Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sex, Drugs, Satanism, and Violence - The debauched life of Betty May


"I have not cared what the world thought of me 
and as a result what it thought has often not been very kind...
I have often lived only for pleasure and excitement."
 Betty May

Wild and out of control, singer and dancer, the outrageous flapper, Betty May, climbed out of extreme poverty and rose to the highest levels of society through sex, drugs, and violence.
She was born into squalor in Canning Town England in 1895. Her father abandoned the family. Her mother worked at a chocolate factory to support her four children, but her wages were not enough. They had no furniture, not even beds, and slept on bundles of rags. Food was always in short supply. Unable to feed all four children, Betty’s mother had no choice but to send Betty and her brother to live with their father, a shiftless violent drunkard who lived in a brothel with his prostitute girlfriend. When her father was arrested by his own father, a police officer, and later jailed, Betty was shunted off to other relatives, and finally ended up living with an aunt who believed her to be a “savage child” and treated her harshly and raised her rigidly.

Her first sexual encounter was with one of her school teachers. The ensuing scandal was so rampant, it threatened the poor man’s career, so her aunt kicked her out with only a little money in her pocket. Betthy went to London and became a frequent customer at the exotic Café Royal. She liked it and said, “...a real café with sawdust on the floor, cheap drinks and gilded decorations as gaudy and as bright as possible....No duck ever took to water, no man to drink, as I to the Café Royal.” Fond of color and fashion, Betty began to dress outrageously, like a gypsy. Soon, she began to dabble in prostitution to support herself. There she also began a career singing in dancing on various stages.


She met a man named Pretty Pet, a great dancer who was always loaded with cash. He offered her dancing gigs in Bordeaux, but when they got there, he assaulted her in her hotel room while he was drunk. She managed to fight him off by stabbing his neck with a knife and striking him over the head with a pair of metal fire-tongs before fleeing.

Afterward, she encountered the White Panther, a man who belonged to the notorious and extremely brutal, L'Apache Gang and travelled to Paris with him. The gang was a violent one, committing numerous robberies and garrottings, and Betty soon learned to fight with her fists and knives. Her skill with a knife and her knuckles earned her the nickname Tiger Woman. 


An Apache Revolver


L'Apache Gang brawl with police in Paris

One of the crimes she committed for the gang was to seduce and an Englishman and lure him to the gang’s lair so they could rob him. The victim reported the crime to the police. Unhappy, the gang threatened Betty – ordering her to find the man again or they would kill her. Somehow, Betty did find the man again. To punish her, the gang ordered her to brand the man with a red-hot knife. “I cannot imagine how I was able to do it, for although I have this violent temper, this was done in cold blood.”


Having had enough of the gang, she returned to London. Her next encounter was with a man named Bunny – a cocaine addict. He introduced the drug to her on their honeymoon. For the next few months, Betty indulged in so many drug binges, she was surprised she survived it. Numerous failed suicide attempts failed to release her from the nightmare she was living. After Bunny died of an overdose, Betty met an Australian military officer called Roy. Roy was a bit heavy handed and beat her harshly whenever he caught her taking drugs. As much as she loathed the beatings, it cured her of her drug addictions. But when she caught him cheating on her, Betty left him.  


It was then she met and married her third husband, Raoul Loveday, a poet and secretary to occultist and bisexual Aleister Crowley, known as the “the ­wickedest man in the world”. 

Aleister Crowley

Crowley convinced Betty and Raoul to go to Sicily where they dabbled in creepy bloody rituals of devil-worship. In fact, Crowley wanted to sacrifice Betty. Instead, she watched her husband behead a cat and drink its blood and die within hours. The death was actually attributed to him having drank water from a polluted stream. Angry at Crowley, she pulled out a gun and shot at him. She missed. He reacted by  catching her and then physically throwing her out the door.


