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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
The Herald knew the reason for what it called Lola’s “laying low,” and it prophesied, three weeks after her arrival in the United States, that the lady soon would announce her forthcoming debut. The newspaper confided: “Lola Montez, lacking only the sanctification of the Church and a pair of wings to make her a complete angel—Lola Montez—the brighteyed, the piquant, witty, handsome, and sparkling Lola—will, with the departure of Kossuth, come out, like the moon emerging from a total eclipse in a clear sky, and the more brilliant from the late obscuration.”
The prediction was faultless. Thomas Barry, stage manager of the Broadway Theatre, proudly proclaimed that “the great female Republican” had reserved a box to see the playhouse’s drama, Ingomar, the Barbarian , and the unmistakable conclusion was that Lola had selected the Broadway to make her debut and E. A. Marshall as the manager of her American tour.
A few days later, the Christmas Day of New Yorkers was brightened by the tidings that the enchanting Lola-la would play a limited engagement at the Broadway Theatre starting December 29, and that, on the 27th, there would be a public auction of seats for the debut. Lola’s first appearance in the Americas would be as star in an original ballet written specially for her, Betley, the Tyrolean , with the well-known Signor Neri and the capable George Washington Smith in supporting roles.
The ticket sale was held at 10 A.M. Saturday in the parquet of the theatre, and after two hours and fifteen minutes the house was completely sold out.
Private boxes for the debut brought four times the ordinary price at $24, while other seats in the house averaged three times the regular admission. Most buyers were unwilling to announce their names, for, as a journalist recorded: “Numerous families of Smiths and Jones were present in full force.” Mr. Jollie, owner of a large music store, bought a large block of tickets for speculation, and he later said he had made a fifty per cent profit on the transaction.
Lola Montez’s debut was attended by 3,000 spectators, of whom only thirty were ladies. When the ballet ended, the playgoers seemed satisfied, for they had cheered themselves hoarse, and yet, paradoxically, they were disgruntled too, for Betley lasted but forty minutes with the actress offstage much of the time. Lola’s daring costumes titillated the patrons’ imaginations, but they were disappointed because she had not danced her sinful Tarantelle.
“As a danseuse , she is decidedly inferior to Cerrito, Madame Augusta, and others,” the Herald declared the next day, “but there is a nameless grace of nature about her person and movements, which, with her history, gives her an attraction that a better artist could not command, but which is not destined to be very lasting.” This pronouncement was often to be echoed by other American reviewers.
Balletomanes of a century ago, who had seen such supreme masters of the art as Taglioni, Dumilâtre, Ciocca and Elssler, were not to be fooled. They were enchanted with Lola Montez the personality, but after seeing her dance they knew she had not spent the required years in study and practice.
Years before in Munich, when Lola had captured the adoration of a king, not by her dancing ability but by more earthy qualities, Charles G. Rosenberg, the critic, was asked what he thought of her talent. “Good!” he replied. “But not good enough.” And now, here in America, that again was the consensus.