmail.com. For more Crocker related stories check out www.aimeecrocker.com.