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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
Nor was this the end of Lola’s threatened entanglements in court. In a flare-up against her agent, Edward Willis, the actress discharged the man, and he declared he would sue. “His accounts did not satisfy the noble Countess,” a newspaper explained, “and she, with the assistance of a generous fire-eater from the South, dismissed him with ‘one fell swoop.’ It is expected to come before the police—if so, it will disclose something rich, respecting the Home Journal , Willis and the great Barnum.”
The Home Journal , edited by Willis’ older and more famous brother Nat, now began to attack Lola Montez, insinuating her morals were considerably on the shady side. Meanwhile, young Willis revealed that for some inexplicable reason the Countess had held him responsible for booking passage on the same boat with Kossuth, and for the exile’s overshadowing popularity in the United States.
Lola retorted that not for a single day had Willis been hired as her agent. Quite to the contrary. The fellow had been broke in Paris, she had given him some money, and then he had presumptuously attempted to “advise” her! Lola announced she had appointed as her real agent the mentioned “fire-eater from the South,” who turned out to be the Reverend Joseph A. Scoville. Many New Yorkers were startled at the spectacle of Lola Montez, with her lurid reputation, employing a Man of God as her agent, but their apprehensions were allayed when it was revealed that Scoville, a former private secretary to the late John C. Calhoun and the one-time editor of the New York Picayune , had deserted the cloth for the bottle.
As was usually the case in the 1850’s, nothing came of all these lawsuits, and the publicity, while in a sense disagreeable, could not have been unwelcome to an actress about to make her debut in a foreign land. Publicity came to Lola from other sources, too. Newspapers recorded the exploit of two lads from New Haven, who scaled the walls of their college at midnight, took the railroad train to New York, sought out and talked to the titled lady and later told their Yale classmates they had been “fascinated.” And many gentlemen of New York clamored for an introduction to Lola, but, though they serenaded her at her Waverly Place apartment and though she appeared on the wrought-iron balcony to acknowledge their gallantry, she did not invite them in.
It must have been extremely pleasing to an actress to see the innumerable mezzotints of herself on sale in various New York stores and to know that the engravings sold well. The most popular reproduction was A Belle of the Boulevards , showing Lola in Paris garbed in a riding habit, her eyes flashing, crop in hand, wearing chamois gauntlets, her piquant face topped by a flaring black hat and a rakish white plume.
The Herald ran a series of long articles. “Three Evenings with Lola Montez.” This was the idyllic story of Lola acting as hostess in her Paris salon, of her many highly-placed visitors and friends, and of her brilliance as a conversationalist. Herald devotees found the series rather dull. The newspaper pointed out that “Lola Montez is somewhat smarter, wittier, fairer, taller and younger than Jenny Lind, though not near so pious or saintlike in temper or demeanor.” It was regarded as a sober compliment that Parisian connoisseurs of loveliness believed she possessed “the most beautiful mice teeth that were ever seen in a woman.” Mice teeth at the time were considered the nonpareil of molar excellence.
Then, suddenly, Lola not only shunned publicity but lived as retired and secluded as possible, virtually going into hiding and refusing to permit dignitaries or anyone else to be presented to her. This was done on the advice of Scoville and others interested financially in her career, and for two reasons: the attention being given Kossuth tended to obscure a rival celebrity, and a whispering campaign that was being carried on against the Countess.
The space devoted to Kossuth in the papers began to crowd out all other news, even pushing into the background stories of the tension between the North and South. Thousands upon thousands of people bought and wore “Kossuth hats,” cheered themselves hoarse for their hero as they tagged on his heels. A million frenzied New Yorkers saw his triumphal parade through the city, and the speeches at his innumerable banquets were reported in detail. It was impossible to compete with the man in print.
As to the whispers, they concerned the widespread belief that Lola was wallowing nightly in alcoholic orgies in the company of her admirers. It was believed her roomy bed in Waverly Place, canopied with purple and gold, with naked nymphs significantly adorning the four bedposts, held comfortably three people, with Lola always in the middle.
To combat such rumors, it was officially announced by Scoville that, contrary to base hearsay, the Countess never, never , met a gentleman alone—there was always a dueña present. It was also stated that Lo-la-la rarely indulged in the use of alcoholic beverages. Whatever the truth of the first assertion, the evidence tends to show that Lola seldom drank liquor; but perhaps what was worse for her reputation, she did smoke cigarettes, and sometimes in public. A reporter informed his awed readers that she consumed 500 of the weeds per day (which would mean a cigarette every two minutes during a sixteen-hour day), and another observer thought that, exquisite though the lady might be, smoking had made “inroads on her beauty.”