Lola Montez (1818 -1861) as she lied and blazed her way through 3 continents.
An exotic dancer, adventuress, courtesan, sometime mistress to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Lola reinvented herself so thoroughly, she would put today's chameleon celebrities to shame. Along the way, she amassed and parted with many jewelry gifts.
Lola was not Spanish all. Born in Ireland, she owed her beautiful dark looks to her Gaelic blood. She was born Eliza Rosanna Gilbert. Her mother was only 15 at the time having married her father, a British soldier, a year before. Her father died not long after his regiment was posted to India and her mother remarried another soldier.
Eliza's wild and willful ways was largely due to an indulgent Indian ayah and doting adults who spoiled the child. Lieutenant Patrick Craigie was a good stepfather and he did what he thought was best for her. When she was 8, he sent her back to his family in Britain to be educated. Even then, her stubbornness and hot temper was apparent which deeply distressed her step-aunt. They thought her a "queer, wayward little Indian girl" who once ran down the street starkers.
When Eliza was 16, her social climbing mother came to take her back to India. She had arranged for Eliza to marry a 60-year-old judge. Eliza took matters in her own hands by marrying a dashing Lieutenant Thomas James who happened to know her mother. She spun her sob story and he gallantly saved her by eloping with her. The marriage proved disastrous and it soon ended. Her mother washed her hands of Eliza.
Opportunities were few for penniless single women in her time, so Eliza took to the stage. She wasn't much of an actress but was told she might do better as a dancer. She first hied herself off to Spain to learn some basic dances and a bit of the language. When she returned, she transformed herself into a Maria Dolores de Porris y Montez - Lola Montez for short. She spun many wild tales about her "origin" - stolen as a baby by gypsies in Andalucia or she was the poverty stricken widow of a hidalgo were just two.
Her Spanish accent was shaky and so was her dancing but she was a sensation on stage thanks to her beauty, scandalously short costumes and her off stage persona. Revealing a shapely leg and throwing her garter to a largely male audience worked a treat in an era when even glimpsing a woman's ankle was titillating.
The spider dance was her most famous performance. She insisted it was Spanish even though the original tarantula dance was Italian. Lola was never one for being accurate. Men paid good money to see her dance badly because they came to see a scarlet woman, not a dancer. They would either throw money on stage or pelt her with rotten apples and eggs. Part of the fun was seeing her react with fury when the audience deliberately heckled her.
An American contemporary critic said, "In it she flounces about like a stuck pig, and clenches her short clothes, raising them nearly to her waist, while with a thin, scrawny leg, she keeps up a constant thumping upon the stage, as if she was in a slight spasm." She first danced the part of the spider and then spent the rest of her dance number as someone caught in a web and then stomping on spiders. There were no videos in her day but here is a modern reenactment on Youtube.
She smoked cigarettes or cigars and was not afraid to slash any one who crossed her with her ever ready whip. Lola blamed her fiery temper on her "Spanish blood".
She is the supposed inspiration for the song, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets". It's a sultry song sung to perfection by American jazz great, Sarah Vaughan. Some of the lyrics sum up Lola to a T - "I always get what I aim for. And your heart and soul is what I came for....I'm irresistible, you fool. Give in." Her effect on men was indeed devastating. Few men could resist her. And even fewer escaped the inevitable cost of getting entangled in her web.
She was recognized as the former Mrs James in England so she fled to Europe. Her personal motto was "Courage, and shuffle the cards!" - which she did by telling tall tales and changing her lovers repeatedly. She supported herself by accepting money and jewels from wealthy admirers.
One of her more famous lovers was the composer Franz Liszt (left) whose long term mistress and mother of their 3 children challenged Lola to a duel. Weapon of choice? Fingernails. It didn't happen. Liszt grew tired of Lola and simply deserted her- leaving the hotel manager plenty of money to replace anything destroyed once Lola woke up.
