Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lillian Russell and Mrs. Poppy

As I mentioned in the Chauncey Olcott post, Lillian Russell comes up a couple times in the Betsy-Tacy series.

In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Mrs. Poppy is described  as looking "like the famous beauty and actress, Lillian Russell…except that she was stouter, of course." (485)

What do you think? Does Mrs. Poppy (a.k.a. Roma Saulpaugh) resemble Miss Russell? 

Russell is mentioned again in Betsy and the Great World when Betsy gets the doll--"The yellow-haired charmer with the pink plume on her hat."--while visiting Sonneberg, Germany:
She marched out triumphantly with the pink and blue beauty. "She looks just like Lillian Russell," Betsy thought. (235) 
So, just who was this woman?
Lillian Russell (December 4, 1861 – June 6, 1922) was an American actress and singer. She became one of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century and early 20th century, known for her beauty and style, as well as for her voice and stage presence. […] For many years, she was the foremost singer of operettas in America, performing continuously through the end of the nineteenth century. In 1899, she joined the Weber and Fields's Music Hall, where she starred for five years. After 1904, she began to have vocal difficulties and switched to dramatic roles. She later returned to musical roles in vaudeville, however, finally retiring from performing around 1919. In later years, Russell wrote a newspaper column, advocated women's suffrage and was a popular lecturer. {Source}
 In 1940 there was a movie made about her, with Alice Faye in the title role.

You can hear Lillian Russell sing here (this song was recorded in 1912, which would've been slightly before Betsy and the Great World takes place. It's also after she apparently started to have vocal difficulties. Hmm). This isn't the greatest recording, but it gives you an idea of what she sounded like. While Russell is very lovely, the American concept of ideal female beauty has certainly changed over the years (I'm not necessarily saying that's a good thing...but that's a discussion for another day!).

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