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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
Lola admitted that, as political advisers went, she indeed had been precocious. She had been in her early twenties.
How old was Ludwig when she met him?
Lola said she met the Bavarian ruler in 1846, when she was performing as a prima ballerina in Munich. The King had been sixty years old at the time.
There were reports, a journalist said carefully, that the Countess had been married more than once, and indeed there was a vile rumor from England that she was a bigamist.
Lola replied that she would marry tomorrow, if only she met the perfect man. She then reminded her audience that she was tiring from the long session, and that she hoped she would be pardoned if she could go to her hotel suite to recover from the effects of the stormy ocean trip.
The reporters seemed to consider this gambit as being evasive. One of them asked her point-blank if she ever had been married.
Flanked by Willis, her maid and her secretary as she walked to a carriage, Lola smiled bewitchingly at the newspapermen and said: “The answer is no.”
(Alas, here again Lola’s memory failed her. In 1834, at the age of sixteen, she had married a British Army officer, Captain Thomas James. When he deserted her, she returned to London with a fellow officer of her husband, and the two lived together as man and wife. Later, after discarding the man, and after various adventures in Paris, Moscow, Warsaw and Munich, she had married again—without the irksome formality of securing a divorce. Lola’s second husband had been Lieutenant George Trafford Heald.)
“She certainly is an extraordinary woman,” the Herald remarked the day after Lola’s arrival, “and, as she is an ambitious one also, we may expect ‘something wonderful’ from her in the course of time. No doubt she will create a furore of her own as well as Kossuth, whose rival she is for popularity.”
The Tribune differed. “This woman,” Horace Greeley coldly wrote, “who has obtained an unenviable notoriety throughout the world on account of her romantic disposition and singular conduct, arrived yesterday…”
All papers, however, acknowledged Lola Montez’ overpowering beauty—but what about her morals? Scant attention was paid to the laws of libel a century ago, and so there began to appear in print the assertions that the actress was a lorette , meaning a gay woman, a “cast-off mistress” and an “Aspasian rake,” the latter being an involuntary encomium to her literacy, learning and looks.
That was not all. There was a printed accusation that prior to leaving Paris the Countess had participated in a mass orgy attended by some fifty debauchees, who first had deposited in her bank account the equivalent of ten thousand American dollars.
Lo-la-la was scandalized and issued an indignant manifesto. “If I was a woman of that description which I am represented, would I be compelled to go on the stage to earn a livelihood?” she asked, and it was generally agreed she had scored with the question. Lola admitted that an improper proposition had been forwarded to her by certain dissolutes in Paris who were prepared to raise a large sum to see her dance in the nude, but she declared she had not even considered such an abominable suggestion.
“Lola, it seems, resents highly any imputation upon her good name,” jeered Harper’s Monthly . “Her indignation is adroit…”
The troubles of the Countess multiplied further after the arrival of Monsieur Roux on the steamship America . The Frenchman formed an alliance with Phineas T. Barnum, the Yankee. Barnum, outraged once it was clear Lola had disdained him as manager, issued affidavits against her and announced he would ruin her debut, but Roux was a formidable enemy, too. He announced he would sue the Countess for breach of contract and have her funds impounded by court order pending a decision.
“Talk of French gallantry!” the Herald bellowed. “There is more gallantry in the United States than in all the nations of Europe put together, where a persecuted, innocent woman is concerned.” But, as Roux was virtually living in the lobby of the New York hotel in hopes of serving Lola with a summons, she was forced to change quarters at four o’clock in the morning. Mr. Monnet, proprietor of the hotel, told the sheriff that the lady had taken a private residence somewhere in White Street.
No sooner had Lo-la-la moved to White Street when, in a pique because the landlady objected to the steady stream of gentlemen visitors at late hours, she once again moved on. “The darling Countess of Landsfeld occupies a private palace, beautiful with blue and gold furniture, in Waverly Place,” noted a newspaper. The owner of the White Street house promptly sued to collect three months’ advance rent due because of a signed lease. At the same time, papers were served on Lola by Roux. His lawyers, Howe and Treadwell, published the contract the Countess had signed with Roux in Paris on August 26, 1851.