Women Artists Who are Horrible People

I had another “Can you separate the artist’s work from who the artist is as a person?” conversation the other day. We’ve had the same discussion here at the SDMB several times. All the same examples tend to get repeated over and over: Phil Spector and Roman Polanski always topping the list, some arguments over Woody Allen but he’s always part of the discussion, and assorted spousal abusers and sexual predators who’ve managed to churn out a few brilliant novels or symphonies or what have you.

I found myself wondering are any great women artists being overlooked in these discussions? Certainly history has provided us with plenty of women who were/are horrible people. Surely some horrible women have been great artists?

Looking for examples of people who have actively done harm to others. Passive failings don’t really match up with the male examples that are usually brought up in these discussions (“passive” meaning, for example, someone who attained great wealth but only ever used it for their own frivolous material pleasures instead of charitable projects). Oh, and having political leanings that differ from yours does not qualify anyone for this list.

Leni Riefenstahl comes to mind but the argument is frequently made that Nazism was only a matter of politics for her and that she wasn’t really on board with a lot of it. I myself disqualified politics in just the paragraph preceding this one but I don’t know that I really buy any “passive Nazi” argument and, anyway, she actively worked to aggrandize Hitler through her own films. So, she might belong on the list.

Many have argued that Christina Crawford’s allegations against her mother were either unfounded or exaggerated but whether or not Joan Crawford belongs on the list it got me thinking that surely their must be a least a few horribly abusive mothers who could make the list.

Any ideas?

Acclaimed fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley was accused of all sorts of horrific child sexual abuse by her daughter.

Lena Dunham described behavior in a biography that could be interpreted as sexually molesting her little sister. Although I have a hard time ranking that with behavior the other classic examples showed as adults.

Well, since the OP already brought up Nazis - Coco Chanel was a Nazi collaborator.

The acclaimed German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had numerous connections to the Nazi Party. Admittedly, some of this was routine and for the purpose of furthering her career … but much of it seemed to be a matter of her conviction.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can separate the artist from the (horrible) person when the are a singer or a band member.

With actors, not so much.

This is mainly because with singers, you’re just listening to them over a speaker. With actors, you have to look at there faces on the screen.

No way am I going to look at Tom Cruise for two two solid fucking hours. Just can’t do it.

I have complicated feelings about Tasha Tudor, though I’m going easier on her as my daughter gets older. She did something amazing with her life, but I think it came at the expense of her children. As adults, only one out of four of them spoke to her. When my daughter was a baby and I was still hormonal and scared, I judged her harshly, to the point I could barely read her books. I’m a little easier on her these days. All sorts of paths, there’s no airtight way to raise a kid right, etc.

This is small potatoes compared to Nazis. But they’re thoughts I’ve had.

Leni Riefenstahl - I’m sure her films have great artistic merit but I can’t bring myself to watch any of them.

I don’t know that she’s a “great artist” but Courtney Love has always seemed like a horrible person.

Every single female artist who is a Scientologist is dead to me.

This will probably be the “winner” of this thread. Her husband was a pedophile that she covered up for, and attacked his victims who accused him. And she herself abused her daughter and son. And MZB’s strident fans would attack anyone who dared speak out against her… like her daughter. Just an odious person.

I don’t know if Edith Wharton was a horrible person as such, but she was extremely anti-Semitic, “even by the standards of her milieu and her era.

Not at the level of Nazis and pedophiles, but I struggle these days with Morena Baccarin. Blindsided her husband with a public reveal of an affair and pregnancy with her new beau, then tried to keep him from getting custody of their young child during the predictably ugly divorce. Yuck.

Then there was Jane Fonda, who provided propaganda support for the North Vietnamese, including a photo of her manning an anti-aircraft gun used to shoot down American pilots.

I have such a very deep love-hate relationship with Vivien Leigh. I know she had bipolar disorder, and the treatment options for it during her time were either brutal electroshock sessions, or heavy sedation, so there’s certainly that to take into consideration, BUT

There are plenty of people with bipolar disorder who don’t abandon their only child, humiliate their (and other people’s) spouses, turn into raging nymphomaniacs, or cruelly and publicly insult their friends.

I am not so sure all of her bad behavior can be written off as her untreated mental disorder.

I have studied up on her, and watched every documentary I could find, because she simply fascinates me. She’s so beautiful, I can’t stop looking at her. Her friends called her “Vivi-ling”, and they also used it as a verb, for how good she made everyone feel…that she would set about the room “vivi-ling” everyone and they would all fall in love with her. Most of those who knew her seem to say on the one hand how charming and utterly captivating she could be, the best hostess, the perfectly gracious friend…but “dangerous” and “like a scorpion” if you crossed her. All her pale delicate beauty was a shell for something really dark inside.

Some of the stories are funny, unless you had to live through them, or were the target of them, I guess. She loudly told a group of friends, about Larry Olivier, “Oh! You have no idea how boring he is in bed!”, and that “so there he is, snoring away like a hippopotamus, when all I want is good fuck!” She moved a lover into their house right under his nose, and when she was “ill” seemed to take delight in embarrassing and taking swipes at those closest to her. Much has been written about how cutting she could be.

She was certainly ambitious, nothing wrong with that, but she seems to have had a cruel streak that really bothers me. I could go on and on.

It is also said that she would be very remorseful after one of her episodes, and write letters and send gifts to those she felt she had hurt, but once you have cut people to the quick with a nasty insult, is all that really too little, too late?

I read a harrowing account by David Niven who talked about having to stay with her after her breakdown during “Elephant Walk” where she was replaced by Elizabeth Taylor. David said she was completely manic, wouldn’t sleep, eat, or put on any clothes, and of course tried to seduce him. It took he and two other people to hold down this tiny woman while she fought and bit and scratched like a tiger…

So, I will read something that makes me think she was horrible, then I will come across something like that that makes me feel so very sad for her.

She herself said she was nothing like Scarlett or Blanche…but she was everything like them, IMHO.


I’d guess it’s that men can get away with more. I’m sure there have been many horrible women who have been artists, but they might have suffered consequences for their actions that male artists didn’t.

Also, there are a lot of artistic careers that women have a hard time breaking into and so there are fewer of them active. I can’t think of any female Polanski or Allen equivalents, but I’d also have a hard time listing very many female directors at all.

I remember a thread here about Eat, Pray, Love that was not complimentary to its author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Basically, she ditched her decent, loving husband, took a self-indulgent trip around the world, and wrote about it as some deep, meaningful awakening.

Linda Fiorentino is notoriously irascible, but I cannot find any anecdotes to corroborate that.

This is such a hard topic because I don’t really know these people, I only know what others write about them. Their reputation is their (and their company’s) livelihood.

At one time, negative competition was more rampant and some artists engaged in actively tearing down other artists personally if they couldn’t produce better work themselves.
In recent years that has gone away somewhat, but the old stories still dog some people (even though there is no way to know whether or not they were ever true).

I also have to keep in mind just which gossip outlet isn’t filled with Even More Horrible People… and its difficult to name even one… if I’m going to fairly and objectively consider the source.

Crawford’s frienemy Bette Davis also had a contentious relationship with her daughter, who accused her of bad parenting (but I think not outright abuse). The general Hollywood consensus is more supportive of her than Crawford though, and it’s generally agreed now that these claims have less merit than the ones about Crawford do.

I’m sure she means well, but Jenny McCarthy’s ignorance is likely responsible for multiple deaths, illnesses, and chronic conditions.

There are lots of movies about her which gloss over this or completely ignore it, but she was not a fellow traveller, or someone who didn’t sufficiently condemn Nazism. She was an active, committed Nazi agent.