Marion "Joe" Carstairs

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 19, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

I heard Phyllis Gates, the woman who married Rock Hudson, was really a dyke.

“Shirley Herz, a Broadway publicist, recalled meeting Phyllis Gates and Joe Carstairs at parties in New York City, and the three women became acquaintances, if not friends. ‘Phyllis was gorgeous, a knockout,’ said Herz, ‘I remember her as being very popular in that Jo Carstairs set.'” (From “The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson” by Robert Hofler)

The author spent the next two paragraphs describing her. I wondered — how could such an interesting, powerful individual slip away unnoticed and into the forgotten rich and famous?

Marion “Joe” Carstairs was an Anglo-American heiress. She smoked cigars, dressed like a man, blew hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 1920s and 1930s on speedboats and racing, and bedded a long line of beauties, including Marlene Dietrich. She never hid her sexual orientation. She had one eccentricity – none of her lovers was allowed to spend the night with her. It doesn’t sound like she had much of a sex drive. It wasn’t uncommon for her to exclaim, “Oh, God, I have to go to bed with her again,” when a lover hung around too long.

With her close-cropped hair and exquisitely tailored Savile Row suits, Carstairs was delighted when anyone actually mistook her for a man.

At the age of 34 she purchased Whale Cay in the Bahamas for $40,000 and became the self-appointed ruler of the 9-mile-by-4-mile island. She lived there for 40 years. A kaleidoscope of girlfriends and sporting enthusiasts attended her, but her most constant companion was a small leather doll given to her in the 1920s by one of her lovers. “Lord Tod Wadley” was even cremated with her.

Carstairs would have slipped away into total obscurity if not for Kate Summerscale, a Stamford grad working the obituaries desk at the Daily Telegraph in London when she stumbled upon the story of Marion Barbara Carstairs in late 1993. Carstair’s recent death at the age of 93 had prompted a family friend of request a formal obituary. After dipping into the newspaper’s archives, Summerscale was astonished to discover a massive dossier on Carstairs. This material inspired the book, “The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of “Joe” Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water”,Viking Press, 1998.

After finishing the obit, Summerscale found herself obsessed with her subject. She was especially intrigued by the fact that “Her internal life was almost invisible.”

I wonder if during any of her trips to Long Island Jo Carstairs made it all the way to Orient?

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2 Responses to “Marion "Joe" Carstairs”

  1. Eric wiberg Says:

    Does anyone know where Marion aka Joe Carstairs’ archives and papers are stored and kept? She is buried with Ruth Baldwin in Sag Harbor and had a place there and in Mill Town ? I’m writing a book on her rescue of 47 WWii Merchant sailors from the Potlatch.

  2. Karen Says:

    Hi Eric,
    According to The Queen of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale and Wikipedia, Jo Carstairs died in Naples, Florida in 1993 at the age of 93. The doll, Lord Tod Wadley, was cremated with her. Their ashes, and those of Ruth Baldwin, were buried in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor, NY. Here’s some info from Find A Grave –

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