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How New York Greeted King Ludwig’s Girl Friend
A curious example of the way the metropolis could lose its head over a visiting celebrity before the day of modern press-agentry
February 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 2
Near the end of 1851, New York was waiting rather breathlessly to see Lola Montez, and although the town was very eager it was not at all sure just what it was going to see.
Technically, Lola Montez was a dancer who had been cutting a very wide swath in Europe. It may be that she was not a very good dancer—opinions seemed to differ—but in one way or another she was clearly quite a person. She was the particular girl friend of Ludwig I of Bavaria; she had also, according to report, been the girl friend of many others, including Liszt, Dumas, Hugo, Lamartine and lesser mortals. Politically she was a freethinker, and she was supposed to have some sort of responsibility for the wave of revolution that had swept Europe in 1848. In what may have passed for her private life she was the Countess of Landsfeld, a champion of popular rights, coming to America in search of the profits that might come from a stage appearance.
Sailing on the same ship was the famous Hungarian revolutionist, Louis Kossuth, for whom the city was preparing a gala welcome; and the revolutionist and the dancer eyed one another dubiously, each suspecting that the other would steal the headlines.
On the morning of December 6, 1851, Lola was not displeased when, on stepping down the gangplank, she was hemmed in by newspapermen besieging her to grant an interview.
New York ship reporters were not to be awed by visiting celebrities, particularly when they were actresses. The newsmen were a little apprehensive, however, as they approached Lola Montez, for they had often heard of her violent and flaring temper and of her reputation for horsewhipping.
But, to their surprise, the journalists found that the foreign visitor was slim and lithe, modishly dressed, vivacious and gracious, with a hushed, caressing voice. Above all, she was strikingly beautiful, her outstanding feature being her enormous deep-blue eyes—generally described by reporters, who thought she was Spanish, as black. And, after they had talked to her for a few minutes, they found her so lovely and lively, so much more French appearing than Spanish, that they dubbed her Lo-la-la.
Lola told the newspapermen that many unjust and profane comments had been made about her. She feared she might not be fairly received in New York, and she hoped the city’s discriminating public would judge her after seeing her dance, not before. She intended to make her name in America on her individual merits as a première danseuse .
Lola then announced to the scribbling newsmen that she was ready for questions.
Was it true the Countess always carried a revolver in her reticule? That she horsewhipped men on the slightest provocation? That she always carried with her a chest of gold and jewels?
The answer to each question, Lola replied with a soft laugh, was “No.”
Where and when would the Countess appear as a dancer, and did she know Phineas T. Barnum had vowed he would ruin her performance if, as he suspected, she had scorned him as manager?
Lola said that the name of the theatre and the time of her debut would be announced later, and the reporters knew this meant after the furor over Kossuth had subsided. It was true she had turned down Barnum as her manager because she refused to cater to his vulgar tastes: he was a circus man who made a mummery out of what should be the dignified presentation of an artist. Edward Willis was her agent, and Mr. E. A. Marshall was not behind him as manager, as was being rumored. And someone named Roux, whoever he was, was emphatically not her agent or manager, as the uninformed American press apparently believed him to be. She had never met the man.
The reporters were curious about the background of the Countess and the questions came in a flood. There were conflicting rumors about her birthplace: was it India, Turkey, Switzerland, Cuba, Munich, Spain or Scotland? Who were her parents?
Lola replied in rolling phrases:
“My fatherland is Spain—I am 27 years old, being born in Seville, the capital of Andalusia, the land of serenades and balconies, of troubadors and romances—the fatherland of Miguel de Cervantes, of Las Casas, of the Roman Emperors Trajan and Theodosius. I spent my early years in a convent in Madrid, and I am the direct descendant of the famed Spanish toreador, Francisco Montes.”
(Lola Montez had many admirable qualities but, unfortunately, her memory was not of the best. She was not born in Seville, but in Limerick County, Ireland, of Irish and English parents. She was not 27 but, parenthetically, in slicing only six years from her age Lola was showing the greatest restraint, for an actress. She did not spend her early years in a convent in Madrid. She was raised a Protestant and her early life was spent in England and in India. She was not the direct descendant of Montes.)
Was there anything to the rumor, a reporter asked cautiously, that she had been, ahh, well, intimate with King Ludwig of Bavaria?
Lola said she was not offended, for she had expected such a preposterous question. The rumor was just that—a rumor. She had merely been the political adviser of the King.
How old was the Countess when she first served as “political adviser” to Ludwig?