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Lilyan Tashman
Born October 23, 1896(1896-10-23)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died March 21, 1934 (aged 37)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1914–1934
Spouse(s) Al Lee (1914-1921)
Edmund Lowe (1925-1934)

Lilyan Tashman (October 23, 1896 – March 21, 1934) was a Brooklyn-born Jewish American vaudevillan, Broadway actress, and film actress best known for her supporting roles as tongue-in-cheek, overdrawn villainesses and bitchy 'other women'.[1] She made sixty-six films over the course of her Hollywood career, and, although never a film actress with superstar status, her cinematic performances are "sharp, clever and have aged little over the decades".[2]

Tall, blonde, and slender with fox-like features and a throaty voice,[1] Tashman freelanced as a fashion and artist's model in New York City as a young woman, and, by 1914, was an experienced vaudevillan. Between 1916 and 1918, she appeared in the Zeigfeld Follies, and, in 1921, made her first film, Experience. Over the next decade and a half, she appeared in numerous silent films, and, with her husky contralto, easily navigated the transition to "talkies".

Tashman married vaudevillan Al Lee in 1914 and divorced in 1921. She married openly gay actor Edmund Lowe in 1925. Her lesbian frolics in Hollywood were an open secret, and her wardrobe and lavish parties the talk of the town. She died of cancer on March 21, 1934, aged 37, in New York City. Her last film, Frankie and Johnny, was released posthumously in 1936.



Lilyan Tashman's entertainment career began in vaudeville and, by 1914, she was an experienced vaudevillan appearing in Song Revue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with rising stars Eddie Cantor and Al Lee. In 1916, she played Viola in a Shakespeare-inspired number for the Ziegfeld Follies, and remained with the Follies for the 1917 and 1918 seasons. She joined the Winter Garden chorus in 1919, and, the same year, producer David Belasco gave her a supporting role in Avery Hopwood's comedy, The Gold Diggers. The show ran two years with Tashman understudying and occasionally filling in for star Ina Claire.[2]

Tashman's first film was Experience in 1921 with Richard Barthelmess.

In 1921, Tashman made her film debut playing 'Pleasure' in an allegorical segment of Experience, and, when The Gold Diggers closed, appeared in the plays The Garden of Weeds and Madame Pierre. She had a small role in the Mabel Normand film Head Over Heels in 1922. Her personal and professional lives in 1922 were not entirely satisfactory (best friend Edmund Lowe moved to Hollywood, for example, and she was fired from Madame Pierre) so she relocated to California and quickly found work in films. In 1924, she appeared in five films (including a cinematic adaptation of The Garden of Weeds) and received good reviews for Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model and Winner Take All. She freelanced, moving from studio to studio, but signed a long-term contract in 1931 with Paramount and she made nine films for the studio.[2]

In 1925, she appeared in ten films including Pretty Ladies with Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy. From 1926 to 1929, she appeared in numerous films, became a valued supporting player, and even starred in the independent Rocking Moon (1926) and The Woman Who Did Not Care (1927). She played supporting roles in Ernst Lubitsch's farce So This is Paris (1926), A Texas Steer with Will Rogers (1927), Camille with Norma Talmadge (1927), director Dorothy Arzner's Manhattan Cocktail (1928), and Hardboiled (1929). Her Variety reviews were excellent.[2]

She managed the transition to "talkies" easily and appeared in some of the very first, including United Artists's Bulldog Drummond (1929), The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929), the now-lost color musical Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), and New York Nights with Norma Talmadge (1930). She starred as a murderess in the melodrama Murder by the Clock, as a self-sacrificing mother in The Road to Reno (1931), and as a chorus girl in Wine, Women and Song (1933). In 1932, her health began to fail but she appeared in The Wiser Sex, Those We Love, the Russian Revolution film, Scarlet Dawn, Mama Loves Papa with Charlie Ruggles (1933), and the musical Too Much Harmony (1933). In early 1934, she appeared in Riptide with Norma Shearer. Her last film, Frankie and Johnny, was released posthumously in 1936.[2]

Personal life

Greta Garbo was one of Tashman's lesbian conquests in 1927 and the two became inseparable companions. (Photo, ca. 1932)

Lilyan Tashman was the tenth and youngest child of Brooklyn clothing manufacturer Maurice Tashman and wife, Rose. She freelanced as an artist's and fashion model while attending Girl's High School. In 1914, Tashman was working vaudeville and married fellow-vaudevillan Al Lee. The two separated in 1920, and divorced in 1921.[2] Tashman was a lesbian, and, in the 1920s, her lesbian frolics and those of other stars were an open secret in Hollywood. She was well known for cornering actresses from starlets to grande dames in powder rooms and initiating intense lovemaking. When, or if, repulsed, she gaily persisted with, "Don't be silly! Everyone does it! [...] We won't tell anyone. It's fun! You'll love it, you'll see!"[1]

She was introduced to Greta Garbo at a tennis party in 1927 and jollied Garbo into a lesbian relationship the same day.[3] The two became inseparable companions who went shopping, swimming, and to Tashman's garden cottage for lazy afternoons of exploration.[1]

