Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Video: Lily Elsie, The Most Photographed Edwardian Beauty

Friday, September 25, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Photography was still new in the 1890s, and the notion of building celebrity through photographs was even newer. Long before Instagram selfies (and Photoshop) could make anyone a star, there was Lily Elsie (1886-1962), one of the great beauties of the Edwardian world, and a woman who was called the most photographed woman of her time.

She probably was, and with good reason, too. Born Elsie Hodder in West Yorkshire, the precociously pretty girl first became a child star of the English music hall, and then a chorus girl with the George Edwardes' company on the London stage. Although she was painfully shy and reluctant to take larger roles, Edwardes realized the power of her beauty, and with a makeover aided by the celebrated fashion designer Lucile, he made her a star in the title role of The Merry Widow in 1907.

Despite her success on the stage, it was before the camera where she truly ruled, and the still photographs in this short compilation video prove it. With thick clouds of dark hair, wide-set eyes, an elegant profile, and the required swan-like neck, she epitomized Edwardian beauty, and through her photographs - in magazines and on postcards, the social media of the day - she became famous throughout England and America. There's another, longer video with more photographs of her here.

But fashionable beauty can be notoriously fickle, and when sassy flappers replaced the serene Edwardians, Lily's time was done. Photographers tried to shift her to the new look, tucking her luxurious hair into a close-fitting cloche hat, but the magic wasn't there, and she looks closed-off and miserable.

Her life had lost its glamour, too. In 1920, she retired from the stage and attempted to find contentment in the country with her husband. But the marriage was unhappy and childless, ending in divorce. Ill health and continuing psychological issues finally led to dramatic brain surgery, and her last years were spent in a hospital.

But in these photographs, her undeniable beauty lives on forever. . . .


Helena Worth said...

Lily Elsie looks divine.
She and Lucile were the reasons I recently watched the Met Opera's performance of The Merry Widow.

Yve said...

I always wonder about the lives of those serene faces we see gazing out at us from old photos, people who are long gone... but how terrible sad that perhaps the best know and most ethereal woman of that age should have had such a lonely and pitiable end. I suppose it goes to prove that beauty is fleeting (our our appreciation of it, we are always eager to move on to the next distraction).

A Scattering said...

Aisling Loftus, of Mr. Selfridge fame, looks a lot like her!

CynthiaZ said...

I thought of Rachel Weisz when I saw her.

Donna Hatch said...

Stunning! How sad that her life ended in such misery. She certainly meets today's standard of beauty, without make up artists and Photoshop, but I guess even such rare beauty doesn't guarantee happiness.

Hels said...

I gave a lecture today on the celebrated fashion designer Madame Lucile!!! One of the areas Lucile made her own was designing the costumes for stage and later film, especially The Merry Widow. No wonder Lily Elsie loved the connection.

Lynette Lundy-Beck said...

Audrey Munson from far upstate NY is another iconic beauty and artists model of the Edwardian era whose life ended so very sadly!

Lynette Lundy-Beck said... More on Audrey Munson.

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