Lilyan Tashman

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 vaudeville, Broadway, and film actress. Tashman was best known for her supporting roles as tongue-in-cheek villainesses and the bitchy ‘other woman’.[1] She made sixty-six films over the course of her Hollywood career and although never obtained 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. By 1914 she was an experienced vaudevillian, appearing in Zeigfeld Follies between 1916 and 1918. In 1921, Tashman had a role in her first film, Experience, and over the next decade and a half she appeared in numerous silent films. With her husky contralto singing voice she easily navigated the transition to the “talkies”.Tashman married vaudevillian Al Lee in 1914 but they divorced in 1921. She married openly gay actor Edmund Lowe in 1925. Her lesbian affairs in Hollywood were an open secret, and her wardrobe and lavish parties the talk of the town. She died of cancer in New York City on March 21, 1934, at the age of 37. 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 performer, 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. In 1919, 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]

Publicity photograph from Stars of the PhotoplayIn 1921, Tashman made her film debut playing Pleasure in an allegorical segment of Experience, and when The Gold Diggers closed she appeared in the plays The Garden of Weeds and Madame Pierre. In 1922, she had a small role in the Mabel Normand film Head Over Heels. 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. 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), Camille with Norma Talmadge (1926), A Texas Steer with Will Rogers (1927), director Dorothy Arzner‘s Manhattan Cocktail (1928), and Hardboiled (1929). Her Variety reviews were good.[2]She managed the transition to “talkies” easily, making a total of 28, 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 film on the Russian Revolution, 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] Director George Cukor described Tashman as “a very diverting creature […] outrageous and cheerful and goodhearted.”[1]

Lilyan Tashman was the tenth and youngest child of Brooklyn, New York clothing manufacturer Maurice Tashman and his wife Rose. She freelanced as a fashion and artist’s model while attending Girl’s High School in Brooklyn and eventually entered vaudeville. In 1914, she married fellow-vaudevillian Al Lee, but the two separated in 1920 and divorced in 1921.[2]Tashman was a lesbian and had numerous backstage same-sex liaisons as a New York City chorine and actress. In Hollywood, she was known to initiate sex in rest rooms with women of all ages, and, if repulsed, would forge ahead with a promise of complete silence on the matter and assurances that such sexual activity was common and very pleasureable.[1] In 1928, Tashman was introduced to Greta Garbo and began a lesbian relationship the same day.[3] The two became inseparable companions.[1] Tashman was a fiercely jealous person however and had frequent altercations with her lovers. By November 1932, Garbo’s patience had worn thin and she ended the relationship, leaving Tashman devastated.[3]On September 21, 1925, Tashman married openly gay actor and longtime friend Edmund Lowe, presumably to present a heterosexual façade to the world.[4] The two became the darlings of Hollywood reporters and were touted in fan magazines as having “the ideal marriage”.[1] Tashman was described by reporter Gladys Hall as “the most gleaming, glittering, moderne, hard-surfaced, and distingué woman in all of Hollywood”.[4] The couple entertained lavishly at “Lilowe”, their Beverly Hills home, and weekly parties became full-blown orgies with A-list celebrities seeking invitations. 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.[3]

Synagogue Emanu-El in New York City was the site of Tashman’s funeral.In 1932, Tashman entered hospital in New York City for an appendectomy that is now considered a concealment for abdominal cancer. She left hospital thin and weak. Although she made five films in her last years, performing with her usual artistry and professionalism, she weakened significantly in the months following her hospitalization and her role in Riptide was trimmed because of her ever-worsening health.[2]In February 1934 she flew to New York City to film Frankie and Johnny for Republic Pictures but her condition necessitated a week of rest in Connecticut with Lowe. She resumed work in March, completing her film role on March 8 and then appearing at the Israel Orphan’s Home benefit on March 10. When she entered hospital for surgery on March 16 it was too late for the doctors to help her. [2]Tashman died, age 37, from cancer at The Doctor’s Hospital in New York City on March 21, 1934.[5] Her funeral was held on March 22 in New York City synagogue Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue with Sophie Tucker, Mary Pickford, Fanny Brice, Cecil Beaton, Jack Benny, and other distinguished celebrities in attendance. Eddie Cantor delivered the eulogy.[2] The burial in Brooklyn’s Washington Cemetery attracted 10,000 fans, mourners, and curious onlookers; it became a near riot when people were injured and a gravestone was toppled. Tashman left no will, but the distribution of her $31,000 in cash and $121,000 in furs and jewels provoked contentious discussion among her husband and sisters, Hattie and Jennie. Her last film, Frankie and Johnny, was released posthumously in May 1936 with her role as Nellie Bly cut to a cameo.[2]

