Thursday, December 3, 2009

Whatever Lola Wants...

Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818 or Sligo in 1821. She liked names, she born with five of them and picked up a few more along the way, "La Grande Horizontale", The Countess of Landsfeld. But the one that stuck was Lola Montez. She was, in many respects, a tough lady to pin down. In her youth she was "an elegant and graceful child" with eyes of excessive beauty, an orientally dark complexion and an air of haughty ease. Things weren't all sweetness and light, however. Her teacher, a Mrs. Grant, also wrote that "the violence and obstinacy of her temper gave too frequent cause of painful anxiety to her good kind aunt."

She married at 16, separated at 21, had ambitions towards a theater career. She was a terrible actress, showed even less talent as a dancer, but never the less she could charm the birds out of the trees, and there's a certain talent to that. She liked powerful men, had a series of affairs. English lords, the viceroy of Poland, Alexandre Dumas. Paris was a busy time. She packed a gun, carried a whip, used both of them at the slightest provocation. She found the greatest love of her life in Alexandre Dujarier, an editor, but he was killed in a duel. In Paris she met Franz Liszt and the two of them had a torrid affair. So torrid, as a matter of fact, that she wore the poor man out. To finally escape her violent streak and jealousy, the story goes, Liszt locked her in their hotel room and ran, leaving money at the desk for the furniture she would break in her rage.

Lola hit the big time in Munich in 1847, when she met King Ludwig I of Bavaria. King Ludwig fell hard. He built her a palace, paid her allowance from the state treasury, and elevated her to Bavarian nobility. "What Lola wants, Lola gets," King Ludwig said, and for a while that was true. The plain folk of Bavaria were not so easily taken in, though. They hated her. In the face of rioting and political unrest, Ludwig took a stand. "I will never abandon Lola," the once hugely popular King said, and abdicated the throne. But Lola had other ideas. Fleeing the revolution she helped spark, Lola went to London and took up with George Trafford Heald, a young cavalry officer with a recent inheritance. But scandal followed her everywhere. She was arrested for bigamy and the couple took off to Spain. After two years her enthusiasm for George dried up, along with most of his inheritance, and Lola called it a day.

Europe was just too small for Lola Montez, and soon she ended up in California. Not surprisingly, there was a gold rush on at the time. She opened a saloon in the frontier town of Grass Valley, where she could finally dance without being booed offstage. In fact, unlike the crowd in Munich, the miners loved her and adopted her as one of their own. She went on tour in Australia, where she performed her erotic "Spider Dance", where she got into a screaming fight with her audience following some "mild heckling" from the cheap seats, where she attacked a newspaper editor with her trusty whip following a bad review. Eventually she returned to the States.

She ended up in New York, and died in a boarding house on West 17th Street in 1861. She had a stroke, or pneumonia, and she was forty years old. Or forty-two, or thirty-nine. They say in her final years she had schizophrenia but I think she was probably just tired, and who could blame her? There's a mountain named after her in California, a lake in Nevada, a song in the musical "Damn Yankees." She's in Brooklyn now, buried in Green-Wood Cemetery along with Boss Tweed, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein and Albert Anastasia. I bet they're having a hell of a time.

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