On September 21, 1925, she married openly gay actor and longtime friend Edmund Lowe, presumably to present a heterosexual façade to the world. They never had a child though Tashman enthused to one journalist in 1931 about "layettes, obstetricians, and teething problems".[4] They appeared together in three films: Ports of Call in which Tashman played a Sadie Thompson-like tramp (1925), Siberia (1926), and Happiness Ahead (1928).[2]

Tashman married openly gay actor Edmund Lowe in September 1925. The couple became the darlings of the gossip columnists. (Photo, ca. 1927)

The two became the darlings of the fan magazines, movie columns, and Hollywood gossip reporters. They occasionally teamed up for interviews, and were simply following Hollywood protocol of the times in presenting themselves as a happily married heterosexual film couple. In the Photoplay article, "How to Hold a Husband/Wife in Hollywood", the two gave readers a tantalizing glimpse of their married life:

Lowe: "I like elegance. There's always a delicate odor of sachet about my shirts and handkerchiefs. Lilyan puts it there."
Tashman: "A woman can easily learn how to make herself attractive, how to make her home attractive."

Tashman was described by movie magazine reporter Gladys Hall as "the most gleaming, glittering, moderne, hard-surfaced, and distingué woman in all of Hollywood".[4]

Tashman and Lowe maintained their acting careers while leading separate lives. They were touted in Photoplay as having "the ideal marriage". They entertained lavishly in a Beverly Hills Art Deco home believed to have been designed by Tashman. Her wardrobe cost $1,000,000 and women around the world clamored for copies of her hats, gowns, and jewelry. Servants were ordered to serve her cats high tea and for Easter brunch she had her dining room painted dark blue to provide a contrast to her blonde hair. She once painted her Malibu home red and white, asked her guests to wear red and white, and even dyed the toilet paper red and white.


Synagogue Emanu-El in New York City was the site of Tashman's funeral. (Photo, date unknown)

In 1932, Tashman entered hospital in New York City for what was bruited about as an appendectomy but what was, in all likelihood, abdominal cancer. She emerged from hospital gaunt and wan. Although she made five films in her last years, she weakened significantly over the months following her hospitalization and her role as Norma Shearer's wise, older sister in Riptide was trimmed to accommodate her ever-worsening condition. In February 1934, she flew to New York City to film Republic's Frankie and Johnny but was forced to pass a week resting in Connecticut with her husband. She resumed work in March, completed her film role on March 8, appeared at a benefit for orphans on March 10, and entered hospital on March 16 for surgery. Nothing could be done, and loved ones gathered at her bedside. She never lost consciousness and was even reading a script in the following days.[2]

Tashman died of cancer at 2:15 in the afternoon of March 21, 1934, at Doctor's Hospital in New York City, aged 37.[5] Sophie Tucker, Mary Pickford, Fanny Brice, Cecil Beaton, Jack Benny, and other distinguished celebrities attended her Jewish Orthodox funeral in New York City's Synagogue Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue with Eddie Cantor the eulogist. Her burial in Brooklyn's Washington Cemetery attracted 10,000 fans, mourners, and rubbernecks and became a near riot with people injured and a gravestone toppled. She left no will but her $31,000 in cash and her $121,000 in furs and jewels provoked squabbling among her sisters and her husband. Her last film, Frankie and Johnny, was released posthumously in May 1936 with her role as Nellie Bly cut to a cameo.[2]


  • Phyllis of the Follies (1928)
  • Happiness Ahead (1928)
  • French Dressing (1927) (Lessons for Wives)
  • A Texas Steer (1927)
  • The Stolen Bride (1927)
  • The Prince of Headwaiters (1927)
  • The Woman Who Did Not Care (1927)
  • Evening Clothes (1927) (uncredited)
  • Don't Tell the Wife (1927)
  • Camille (1926)
  • Love's Blindness (1926)
  • For Alimony Only (1926)
  • So This Is Paris (1926)
  • Siberia (1926)
  • Whispering Smith (1926)
  • The Skyrocket (1926)
  • Rocking Moon (1926)
  • Bright Lights (1925)
  • Seven Days (1925)
  • The Girl Who Wouldn't Work (1925)
  • Pretty Ladies (1925)
  • I'll Show You the Town (1925)
  • A Broadway Butterfly (1925)
  • Declassée (1925) (The Social Exile)
  • The Parasite (1925)
  • Ports of Call (1925)
  • Is Love Everything? (1924)
  • The Dark Swan (1924) (The Black Swan)
  • The Garden of Weeds (1924)
  • Winner Take All (1924)
  • Manhandled (1924)
  • Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model (1924)
  • Head Over Heels (1922)
  • Experience (1921)


  1. ^ a b c d McLellan, Diana (2000). The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. New York: Macmillan. pp. 68-9,74-5. ISBN 0-312-24647-1. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Golden, Eve. "Lilyan Tashman: Show Girl in Hollywood". Classic Images. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  3. ^ Fleming, E. J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine. McFarland. p. 105. ISBN 0-786-42027-8. 
  4. ^ a b Faderman, Lillian; Timmons, Stuart (2006). Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. New York: Basic Books. pp. 41,63-4. ISBN 978-0-465-02288-5. 
  5. ^ Lilyan Tashman Dies In Hospital. New York Times. 1934-03-22. p. 21. 

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