Anything Goes: Cafe Society and Lady Mendl

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Jun 21 @ 10:00 am - Jun 28 @ 5:00 pm

80 Hesperus Ave
Gloucester, MA


Jun 21 @ 10:00 am
Jun 28 @ 5:00 pm
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Hammond Castle
80 Hesperus Ave
Gloucester, MA 01930 United States
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When you hear that Lady Mendl standing up

Now does a handspring landing up-

On her toes

Anything goes

Cole Porter

“Anything Goes” from Anything Goes 1934

Elsie Anderson De Wolfe, Lady Mendl (b.1865-d.1950), immortalized performing her famous daily yoga routine in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” from the seminal musical of the same name, embodies the international dimension of John Hays Hammond Jr.’s circle of Queer associates. A world-famous eccentric and interior decorator, whose clientele included the poet and playwright Oscar Wilde and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, De Wolfe typified the Bohemian “Café Society,” the collection of flamboyant  “beautiful young things”–aristocrats and socialites–that emerged in Europe in the period between the First and Second World War.


While not all members of the Café Society are understood by modern historians to themselves be Queer figures, romantic and sexual diversity was undoubtedly a major component in the social movement. De Wolfe’s 1926 marriage of convenience to the Paris-based English diplomat Sir Charles Mendl came three decades into her nearly 40-year lesbian relationship with the producer and literary agent Elisabeth “Bessie” Marbury. Mendl was not only a personal friend of John Hays Hammond Jr., but an epicenter of international Queer society, bringing together not only world-famous cultural luminaries, but also more personal figures including Hammond’s brother Richard “Dick” Pindle Hammond and his partner George Martin, the Hammond’s second cousin Vogue columnist Johnnie McMullin, and Hammond’s close friend, and potential onetime paramour, the concert pianist Lester Donahue.


This mini-exhibit will focus not just on Mendl, but on the diverse international Queer community she represented, one which Hammond and his wife Irene Fenton Hammond interacted with often during their frequent trips abroad, in particular during the period in which the Museum was constructed and Hammond was acquiring the Museum’s collection. Utilizing Hammond’s diaries and correspondence visitors will learn about the history of this vibrant community, and what happened to it, from an insider’s perspective.