Today is the birthday of the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind (1820-1887). The Swedish opera singer had been renowned throughout the halls of Europe for twelve years when P.T. Barnum booked her for an American tour in 1850, helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for her favorite charities. After close to a hundred engagements she broke her contract with Barnum, uncomfortable with his aggressive American-style advertising campaign. She toured America for a few more months under her own management, then returned to Europe.
Far from being tarnished by her relationship with Barnum, Lind’s example helped rehabilitate the reputation of American show business. Presented as wholesome and angelic, Lind helped attract many pious and puritanical Americans into theatres for the very first time, convincing them that show business was not the road to damnation they had long been led to believe it was. They were hooked. With the financial boom that followed the Civil War, that chicken would finally come home to roost.
To learn more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc