Before Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and the Kardashians there was Lillie Langtry. She literally set the stage for sex symbols and screen sirens. What she wore became fashion, what she said made headlines, and everything she touched became history.
Lillie was the first international superstar.
Born October 13, 1853 on the Channel Island of Jersey, she married at twenty years of age, and soon convinced her husband to move to London. The charming statuesque, golden haired beauty captivated the London glitterati. She was considered the most beautiful woman of her time. Her confidante Oscar Wilde gave her the nick-name Jersey Lily. Her voluptous figure and porcelain skin combined with a mischievous personality made her the toast of London. The Prince of Wales grew enchanted with her and made Lillie his first recognized mistress.
“I love it when people pretend not to look at me.”
Once the Prince lost interest, she had to repay a massive debt to creditors, while supporting her husband and young daughter. At the urging of Oscar Wilde, she turned to theatre — a socialite had never taken to the stage. Every show sold out and she became a sensation. What she lacked in stage training and skill, she compensated for with her sense of style and showmanship.
By the time her theatrical tour hit NYC, the America press went insane. Her beauty, glamour and notorious love affairs sold newspapers. Lillie capitalized on the opportunities offered by mass media and its free publicity.
She became the first super-model — offering her image on soap promotions. She eventually owned a vineyard in California and placed the image of her face on the wine bottles.
Lillie Langtry wasn’t just another pretty face. The Jersey Lily was no ‘shrinking violet’. In 1905 Lillie sued Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan’s Herald Square for denying her access to its gentlemen-only premises. She won the case and the restaurant still has a Lillie Langtry room. Her business acumen lead her to own estates, theatres, yachts, and racehorces.
She became a member of the British aristocracy by marrying a man twenty years younger than herself. Lillie was the first woman to break the bank at Monte Carlo, and Judge Roy Bean, a vocal admirer of her talents, supposedly named Langtry, Texas for her. The Who wrote Pictures of Lily about her in 1967. (David Bowie covered the song in 2001.) Lillie’s achievements and legacy are seen in contemporary society and our continuing obsession with celebrity.
More importantly, Lillie Langtry lived life on her terms.
This is the opportune moment to let you know a secret.
Lillie Langtry: Gilded Goddess my story of Lillie’s life, is scheduled for launch in November 2018 via Pen & Sword Books, one of the U.K.’s oldest publishing platforms. I’m delighted to be rummaging through the archives of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas during the research phase.
Be on the lookout for special guests and surprise announcements about the project very soon. Thank you always, always for your beautiful support!