I’ve been meaning to write more about Lola Montez in California, but first I had to do some research. I checked out a biography from the library — Lola Montez: A Life, by Bruce Seymour. This is the definitive biography, “drawing on unpublished archives on four continents,” as the blurb says. I thought I was just going to read the section on Lola in California, but I got pulled in by the fascinating details and entertaining writing and had to begin at the beginning. If you want to read a gripping biography, this fills the bill.
Lola left Europe at the end of 1851 to escape another failed marriage, accusations of bigamy (her first husband was still alive), and mounting debts. She was thirty-one years old, but claimed to be younger, and was still youthful looking. She contacted a theater manager and made plans to go back on the stage, not just as a dancer, but in plays as well. Although her voice was not strong, she generally made a good impression in roles like Lady Teazle in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, and playing herself in a self-serving drama called Lola Montez in Bavaria. She knew how to trade on her notoriety.
Starting in New York City, she played in cities from Boston to Charleston and Cincinnati to New Orleans with considerable success. Theater-goers came to see the notorious “Countess de Landsfeld” and got their money’s worth, especially if she concluded the program with her famous Spider Dance.
But California, the land of golden opportunity, beckoned. San Francisco was no longer a city of tents and transient miners. It was fast becoming a center of wealth and culture. Lola had not made any arrangements beforehand to appear in any theater, but she quickly arranged to appear in The School for Scandal at the American Theater. She didn’t bring her own acting company with her –the other parts in the play would be taken by members of the theater’s resident company, who probably already knew this classic comedy.
Reviews were good, the theater was packed, and with ticket prices at five times the New York price, the money poured in. Lola took in $16,000 in her first week at the American Theater.
Next time: Lola in Grass Valley