Her time in Paris was one of her happiest and saddest parts of her life. She met many famous intellectuals and writers like Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and George Sand. She also fell in love with a critic and newspaper owner, Alexandre Dujarier and they planned to marry. Unskilled with a pistol, he was duped into a duel and killed. Lola was devastated. For the rest of her life, she was convinced his presence was always near her.
She and Dujarier's friends finally brought his killer to justice. Her statement at the trial was pure courtroom drama. She said, "If I had known the name of the man poor Alexandre must face, I would have taken his place, for, unlike him, I am an expert shot. I would have faced Monsieur de Beauvallon on equal terms." The public lapped it up. Alexandre Dumas was right when he predicted, "She is fatal to any man who dares to love her."
King Ludwig I of Bavaria (right) enthralled with her. This dreamer king was highly susceptible to beautiful women. It was hook, line and sinker with him.
How they met is unclear although the following possibly unfounded story is often told. Lola supposedly fumed at being kept waiting for an audience - she wanted to complain about losing a contract to the Court theater in Munich. She tangled with a guard and her dress bodice accidentally ripped. He released her and Lola took the opportunity to rush into the king's study. He stared at her partially clad bosom and asked, "Nature or artifice?" Lola quipped, "It's for Your Majesty to make up his own mind."
From then on, Lola could do no wrong as far as he was concerned. He showered her with vast amounts of money, expensive gifts, diamonds and jewels, some of it from the spectacular Wittelsbach collection (see my past post on the famous Wittelsbach-Graff blue diamond which Lola did NOT get because it was part of the Bavarian crown jewels). He idolized her and worse, allowed her to insinuate herself into Bavarian politics. Imagine the horror of his ministers when Ludwig, within days of meeting Lola, told them, " Gentlemen, you have the honor to meet my new best friend. Please oblige me by treating her at all times with the same respect you have always shown me." It's not hard to imagine the sniggering at the "new best friend" part.
The flawless Wittelsbach-Graf blue diamond (under cross)
Bavarian Crown Jewels
In just 5 months she was granted Bavarian citizenship. Ludwig made her Baroness Rosenthal and Countess of Landsfeld. It didn't take long for Ludwig's subjects to loathe her. Eventually faced with rioting protesters and Lola-lynching mobs, Ludwig realized Lola had to go. Her dramatic narrow escape included several coaches and dashing young protectors called Lola's Harem, some of whom were her lovers.
Ludwig was forced to abdicate in favor of his son. He hoped to continue their love affair as a private citizen. He would have gone after her had it not been made clear his generous stipend would cease if he did. He sent her money, forwarded her furniture and jewels which she was forced to leave behind. He also wrote her longing letters wanting to suck her toes and feet!
She toured the US and Australia with her dancing and a half-baked show called Lola Montez in Bavaria. She made plenty of money despite the jeering. She went through even more lovers and 2 illegal marriages.
In Australia, one of her lovers, an actor named Noel Follin fell overboard when he was drunk. Lola auctioned off her jewels in 1856 and donated the money to Noel's family so both his kids could be educated.
Towards the end of her life, she took to the lecture circuit entertaining audiences with her takes on "Beautiful Women", "Comic Aspects of Fashion" and "Comic Aspects of Love". She even commanded more money than Charles Dickens himself!
In 1857, Ludwig's wife Queen Theresa died. The 71 year old ex-King now wanted to marry his "Lolita". Lola entered into a morganatic marriage with him and honeymooned in Italy. He failed to tell her he had contracted syphilis and Lola was disgusted to find she now had the disease. She left him.
Lola knew she was doomed. Her looks and her health were fading fast. She became repentant and convinced herself before she died that her sins were forgiven. She suffered a stroke in 1860 and succumbed to pneumonia a year later. She was 42.
A diamond necklace worth about $20,000, a gift from Ludwig, was rumored to be missing from her personal effects. Was it stolen? or was it just another story? Who knows when it comes to Lola Montez.
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