Joe Carstairs the eccentric cross dressing Lesbian inspiration for Goldfingers Pussy Galore
“But Pussy that’s a Smith and Wesson!”

Pussy Galore was one of the most important characters from the “Golden Era” of Bond films. Almost uniquely amongst Bonds love interest, she was not portrayed as a supine one-dimensional ornament there for the fleeting amusement of 007.  Despite her one-piece leather catsuit, Pussy was much more than simple decoration. Robust, intelligent and with a steely determination, she could give as good as she got.

She also just happened to be a lesbian famously telling Bond, “You can turn off the charm. I’m immune”.

Joe Carstairs an eccentric inspiration

Though Blanche Blackwell, the love of Fleming’s later life is thought to have been the model for the literary Pussy Galore the film character is substantially different. The great success of this portrayal comes not just from the note-perfect interpretation by Honor Blackman, but also from the brilliant idea Director Guy Hamilton had in taking his cue for Pussy from a real person:  The English eccentric Barbara “Joe” Carstairs. Now the filmmakers had a model they could use beyond the character in the novel.

Though From Russia with Love had previously featured a lesbian character Rosa Klebb, she had been written in an unattractive and sinister way. This was typical of the portrayal of lesbians in post-war cinema. When that is, they were featured at all. Pussy was profoundly different. Hamiltons interpretation was ground-breaking because she was beautiful, confident and in no way apologetic about her sexuality.

Joe Carstairs the eccentric cross dressing Lesbian inspiration for Goldfingers Pussy Galore
Betty Joe” Carstairs held speed records on both land and sea during the 1930s.

Her real-life inspiration, Joe Carstairs, was all these things too.  But unlike Pussy it is doubtful she would have ever fallen for Bonds sexual charisma.  She once boasted “I came out of the womb queer” Promiscuous and proud of it, her numerous lovers included the film legends Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich.

“I was never a little girl.”

Joe was born to Anglo-American parents.  Her mother was a promiscuous heroin-addicted heiress whose father had made a fortune from the Standard oil company.  Her father, a strait-laced army captain of the Royal Irish Rifles, promptly disappeared just after her birth.

Despite never needing to work, Joe was, like Pussy, a determined and driven woman. In Goldfinger Pussy is a pilot with her own Ariel acrobatic troop. She is the leader of Pussy Galore’s “Flying Circus”, a group of identically clad women aviators connected with Goldfinger’s “Operation Grand Slam.” In real life, Carstairs similarly had a team of specially trained and uninformed women under her.  After World War I where she served as an ambulance driver, she started the ‘X Garage,’ a Daimler car-hire and chauffeuring service that featured a unique women-only staff of drivers and mechanics. Carstairs (and her constantly revolving lovers) lived in a flat above the garage.  Each chauffeur sported a cropped Eton bob hairstyle and was uniformed in a navy-blue jacket, tie, cufflinks and matching Oxford bags trousers.  The trousers, in particular, were regarded as an outrageous offence to public decorum in post-war Britain.

Joe Carstairs the eccentric cross dressing Lesbian inspiration for Goldfingers Pussy Galore
Joe and Pussy (ahem) Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

“I don’t give a fuck about the law.”

Your share of Operation Grand Slam will make you a very rich woman, my dear.

Pussy Galore: Why else would I be in it, Mr Goldfinger?

Auric Goldfinger: You’ll retire to England, I suppose?

Pussy Galore: No. I’ve spotted a little island in the Bahamas. I’ll hang up a sign: No Trespassing. And go back to nature.

In 1934, Carstairs purchased Whale Cay, an island in the British Bahamas, for $40,000.  The neighbouring Paradise Island was the setting for much of the subsequent Bond film “Thunderball.” Here she ran her Kingdom as a cross between an Ottoman sultan and an antebellum plantation owner.  She controlled a private police force, built a school, lighthouse and hospital and ruled with a rod of iron.  The 200 islanders under her dominion referred to her simply as “the Boss.” Uninvited travellers who had the misfortune to wander on shore would invariably find themselves unceremoniously frog marched to the lighthouse to await the wrath of a cutlass-wielding Joe. ‘I was a leader,” she later declared. ”I could do anything.”  Nonchalantly adding “I didn’t give a fuck about the law.”

31st May 1928: British sportswoman Betty Carstairs at the wheel of one of her motorboats at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. She is with Joe Harris, and her pet cat.
Betty Carstairs inspecting her Whale Cay Army. (Photo by David E. Scherman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (no strangers to eccentricity) came to Whale Cay several times, as did a seemingly endless array of attractive women — many of whom shared Carstairs’s bed.

31st May 1928: British sportswoman Betty Carstairs at the wheel of one of her motorboats at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. She is with Joe Harris, and her pet cat.
Joe with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Joe versus Oddjob?

The final irony came in 1975 as an ailing Carstairs reluctantly sold Whale Cay for $1 million and purchased a house in Miami. The house, furnished with a display of over 120 photographs of her former girlfriends, lay close by the Fontainebleau hotel where Jill Masterson was murdered by the villainous Oddjob.  Had he have stumbled upon Joe instead of Jill, my money would have been on the tattooed, cigar smoking, cutlass wielding, Englishwoman.

Cold War comicsSee how the American Government used teenage comic books in the 1950s as propaganda to warn of the Soviet “Red Menace” inCold War comics

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