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. . . .
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.