Lola Montez

lola montez 2Promoting herself as a Spanish dancer and femme fatale, Lola Montez traveled a long distance from her birthplace in Ireland. Born February 17, 1818, as Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, the already headstrong girl eloped at 16 with Lt. Thomas James. When the couple separated five years later, Eliza began a career as a professional dancer. Her London debut as Lola Montez, “the Spanish dancer” in June 1843 was successful—except that a scandal resulted when she was recognized as Mrs. James.  She departed for the Continent, where she became more famous for her dark-eyed beauty and her acerbic temper than for her dancing. For three years she performed in various European capitals, where she was regarded by many as a courtesan for accepting favors from wealthy men. At age 25 she became the mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria, who was so besotted with her tempestuous charms that he made her the Countess of Landsfeldt, and granted her a large annuity. Under intense pressure from a growing revolutionary movement, Ludwig abdicated and Lola fled Bavaria, ultimately arriving in London in late 1848, where she met and quickly married George Trafford Heald, a young cavalry officer with a recent inheritance. However, since the terms of her divorce from Thomas James prohibited the remarriage of either so long as the other lived, the newlywed Healds were forced to leave England to escape a bigamy action brought by his humiliated maiden aunt. Within two years this new marriage was finished and Lola set off to make a new start in the United States, where she performed her Spider Dance in the eastern states, San Francisco, and a number of California gold mining towns. Considered quite risqué, Lola’s Spider Dance was little more than cavorting about while pretending to shake rubber tarantulas (attached by strings) out of her indecently short skirts. Following a brief marriage to newspaperman Patrick Hull, Lola retired to Grass Valley, where she kept a menagerie of exotic pets.  Resuming her career in 1855, Lola toured Australia until mostly unsuccessful performances there brought her back to America in early 1857. Lola Montez lived quietly in New York until her death in 1861, of pneumonia, aged 42. March is National Women’s History Month.

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