The most beautiful creature since Helen of Troy

That’s how many Gilded Age New Yorkers described Lillian Russell—actress, singer, and arguably one of the world’s first celebrities ever in the 1880s and 1890s.

Born Helen Louise Leonard in 1861, she moved to New York at 18 and immediately found success, making her Broadway debut in 1877 at Tony Pastor’s Casino Theater near Union Square.

Now a star and noted for her gorgeous “peaches and cream” complexion, she performed at other Broadway theaters, like Weber and Fields Music Hall at 29th Street and Abbey’s Theatre at 38th Street.

There was no paparazzi to document her social life, but the public was fascinated by her comings and goings—she was the companion of superrich financier Diamond Jim Brady.

The two dined together in the new Times Square lobster palaces and took up the new sport of bicycling in Central Park, according to Upper West Side Story by Peter Salwen.

Once she retired from the stage in 1919, she did what many of today’s celebrities do: She pursued political and social causes.

She was a big proponent of women’s suffrage, and before her death in 1922, she investigated immigration reform for President Harding (she recommended a five-year moratorium on it). 

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8 Responses to “The most beautiful creature since Helen of Troy”

  1. Robert Wilhelm Says:

    I read somewhere that two cowboys fought a duel over who was more beautiful, Lillian Russel or Lola Montez. I don’t remember who won.

  2. Perry Says:

    She is buried in Allegheny Cemetary in Pittsburgh. When I lived nearby, I often passed her tomb while walking he groumds for exercise.

  3. What remains of Manhattanville’s Claremont Inn « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Originally built as a country estate around 1780, it became a roadside tavern by 1860, a favorite of horsemen, cyclists, and drivers and frequented by wealthy families and celebs of the day, such as Admirable Dewey and Lillian Russell. […]

  4. The city’s star female impersonator of 1904 « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] knew he was a man, but he was so convincing as a woman, he was dubbed “Mr. Lillian Russell.” He even launched a magazine that gave women beauty […]

  5. The reinvention of a deluxe Times Square hotel | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] theater district, nightlife hub, and of course, the crossroads of the world. Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell (below photo) were […]

  6. Three centuries and three views of East 14th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] view is of East 14th Street looking west toward Irving Place. At the right is Tammany Hall, with Tony Pastor’s vaudeville house on the ground floor—the venue that gave Lillian Russell and other Gilded Age celebrities their […]

  7. The legendary appetite of Diamond Jim Brady | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] him to indulge in his passion for glittery jewels, beautiful women (his longtime ladyfriend was A-list actress Lillian Russell), and […]

  8. Sarah Burns Says:

    Does anyone know if Lillian Russell ever lived at 353 W. 27th St., where the FIT is now?

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