Lilyan Tashman: The Mother of the Lipstick Lesbian

Hollywood in the 1930s was a Greek Pantheon; gods and goddesses hob nobbed together throwing casually glamorous parties with the stars of the Hollywood sky. Lilyan Tashman was one of their brightest and also one of the most overt lesbians.


In the 1930s one did not talk about homosexuality and one certainly would not admit to any kind of deviance from the standard of heterosexuality. There were societal standards that one followed and that is just how it was done. However, one could slide by with counter culture lifestyles in New York’s theater scene. This is exactly where Lilyan came from. Born in Brooklyn in 1896, Lilyan was on the stage by age seventeen. She was cast in Ziegfield’s “Follies” but like many stage actors at that time, she traveled West to pursue a career in the pictures.


The vivacious Lilyan was wildly free; radiating honesty and enjoyment of life. There are several accounts of Lil cornering women in public powder rooms, much to their surprise! There were a couple of lesbian communities in Hollywood: Nazimova had her circle of followers and lovers and Mercedes de Acosta, “the lover of the stars”, had her (wide) circle of lovers. But Lil ran on her own, she went after what she wanted and didn’t apologize for it or herself. She had gumption, spice and that laid back “seen it all” glam to her.


Lilyan made no pretense about her sexuality and quite aggressively pursued the ladies. Yet she was married to a man named Edmund Lowe, a gay actor in Hollywood. At that time marriage was protocol. If one wanted to be respectable in society then one was married. Edmund and Lilyan had a loving friendship and marriage that worked for them. They would throw grand parties at their house and all the stars in Hollywood would attend.

Tragically Lilyan died in 1934 during surgery to remove colon cancer. Had she lived longer, perhaps the moral cleansing of the 1940s in Hollywood would not have suited her. Yet still, she was another young radiant star pulled from the earth when she was at her most radiant. She was a woman who loved every bit of herself shining love brightly. And that is how I like to remember Lilyan; a vivacious, glamorous, aggressive lady-loving Mother of the Lipstick Lesbian.


You can see Lilyan in these films on youtube: Girls About Town and Millie.
Want to know more? The blog Satin and Shadows has a THE biography on Lilyan Tashman.