I am reading a fabulous book at the moment: Temptress: From The Original Bad Girls to Women on Top (my hunny works at an art book company, so I get to indulge in some great stuff). I just finished the chapter on Lola Montez, and I can't get her out of my mind!
Born Eliza Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland, Lola had a quick mind and a fiery temper, and the dramatic looks to match. The life of a dutiful wife in Victorian Ireland suited her not one whit, so she left her marriage and set off for Spain to study Flamenco dancing. There she picked up Spanish, and reinvented herself as "Lola Montez", the daughter of a matador. She correctly intuited that exotic dancing was her ticket to fame and freedom, and she took her act all over Europe, picking up lovers and shocking upstanding moral people along the way. It was quite a sensation in the 1800s to publicly demonstrate "sensuous" dance movements, not to mention the flashing of ankles and possibly even knees!
Lola had affairs with Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas, and many other rich and powerful men, but her most scandalous liason was with the King of Bavaria, King Ludwig I. Ludwig was so bowled over by her charms that he lost all control of his heart and the purse strings of the country's treasury, even building Lola her own palace-- featuring a fountain that sprayed perfumed water! Lola ended up essentially ruling Bavaria in the stead of the aging and besotted king, and her liberal rule infuriated those who would flex their political muscle. Eventually her detractors did get the upper hand, stirring up a violent movement against Lola, and in the end Ludwig abdicated his very crown rather than severe his alliance with his controversial mistress.
Lola pictured with the whip she supposedly carried on her person, as a perfect accessory to her temper. Note the crown that "cupid" is handing her!
Lola found her greatest career success in her mid-30s, when she left the shores of Europe for America. The West was wild with gold fever and a little town called Grass Valley was booming. She opened a saloon there featuring "Louis XVI cabinets, ormolu mirrors, Ludwig's jewels, Kanaka houseboys, a pet bear, a swan bed, gold leaf everywhere, one extra large deep-red-top billiard table with dragons carved on its legs, and every Governor, Senator or millionaire she could find and haul into the place." Rowdy miners loved the dance moves that had so infuriated the proper ladies of European society. Lola was a hit!
Letters discovered after Lola's death hint that this saloon with its notorious and powerful guests was all part of a grand plan to gain influence and assistance in order to "capture" California from the rest of the USA, cause it to declare independence, and then be rechristened "Lola-land," with herself as Queen. (How this never went off, we'll never know, but it sure was a great idea...)
If you google "Lola Montez" you will find that modern dancers and showgirls still cite her as an influence-- she is one of those iconic women whose name and look has survived for generations. I love the idea that our sleepy little foothill town once harbored such a tigress. Maybe there is still a little Lola left around here! Rrrrrrrow!