The Legend of Lola Montez: From Courtesan to Countess

Lola Montez came along too early for vaudeville, but she did work its predecessor (saloon variety) and in many ways her career provides the prototype of the later vaudeville performer. This apparent Spanish dancer who set men’s hearts aflame across three continents was really Irish-born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (b. Feb. 17, 1821).

Lola Montez’s life was like something out of a storybook. She eloped with her mother’s lover, dumped him and became a courtesan. She traveled to Spain to study dance, then changed her name to the more exotic pseudonym we know her by. Already endowed with a sensuous beauty, she made up for her terpsichorean deficiencies by making her dances sexy, spicy and suggestive. Ludwig of Bavaria kept her for a time and made her a Countess; she was chased out of the country by the Revolution of 1848. Starting in New York, she toured the U.S., including the Far West,  in 1851, eventually stopping in the infant metropolis of San Francisco for a time and becoming one of its most substantial citizens. Following an 1855 tour of Australia, she moved back to New York and worked the lecture circuit. She died in 1861, having suffered a stroke several months before. She is buried at Green-wood Cemetery, and I have gone to pay my respects. 

To find out more about the history of variety entertainment, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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