Year Film Role Other notes
1921 Experience Pleasure First feature film
1922 Head Over Heels Efith Penfield
1924 Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model Nita
Manhandled Pinkie Moran
Winner Take All Felicity Brown
The Garden of Weeds Hazel
The Dark Swan Sybil Johnson
Is Love Everything? Edythe Stanley
1925 Ports of Call Lillie
The Parasite Laura Randall
Declassée Mrs. Leslie
A Broadway Butterfly Thelma Perry
I’ll Show You the Town Fan Green
Pretty Ladies Selma Larson
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Work Greta Verlaine
Seven Days Bella Wilson
Bright Lights Gwen Gould
1926 Rocking Moon Sasha Larianoff
The Skyrocket Ruby Wright
Whispering Smith Marion Sinclair
Siberia Beautiful Blonde
So This Is Paris Georgette Lalle, a dancer
For Alimony Only Narcissa Williams
Love’s Blindness Alice, Duchess of Lincolnwood
Camille Olympe
1927 Don’t Tell the Wife Suzanna
Evening Clothes (uncredited) Undetermined Role
The Woman Who Did Not Care Iris Carroll
The Prince of Headwaiters Mae Morin
The Stolen Bride Ilona Taznadi
A Texas Steer Dixie Style
French Dressing Peggy Nash
1928 Happiness Ahead Kay
Phyllis of the Follies Mrs. Decker
Lady Raffles Lillian
Craig’s Wife Mrs. Passmore
Take Me Home Derelys Devore
Manhattan Cocktail Mrs. Renov
1929 Hardboiled Minnie
The Lone Wolf’s Daughter Velma
The Trial of Mary Dugan Dagmar Lorne
Bulldog Drummond Irma
Gold Diggers of Broadway Eleanor
The Marriage Playground Joyce Wheater
New York Nights Peggy
1930 No, No, Nanette Lucille Early
Puttin’ on the Ritz Goldie Devere
On the Level Lynn Crawford
The Matrimonial Bed Sylvaine
Leathernecking Edna
The Cat Creeps Cicily
1931 One Heavenly Night Fritzi Vajos
Finn and Hattie The ‘Princess’
Millie Helen ‘Hel’ Riley
Up Pops the Devil Polly Griscom
Murder by the Clock Laura Endicott
The Mad Parade Lil Wheeler Forgotten Women (US re-release title)
The Road to Reno Mrs. Jackie Millet
Girls About Town Marie Bailey
1932 The Wiser Sex Claire Foster
Those We Love Valerie
Scarlet Dawn Vera Zimina

Wine, Women and Song Frankie Arnette
Mama Loves Papa Mrs. McIntosh
Too Much Harmony Lucille Watkins
1934 Riptide Sylvia Wilson
1936 Frankie and Johnnie Nellie Bly released posthumously

  • ^ a b c d e f McLellan, Diana (2000). The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood. New York: Macmillan. pp. 68–9,74–5. ISBN 0-312-24647-1. 
  • ^ a b c d e f g h i j Golden, Eve. “Lilyan Tashman: Show Girl in Hollywood”. Classic Images. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  • ^ a b c Fleming, E. J. (2004). The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine. McFarland. p. 105. ISBN 0-786-42027-8. 
  • ^ 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. 
  • ^ Lilyan Tashman Dies In Hospital. New York Times. March 22, 1934. p. 21. 
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