Monday, January 5, 2009

Move over, Angelina!

Tattoo this name on your brain:  Aimee Crocker.  Or, as she liked to be called, "Princess Galitzine"  (the title was a remnant of a marriage to a Hungarian royal).   Seriously, this woman lived a life that makes Angelina Jolie's look like a convent girl's.   Born into luxury in 1900's San Francisco, she defied her parents, abandoned all conventions, bought a steamer ship and set east for a lifetime of adventure.  And what an adventure it was.  

Having always felt the pull of the Orient, she knew once she set sail that the Far East was the only place for her.  She tells of living in the harem of an Indian Rajah, of being the sex slave and house prisoner of an Shanghai aristocrat, and of being abducted by a Javanese prince and barely escaping the jungle alive.  

And it's not just she who is ready to toss her knickers at a moment's notice.  Apparently, unchecked hormones were the order of the day.  In India, she meets a prim young girl who ditches her stiff English chaperone for a local Bombay shop owner and spends the rest of her life in blissful (and satisfied) purdah.  Another acquaintance, a spinster and governess to two bratty American children, abandons her charges for a Japanese rickshaw runner.  As Aimee insightfully puts it, "The fact is that her imagination and her normal desires had been struggling against her Puritanical training, and finally, under the influence and freedom and trance of the East, she had succumbed."

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Aimee has an affair with a python (yes, that's what I said) and experiences "a strange, tickling sensation that was...very enjoyable."

She meets up with two American expatriate women in Shanghai who promise her an experience she'll never be able to describe, and drive her to a mysterious house where she experiences wild, unspeakable stirrings from the sounds of a violin.

She has a glittering candlelit dinner with two lipstick lesbians in a remote country house in India on the last night of their lives.  The next morning, they are found murdered in their bed.

She finds herself without funds in Europe at the outbreak of WWI, travels steerage on a ship from Naples to New York and is proposed to by an Italian fruit vendor.   (She declines, gracefully.)

And there's so, so much more.  Through it all, she remains eager, unflappable and unrepentant. Hence the title, "And I'd Do It Again."

Why hasn't her life been turned into a movie yet? 


Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

this sounds phenomenal - a must-read for sure. it's incredible how real lives can be so much more extraordinary and wild than anything we could dream up. Have you read the bio of Jane Digby? Great stuff. Thanks for this! EEE

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Dear God, She sounds sublime. And difficult.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

From a review of the book when published, from Time magazine:

Last week three more feminine autobiographies were published. The silliest of the new crop was a muddled concoction called And I'd Do If Again, written with a lurid, Sunday-supplement archness, by a daughter of the wealthy and picturesque Crocker family of San Francisco, detailing her travels in the Far East, her love affairs with a Japanese baron, a Chinese tyrant, a Borneo chieftain and a four-yard boa constrictor named Kaa. Aimee Crocker first became aware of the lure of the Orient when, at the age of 10, she demanded that her mother buy her an elaborate Chinese bed that she saw in San Francisco. "Very young indeed was I.'' she writes, "when the finger of the East reached out across the Pacific and touched me." No sooner had the East put the finger on her than her mother sent her to Germany to be educated. There she fell in love with a German prince (un-named), and was taken to Madrid, where she fell in love with a bullfighter. The impressionable young lady then returned to San Francisco, married [Richard Porter Ashe, with whom she had a daughter, Gladys], was almost killed in a train wreck on her honeymoon, got a divorce, hired a 70-ft. schooner and set out for the South Seas, scandalizing the missionaries in Hawaii on the way by taking part in an "orgy," the precise details of which she does not disclose.

Marrying again [to Henry Gillig], Aimee was soon divorced, and after melodramatic experiences with Oriental lovers she landed in India. "India." she writes, "here I am. A country whose individual life covers over 4,000 years, and whose living breath had been blowing upon me across broad seas, whose finger had been beckoning me." The boa constrictor did not enter her life until she had returned to New York. The pet of a Hindu princess, it took a strange liking to Miss Crocker, coiled itself around her, stayed with her all the time. She gave an elaborate dinner for it. The dinner was a great success, except that the newspapers "picked it up and made the story into that of an orgy."

NOTE: Born Amy Isabella Crocker (1871-1941), she was married, for a third time, to Jackson Gouraud, who promptly died (two adopted children, Yvonne and Reginald). Then she married a fake prince, Alexandre Miskinoff, and divorced him. Then she married, as her fifth husband, a real prince, Mstislav Alexandrovich Galitizine, 28 years her junior; they wed in 1925 and divorced in 1927.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

1. LOVE Jane a wonderful book years ago that included bios of her, Isabelle Burton and others, can't remember the name. Have you read Lesley Blanch, "The Wilder Shores of Love"?

2. To an Aesthete's Lament, thank you for including that excellent Time magazine review. The book was indeed dismissed when it came out among the cognoscenti, in part because of her frank retellings of all her uncensored escapades. She was a character, all right.


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