If Lillie Langtry had put an exclamation point after the title of her autobiography it still wouldn’t have done justice to the extraordinary life this beautiful lady led. But, typical of the dignified Mrs. Langtry, she chose not to sensationalize her life story with a title that could have been, deservedly, much more provocative. Instead, she chose to title her book, simply, “The Days I Knew.” But what days they were! Filled with enough events and personalities to make Lillie Langtry not only one of the most fascinating women of the Victorian Edwardian eras, but of all times, her autobiography is as compelling as was her event filled life.
Lillie had it all. Beauty, brains, charm, business acumen. If she had lived in the 21st century she would easily have qualified as one of the most well known women of modern times. As it was, she created a sensation from the moment she settled in London as the young bride of Edward Langtry. She was soon the most sought after “professional beauty” of London’s top artists and photographers. She became close friends with Oscar Wilde and much of London’s literati. And she soon was the acknowledged mistress of Prince Albert Edward, Queen Victoria’s son and the future King Edward VII of Great Britain.
But that’s just the beginning. Lillie Langtry’s story is so engrossing that it’s hard to believe one woman could have had such a full life, but that she did. A list of Lillie’s close friends and acquaintances would read like a who’s who. Not only did she know kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers, but such diverse personages as Oscar Wilde, Judge Roy Bean, who claimed to have named a town in Texas after her, Rudyard Kipling, U. S. Grant, to name just a few.
Despite having no stage training at all, Lillie decided to become an actress and in no time she was the most popular and successful performer in the world. She owned a theater in London, land in California, and some of the top race horses in England. She was probably the first person to be used in product endorsement advertising and she was the darling of what today is called the tabloid press. She was admired and mobbed by fans all over the world, much like today’s rock stars and actors. While Lillie has been portrayed in two motion pictures dealing with Judge Roy Bean, it is understandable why there have never been any movies made entirely about her. There’s just too much to tell in the approximately two hours usually allotted to feature films. But, to its credit, Masterpiece Theater produced a series on the fabulous lady in 1978 and needed 13 hours to do her story justice.
As Richard Le Gallienne says in his foreword to Lillie's book, she tells her stories with aplomb and humor. History owes a big thanks to this enchanting woman for taking the time and effort to tell us about the marvelous days she knew.
- Arrowhead Classics Publishing Co., February 2012
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