Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Author, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon on the Scandolous Lola Montez in California

Today I am excited to welcome guest author Elizabeth Kerri Mahon to History Undressed!  Many of you know and are fans of Elizabeth's blog, Scandalous Women. She is a brilliant researcher and writer, never ceasing to fascinate! (and now there's a book!!!) Today she is going to scandalize us with the story of Lola Montez in California... Take it away, Elizabeth...

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What on earth made one of the world's most glamorous women, used to the bright lights of London, Paris and New York, bury herself in the middle of nowhere? That was the question that was on everyone's lips when Lola Montez temporarily retired from the stage and settled down in a single-storey white cottage in Grass Valley, CA. By 1853, Lola Montez was one of the most famous women in the world, better known for her love affairs with Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria than her dancing. She had even managed to conquer the fickle audiences of Broadway with her acting. But even a living legend needs to kick back her heels and just rest for awhile. It wasn't just R&R she was seeking, she was also nursing a broken heart. She had impulsively married San Francisco newspaperman by the name of Patrick Tull six weeks after her arrival in the city. Irish born like Lola, he was good-looking but rough around the edges and he'd won her heart with his gift of the blarney. It was her third marriage, although bigamous since her first husband was still alive. Two months later, Lola had kicked him out, tired of him sponging off her.


Lola's new home was certainly no metropolis, but it was the 6th largest town in California, with a population of 3,000, most of them men who worked the nearby quartz mine. The town had a theater of sorts, on the 2nd floor of the Alta Saloon, a school, church, hotels, a sewing circle and even a Grass Valley Literary Society. The residents were excited by the prospect of having a celebrity in their midst, a real life Countess, even if she had earned her title in a scandalous manner. Even before she had placed a dainty foot in town, a hill had been named after her. For once Lola was at peace, living a Martha Stewart like existence, planting a cactus garden, decorating her house from top to bottom, making friends instead of enemies. Lola loved animals and kept a pet bear named Major who she took for walks until he bit the dainty hand that fed him. She also kept a menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, a turkey, a pig, a pony as wells as goats and sheep

Everything she did made news in the small town. There was the incident where she took a horsewhip to Henry Shipley, the hard drinking editor of The Grass Valley Telegraph while he was having his morning libation at the Golden Gate Saloon, all because she had taken offense to something he written in an editorial savaging the literary efforts of Queen Christina of Spain. "There is such a Lola Montez-like insolence and barefaced hypocrisy in her lines that the ex-King Ludwig of Bavaria might be delightfully mystified by them." Them was fighting words to Lola. Shipley soon left town to work for another paper.

Of course Lola, being Lola, she wasn't alone for long. She entertained numerous male friends including passing players at her Wednesday night salon, offering brandy and cigars. Guests were expected to sing for their supper, singing songs, performing monologues, playing games. Occasionally Lola would even dance. Nobody knows precisely how many lovers she took to her bed in Grass Valley but there were at least two whose names have come down to us. But Lola also had an altruistic side that is rarely written about. In her fifteen months in Grass Valley, she threw a Christmas party for the local children. They called her Madame Lola, and there are many stories of helping injured miners and riding over the hills to be with sick children whose parents couldn't afford a babysitter.

It was a financial crisis that made Lola give up her idyll in the Valley. She needed to make money and a tour of Australia seemed just the ticket to fill her empty coffers. A woman like Lola could stay away only so long from the bright lights of the stage. Australia would bring her new adventures and a new love in actor Ned Follin. She was well-liked by the townspeople for her many acts of kindness and generosity. Montez was remembered fondly long after she left which was not always the case with tempestuous Lola.

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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon is a professional actress and amateur history geek. Her blog Scandalous Women (scandalouswoman.blogspot.com) was named one of the 50 Top History Blogs by Zen College Life. And the book SCANDALOUS WOMAN was the non-fic pick of the month in April's RT Book Review. A native New Yorker, she still calls Manhattan home.


3 comments:

LR said...

I'm pretty sure a friend of mine just performed a one person show about Lola! https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000751686038&sk=wall

She said...

Lola sounds fascinating. I'll have to look for Sandalous Women.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Yes, Lola is fascinating. I first read about her over 20 years ago, and I've been fascinated with her ever since.