|Lillian Russell was born Helen Louise Leonard in 1861. In the late 1870's she and her mother moved from Chicago to New York in order for 'Nellie' to receive advance voice training. She soon met the vaudeville impresario Tony Pasor, who was transforming the slightly seedy variety genre into respectable family entertainment. Russell made her stage debut at Tony Pastor's Theatre in The Pie Rats of Pen Yan, a pastiche of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance and became an instant star. She was such a success that Sir Arthur Sullivan even offered her a role in one of his legitimate productions, but she was unwilling to break her contract with Pastor.
By 1888 Russell was topping the bill at the Casino, commanding an enormous salary. When she appeared in Gabrielle Dalmont's An American Beauty she gained the soubriquet by which she was known for the rest of her life. As one of America's greatest celebrities, Russell's private life was constant source of fascination to the public. Although her solid middle-class background and lady-like demeanour helped elevate the social status of entertainers, Russell's four marriages (one to a bigamist), her rumoured affairs with Diamond Jim Brady and the Great Sandow, and her appetite for food and jewellery all added to her notoriety.
After marrying prominent Republican Alfred P. Moore in 1912, Russell increasingly focussed on politics. She presided over opening of Progressive Party headquarters in Pittsburgh, sold Liberty Bonds during World War I, and campaigned for Warren Harding in the 1920 election. When she died in 1922, shortly after completing a fact-finding mission to Europe on behalf of President Harding, she had been of the first ladies of the American stage for 35 years. She was buried with full military honours.
The photographer is Benjamin Falk, whose studio on Broadway made portraits of all the leading beauties and theatrical figures of the day.
condition: Excellent, though the mount has bowed very slightly along the vertical axis.
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