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Montez, Lola (1820-1861)

Dolores Eliza Rosanna

An "American dancer and adventuress," the woman later known as Lola Montez has several different birthdates, but scholar Bruce Seymour argues that she was likely born in 1820 in Ireland as Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (Seymour 4). The thrice-married Gilbert first debuted in London as "Lola Montez" in 1843 and experienced success in Europe. In 1847, as the mistress of Louis I of Bavaria, Montez was made Baroness Rosenthal and Countess Lansfeld and was able to control the Bavarian government until she was opposed by the Jesuits and ousted by revolution in 1848 ("Montez"). Throughout her travels, she is reported to have had relationships with Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas (

Montez debuted on the American stage in 1851 as a dancer. She experienced a brief period of fame when she attracted large audiences, but her early fame and talent quickly came into question. According to George C. Odell, "she proved conclusively...that scandal does not necessarily create a great dancer. She was found to be commonplace and quite unsensational." Odell concedes, however, "Of course Lola Montes is still a name to conjure among collectors of stage curios and items of decadent import; she was, in truth, a personality of vivid and alluring interest" (6:115-116). Most likely regarded as a lower-level performer with questionable respectability, her "Farce," the play Lola Montes in Bavaria (1852) is her most memorable stage credit, even though Odell cites it as an example of "degeneracy of the stage in our own time." Montez played herself in the dramatization of her life and connections at the Bavarian court (Odell 6:119-120). The play would continue to be performed at the Bowery after her departure from the theater (Odell 6:139). Montez performed onstage in Australia from 1855-1856 ("Montez") and returned to New York, where, during the 1857-1858 season she was "but a shadow in memory of that Lola who had so proudly entered this very theater [the Broadway] only a few years before" (Odell 7:6).

Montez settled back in New York after her failed Australia tour. Writing in 1857, Thomas Gunn linked her to the "King of Pfaff's," writing that Clapp "knew her from Paris and visits her now" (Gunn, vol. 9, 68). Another biorgapher connected her more concretely to the group writing, "Lola's tastes were distinctively 'Bohemian,' and led her, while in New York, to be a constant visitor at Pfaff's underground" (Wyndham 192). During this period, Montez ended her career in the entertainment industry and turned her attention to more intellectual pursuits hosting a series of lectures in the city (Odell 7:293). Gunn wrote about attending one of these lectures in his diary remembering that "she has a pleasant voice, indicative, though, of latent shrewishness when she grows excited; and speaks with a French accent. The lecture 'On the Wits and Women of Paris' was amusing, discursive, ungrammatical, immethodical [sic] and anecdotal." Gunn later parenthetically noted that "she does write her own lectures." (Gunn, vol. 9, 67). Montez, during these years, also authored the books Anecdotes of Love (1858) and Arts of Beauty (1858) ("Montez"). In the summer of 1860, Montez suffered a stroke, the results of which left her paralyzed and unable to speak (Seymour 390). Montez was able to make somewhat of a recovery in the fall, and it was after a walk outside on a cold Decemeber day that she came down with pneumonia. Unable to make another miraculous recovery, Montez died on January 17, 1861 (Seymour 392-3).