STYLE ICONS Vol 3 "Bombshells"
Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, she captivated her audiences … this is Mata Hari. She was originally named Margaretha Geertruida “Grietje” Zelle MacLeod. Her life spanned from first being a Dutch exotic dancer, second a courtesan, and finally an accused spy, although possibly innocent, was executed by firing squad in France for espionage for Germany during World War I.
Marta Hari was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland, in the Netherlands, the eldest of four children of Adam Zelle and Antje van der Meulen. She attended only exclusive schools, due to her father’s business success. However, Hari’s father went bankrupt in 1889, the family had come apart; and Mata Hari moved to live with her godfather, Heer Visser, at Sneek.
At eighteen, she answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by a man looking for a wife. Marta Hari married Dutch Colonial Army officer Rudolf John MacLeod in Amsterdam on July 11, 1895. They moved to Java in the Dutch East Indies and had two children, Norman-John and Jeanne-Louise.
The marriage was an overall disappointment. MacLeod was a violent alcoholic who would take out his frustrations on his wife. He also openly kept both a native wife and a concubine. The disenchanted Marta Hari abandoned him temporarily, moving in with Van Rheedes, another Dutch officer. For months, she studied the Indonesian traditions intensively, joining a local dance company. After moving back to the Netherlands, the couple separated in 1902.
In 1903, she moved to Paris, where she performed as a circus horse rider, using the name Lady MacLeod. Struggling to earn a living, she also posed as an artist’s model. By 1905, she began to win fame as an exotic dancer. It was then that she adopted the stage name Mata Hari. She was a leader in the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the twentieth century looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Critics would later write about this and other such movements within the context of orientalism.
She was an overnight success from her debut act at the Musée Guimet on March 13, 1905. She became the longtime mistress of the millionaire Lyon industrialist Emile Etienne Guimet, who had founded the Musée. She posed as a Java princess of priestly Hindu birth, pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. She was photographed numerous times during this period, nude or nearly so.
She brought this carefree provocative style to the stage in her act, which garnered wide acclaim. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jewelled bra and some ornaments upon her arms and head.
Mata Hari was also a successful courtesan, though she was known more for her sensuality and eroticism rather than for striking classical beauty. She had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries. Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders.
Prior to World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian; but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress.
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Mata Hari was thus able to cross national borders freely. To avoid the battlefields, she traveled between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention.
On January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. On February 13, 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She was put on trial, accused of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least fifty thousand soldiers. Although the French and British intelligence suspected her of spying for Germany, neither could produce definite evidence against her. She was found guilty and was executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917, at the age of forty-one.
The idea of an exotic dancer working as a lethal double agent, using her powers of seduction to extract military secrets from her many lovers, set the legend, and made Mata Hari an enduring archetype of the femme fatale.
STORY EDITED BY RYAN COOK
FILM BY KYRIOS HO