Raoul Loveday

Betty returned to London where she married her fourth husband, Carol, an editor for a sports newspaper. She kept his last name a secret and did not include it in her autobiography. They moved to the countryside to live with Carol's mother who was jealous of Betty’s influence over her son, and as a result, they did not get along well with each other. Unhappy with the tensions and the boring country life, Betty left and returned to London. Carol went after her and convinced her to return. Betty agreed and made an effort to develop her own interests by starting her own business, a sweet shop. One day, after shooting rooks, May was disgusted when she had to break the necks of those that fell to the ground alive. The birds were baked into a pie, but still disgusted, Betty refused to eat any of the pies. Soon Carol fell sick with a high temperature and vomiting. Anger between Betty and her mother-in-law arose with mommy blaming Betty. After a few days, a doctor was called and Carol showed signs of improvement. After eating one of the meals Betty prepared for him, Carol’s health regressed again. Carol’s mother accused Betty of killing her son. Betty left her husband and discordant mother-in-law immediately.

What followed for Betty was a string of affairs, more scandals, and a crazed staulker who was on trial for murder and wanted to marry her then kill her. After her autobiography was published by Duckworth in the mid 1930’s, no one knows where she disappeared to. She had not communicated with the publishers for quite some time and they tried to find her. It was reported she was living in a semi-basement bed-sitter in Chatham, and then travelled to northern England for a time before returning to Chatham three years after that. Betty May is believed to have died in Kent in the 1970s or 1980s.
Her original autobiography has been re-released to coincide with a musical about her life.  


Book Synopsis

The incredible life story that inspired the forthcoming new musical, Tiger Woman Versus The Beast 

Dancer, singer, gang member, cocaine addict and sometime confectionist, Betty May’s autobiography Tiger Woman thrilled and appalled the public when her story first appeared at the end of the roaring twenties.

‘I have often lived only for pleasure and excitement but you will see that I came to it by unexpected ways’

Born into abject squalor in London’s Limehouse area, May used her steely-eyed, striking looks and street nous to become an unlikely bohemian celebrity sensation, a fixture at the Café Royal, London, marrying four times along the way alongside numerous affairs.

‘I wondered why men would not leave me alone. They were alright at first when they offered to show one life, and then at once they became a nuisance’

She elbowed her way to the top of London’s social scene in a series of outrageous and dramatic fights, flights, marriages and misadventures that also took her to France, Italy, Canada and the USA.

‘I learnt one thing on my honeymoon – to take drugs’

Her most fateful adversary was occultist and self-proclaimed ‘Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley, who intended her to be a sacrificial victim of his Thelemite cult in Sicily, but it was her husband – Oxford undergraduate Raoul Loveday – who died, after conducting a blood sacrifice ritual.

Betty May’s vitality and ferocious charisma enchanted numerous artistic figures including Jacob Epstein and Jacob Kramer. A heroine like no other, this is her incredible story in her own words, as fresh and extraordinary as the day it was first told.

My Review

When Betty May wrote her autobiography in 1929, her debauched life story shocked society at the time. Now, nearly a century later, the book continues to have the same effect. When I began reading, I was immediately drawn to her narrative, one that was brutally honest and insightful. I could not help but feel sorry for Betty as she described her terrible childhood and the lack of love and attention she was denied by her parents and their circumstances. As the story progressed, I continued to be shocked by the ease into which she fell into a wayward life, partly for the sake of survival and partly for an inner coldness she seemed to possess that helped her survive. 

From the first page to the last, I was fascinated by all that she had experienced. From satanism, her numerous husbands and failed marriages, sexual encounters, prostitution, life and death threats, crimes, and drug addiction, it would be an understatement to say she lived a colorful life. 

It's not a long book, but Betty May definitely had a talent for writing for her escapades are relayed in a vibrant, shocking manner. I have to say, this is one of the most gripping autobiographies I have ever written. It is no surprise that it has endured for nearly a century. A truly fascinating woman and a tale of survival! 
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