Historic, but not famous

Marion Tanner, the inspiration for Auntie Mame

Marion Tanner (1891-1985), self-described as ”the ultimate Greenwich Village eccentric” and the apparent model for the madcap fictional character Auntie Mame. Known as one of Greenwich Village’s most colorful inhabitants, Miss Tanner, in 1927, bought a red brick house at 72 Bank Street, and for many years it was a haven and salon for struggling artists, writers, freethinkers, radicals and a wide spectrum of what Miss Tanner sometimes called ”Bohemian types.”

Miss Tanner devoted much of her life to caring for children from broken homes, and, although she had none of her own, she always had homeless children living with her. Miss Tanner taught in private schools, did social work and was a volunteer at Greenwich House, a children’s center. In the 1930’s she worked as an arbitrator and mediator with the National Labor Relations Board.

Miss Tanner, who credited vegetarianism and teetotaling for her longevity, never lost the animated, almost girlishly enthusiastic manner in which she spoke, nor did she lose her faith in human nature. But by the early 1960’s, after she had been immortalized in ”Auntie Mame” – the novel written by her nephew, Edward Everett Tanner 3d, using the pen name Patrick Dennis – Miss Tanner had turned her home into a boarding house and sanctuary for often nonpaying ”visitors.” These included drunken derelicts, shopping-bag ladies and others she considered less fortunate than herself. Although Miss Tanner was regarded as a Lady Bountiful by those who sought and were given the warmth of her hearth and her heart, in the view of some of her neighbors she and her house were nuisances.

In 1964 she could no longer make her mortgage payments, and the house was sold. Ms. Tanner spent much of the remainder of her life in a Greenwich Village nursing home.

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