Who is Aimée Crocker?

American world traveler, adventuress, heiress and mystic, Aimée Crocker was dubbed the “Queen of Bohemia” in the 1910s by the world press for living an uninhibited, sexually liberated and aggressively non-conformist life in San Francisco, New York and Paris. She spent the bulk of her fortune inherited from her father Edwin B. Crocker, a railroad tycoon and art collector, on traveling all over the world (lingering the longest in Hawaii, India, Japan and China) and partying with accomplished artists of her time. She was famous for her collections of tattoos, pet snakes, pearls, husbands and lovers. Aimée was by all accounts, an Olympic-caliber sexual athlete; she married five times in five different decades of her life, each man being in his twenties. Spiritually inquisitive, Crocker had a ten-year affair with occultist Aleister Crowley, was a devoted student of Hatha Yoga, and was reported to have started the first Buddhist colony in Manhattan.

In 1936, Crocker wrote a travel book, And I’d Do It Again. Included in her life story: a harrowing honeymoon train crash in California; a blood curdling escape down a jungle river; an abduction by a Dyak prince; a lesbian double suicide; a poisoning in Hong Kong; a murder attempt by knife-throwing servants in Shanghai; a search for Kaivalya (Liberation) at the cave of the Great Yogin Bhojaveda in Poona, India; and two bizarre sensual/sexual experiences, one with an Indian boa constrictor, and another with a Chinese violin in the “House of the Ivory Panels.”

Crocker’s bucket list of “accomplishments” would make the Bohemian poseur of today green with envy:

  • Had romances with foreign powerful men on several continents, some decades younger than her.
  • Orchestrated a drinking game with the sharp-witted Oscar Wilde and other genius men of letters in the rough Barbary Coast district of San Francisco.
  • Was the first English speaking woman to spend time in a harem.
  • Lived in the “Chelsea Hotel of Paris” with artist neighbors such as Rodin, Matisse, Jean Cocteau and Isadora Duncan, who entertained Picasso at their studios.
  • Went to the red-light district of Hong Kong by rickshaw. Hung out at an opium den. Paid to free an addicted slave prostitute.
  • Got matching tattoos with her new boyfriend before the divorce decree from her second husband was inked.
  • Accused of being an “immoral hussy” by missionaries and commanded to leave the island country of Hawaii. (The king luckily favored her company).
  • Purchased a home in Paris which is quickly dubbed the “House of Fantasy” by the press. Provided sumptuous accommodations for a few exiled Russian noblemen (who plotted a counter-revolution) and some artists (including a young painter that she nicknamed Bobo).
  • Engaged in a conversation with Aleister Crowley about Qabalah, the Gnostic Gospels, and Sex Magick. Tested out some of his theories.
  • Spent a night slumming in the Bowery and Chinatown, then invited some characters home for a night of binge drinking, merriment and mayhem.
  • Hosted the great baritone Enrico Caruso at a Broadway after party in her Manhattan home where he sang to a delighted crowd that included the legendary Barrymores.
  • Accepted an offer to play herself on Broadway in a vaudeville show called “Hell” with music by Irving Berlin.
  • Went on a tour to promote her new book of short stories Moon Madness that her publisher referred to as “arabesques” and she called “memoirs in fiction form.”
  • Invited all of blue blood New York to a birthday party for H. H. Kaa, Maharajah of Amber. Laughed as the faint of heart in the crowd collapsed and screamed for the exits as they learned that the Maharajah was her pet boa constrictor.
  • Spent an evening showing a young Rudolph Valentino how to do the Argentine Tango, the forbidden dance, in a New York nightclub.

The Philadelphia Inquirer would name Aimée Crocker as “The Most Fantastic Woman of Her Age.” The New York World said she was a genius of individuality and compared her to Hebe, the daughter of Zeus, a goddess who had the power to restore youth to mortals. Aimée Crocker would spread the Gospel of Bohemia boldly to the far corners of the world, to the Occident and the Orient, and dig channels between high and low culture, outsiders and insiders. She laid tracks for Troubadour beatniks and flower-faced drug-laden hippies of future generations.

All of the forces of nature vied with one another in heaping on Aimée Crocker their choicest gifts. She had wealth and she was perfectly independent. Crocker’s life is a cabinet of human curiosities, a celebration of some of the most eccentric, extravagant and extraordinary personalities from the Civil War to World War II. Crocker mixed with royalty and rabble. Though she had connections to the highest levels of society, Crocker’s true milieu was to be found in her network of similarly free agents from all walks of life. Her coterie was a pantheon of unique and fearless spirits. Rare blooms. Some are legends even today (Oscar Wilde, the Barrymores, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, Enrico Caruso, Aleister Crowley, Rudolph Valentino, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Isadora Duncan, Thomas Edison, and, of course, Charles Crocker) and others were like her destined to face an ill-deserved obscurity, but who emerge from the shadows of history as unsung influences on our lives.

Aimée Crocker was a champion of vivid individuality who lived for intrigue and outrage, possessed an irresistible charm, and elevated the craft of selfhood to an art. She carefully prepared and constructed an electric, eccentric persona, and with the assistance of the press, became the quintessential Bohemian muse. Her constant efforts at inventing new adventures and entertainments showcased an insolence in her character, a confidence in her tastes and her global knowledge gathering skills. Crocker’s triumph was a complete lack of reticence. It wasn’t an extraordinary body of work that she left behind, but how she lived that was her real masterpiece.

–Kevin Taylor

Authorized biographer