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Biography

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Gladys Adelina Lewis was born in Los Angeles on May 23, 1891 and died in 1975 in San Francisco. She was a writer and forceful personality who lived in Paris, New York, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Portland, Oregon, moving in artistic and queer circles in the first half of the twentieth century. The child of a prominent Los Angeles family, Lewis was the guinea pig for her mother Selma's experimental and, at the time, well-publicized child-rearing methods, which included mandatory reading of Byron, vigorous exercise, and a stringent diet. Lewis published a poem in a local Los Angeles newspaper at age nine, and at thirteen a poem she wrote attracted the attention of American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox. From that early age she went on to write fiction, poetry, musicals, and film scripts, using the pseudonyms Georges Lewys and Serge G. Wolsey. Lewis achieved notoriety with The Temple of Pallas-Athenae (which she claimed to have written at age nineteen), a defense of eugenics which violated contemporary obscenity laws and was subsequently banned from the mails. Call House Madam (1942), a fictionalized tell-all of Hollywood madam Lee Francis, suffered the same fate, but was reprinted and reissued numberous times for 20 years. Lewis' collection of poetry, The Epic of Verdun and Ballads of France, was enshrined with great pomp and ceremony in the war monument at Verdun in 1931, a publicity stunt that Lewis herself masterminded.

Lewis was a prolific writer and a shameless self-promoter. She honored libraries world-wide with presentation copies of her books; her correspondence includes letters showing that she nominated herself for the Nobel Prize; she was given the Key to the City of San Francisco in 1935; she adored photographic portraits of herself; she embellished; and she died in obscurity. In life, she was best known for frank works that sorely tried American attitudes about sex, and for a litigious streak that frequently placed her in court, most notably on the losing end of a $1,250,000 plagarism lawsuit against Eugene O'Neill. In numberous interviews included in the collection, Lewis refers to herself as a classicist, but the breadth of her work reveals a truly multi-faceted artist, with early poetry published in Pagan magazine demonstrating a deciededly modern and experimental slant. Additionally, Lewis was a patriot, and staunch defender of Allied forces; there are many rousing war poems in her early work. As much interested in monetary gain and fame as she was in literary virtuosity, Lewis' archive includes drafts for scores of films and plays intended to appeal to the masses, many of them rendered not saleable by racy content. Later work documents Lewis' exploration of gender role reversals and the sexual subculture of the 1940s and 1950s. A self-identified lesbian, at least in later life, Lewis' papers provide valuable insight to the large but mostly invisible queer community of the straitlaced post-war years, and her writings on the psychoanalytic theories of the day serve to illuminate some of the birth pains of that system of ideas.