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American Cocktail

American Cocktail

A “Colored Girl” in the World

Anita Reynolds

Edited by George Hutchinson

ISBN 9780674073050

Publication date: 02/24/2014

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This is the rollicking, never-before-published memoir of a fascinating woman with an uncanny knack for being in the right place in the most interesting times. Of racially mixed heritage, Anita Reynolds was proudly African American but often passed for Indian, Mexican, or Creole. Actress, dancer, model, literary critic, psychologist, but above all free-spirited provocateur, she was, as her Parisian friends nicknamed her, an “American cocktail.”

One of the first black stars of the silent era, she appeared in Hollywood movies with Rudolph Valentino, attended Charlie Chaplin’s anarchist meetings, and studied dance with Ruth St. Denis. She moved to New York in the 1920s and made a splash with both Harlem Renaissance elites and Greenwich Village bohemians. An émigré in Paris, she fell in with the Left Bank avant-garde, befriending Antonin Artaud, Man Ray, and Pablo Picasso. Next, she took up residence as a journalist in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and witnessed firsthand the growing menace of fascism. In 1940, as the Nazi panzers closed in on Paris, Reynolds spent the final days before the French capitulation as a Red Cross nurse, afterward making a mad dash for Lisbon to escape on the last ship departing Europe.

In prose that perfectly captures the globetrotting nonchalance of its author, American Cocktail presents a stimulating, unforgettable self-portrait of a truly extraordinary woman.


  • [This] memoir breezily recount[s] the Zelig-like adventures of a woman who had starred in some of the first black films made in Hollywood, mingled with the Harlem Renaissance elite, been drawn by Man Ray and Matisse in Paris and touched down in Spain during its Civil War, before packing up her Chanel dresses and heading home to a more conventional life as a psychologist… It’s a striking addition, scholars say, to the still-small shelf of published memoirs by African-American women of the early 20th century.

    —Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times


  • Anita Reynolds was an actress, dancer, model, and psychologist.
  • Howard Miller is Professor of Education at Mercy College School of Education.
  • George Hutchinson is Professor of English and Newton C. Farr Professor of American Culture at Cornell University.
  • Patricia J. Williams is James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press
  • With Howard Miller
  • Foreword by Patricia J. Williams