The Lily of Jersey, from American Vaudeville Its Life and Times
by Douglas Gilbert, published in 1940
Most of the high profile legitimate actors from the stage performed in sketches and playlets in American vaudeville between 1893 and 1925.
They included Sarah Bernhardt, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, all of the Barrymores and Mrs. John Drew. But according to Mr. Gilbert, who was a reporter for Variety, the 'cream of the quest' was Lillie Langtry."
Here is an excerpt from his slightly satirical views about the Jersey Lily.
"Those who remember her sigh deeply at the recollection. She was the most glamorous woman of her time--and its most awful actress. Her appeal was based solely upon her beauty; enough for portraits and photographs; a vacuum for art.
But what a name! What desire! Oscar Wilde said: "I would rather have discovered Lillie Langtry than America!" America discovered her in 1882 when she made her New York debut under Henry E. Abbey. While the critics 'crucified' her, she carried back to England sixty thousand pounds!
Her vaudeville debut happened in 1906 (she was 54 and still a flower), and thereafter she dipped often into vaudeville's lush till, coming over in 1912 (now sixty) and again in 1915 at sixty-three. Her 1906 offering was a sketch (the word annoyed her; "tabloid tragedy" she called it). "Twixt the Nightfall and Light" by Graham Hill garnered the following reviews.
"She is still beautiful" a reviewer from the old Telegraph wrote. Alan Dale observed: "While it would be absurd to say that her work was promising, it can be truthfully said that it fulfilled all promises."
In London audiences hooted her off the stage but her American tour was a tremendous success.
Everyone knew she was Edward Vll's crown jewel. In 1912 she returned to vaudeville under the Central Production Company headed by Martin Beck. She played a sketch called "Helping the Cause", a suffragette theme. It was frightful.
In 1915 she came over with a legit show called "Ashes". It failed to draw and she folded it immediately in Richmond, VA. Her leading man was Lionel Atwill to America then unknown. Returning to New York, she called Albee and said she had a good one-act that could be done cheaply with her and one other player and she had hired Lionel Atwill. They opened at Percy Williams's Brooklyn Orpheum--Brooklyn knew and loved vaudeville. Monday night after the opening matinee Eddie Darling, Albee's right hand, went there to check. 'She's wonderful and the women are crazy about Atwill. The schoolgirls swoon over him.' He went backstage to congratulate Lillie. "And your leading man is splendid." She replied, "I've given him the sack. He goes a week Saturday.' Darling asked her what was wrong. 'He's impossible.' 'But, Mrs. Langtry, you do not understand American audiences; leading men like that mean a lot of business.' She replied."I'm paying him a very large salary, more than he ever got. In England he only got six pounds; I'm paying him 70 pounds. And he won't look after my luggage.' Darling suggested, 'Perhaps if I spoke to Mr. Atwill?" 'You can talk to him, but he is an impossible man!'
Darling went to Atwill's dressing room and laid down the law. 'It isn't nice for a woman of her position to look after her trunk checks and scenery and hire 'props' he said. Any man would do that for her.' Atwill promised to attend to these details and saved his job.
"What do you do?" She said, "I ride a bicycle on a tight rope."
"Aren't you afraid?"
"Oh, no I have fallen so many times."
God bless her." END OF MR. GILBERT'S EXCERPT.
#lillielangtry #lionelatwill #martinbeck #HenryEAbbey #EddieDarling
#SarahBernhardt #Mrs.PatrickCampbell #PercyWilliams #EdwardVll