Lillie Langtry deserves a special place in Lake County’s history. She wasn’t here long, but during the brief time she lived in Lake County, she became a legend. Her dazzling beauty, her electrifying personality, the story of her life, and what she did for Lake County, is still remembered.
Born Charlotte Le Breton to a preacher, Lillie was a tomboy. She had a love for life, and she loved practical jokes and wild escapades. She married money, became a hit of society, and her early career followed a string of discreet affairs with men in high places. Not much inhibited, she once dropped ice down the Prince of Wales’ back. He was her paramour, but the act in a public place made her shunned by society.
On her own and pregnant, Lillie took to the stage… and was an overnight success. After a year’s tour in England, Lillie came to America.
As the famous theater owner and producer, Henry Abbey said, “Mrs. Langtry is as tough a businesswoman as she is a lovely lady. She may smell of a delicious perfume, but nothing creases her hide except dollar bills.”
During her career, Lillie Langtry was the most celebrated Woman in Europe and America. Millais, the painter, said, ‘Lillie Langtry happens to be, quite simply, the most beautiful woman on earth.’ Oscar Wilde said of her, ‘Lillie’s beauty has no meaning.’ He said of Millais’ remark, ‘Her charm, her wit, and her mind are far more formidable weapons.’
Lillie was the darling of the high and the low. People loved her. The hit of London society, Lillie Langtry’s admirers included politicians, poets, princes, painters, and wealthy Americans. Diamond Jim Brady and Sarah Bernhardt spoke of the actress in glowing terms.
A professional beauty, she became the subject of the first pin-ups. Many a western bar sported her portrait above the bar to be toasted by rough men of the West. Even the hanging Judge, Roy Bean, was devoted to Lillie. After seeing her picture in a magazine, Roy Bean became infatuated with Lillie and admired the actress so much he named his town for her; Langtry, Texas. From Kentucky and a typical Wild West fast gun character, who carried a dilapidated law book, Roy Bean took ‘nothing from nobody.’ A killer, he was arrested and strung up and hung for a killing. As fate would have it, Roy’s girlfriend cut him down just in time. Bean sported the rope burns ever afterward, a sign of which he was proud.
Bean was smitten with love for the beauteous Lillie.
In 1882 Roy Bean became the Justice of the Peace in the town of Vinegaroon. From there, he traveled to a place in Texas that was in the middle of nowhere. Here he set down roots, built a fourteen by twenty-foot building complete with a bar, a pool table, and a courtroom. After his heroine, Roy named the place Langtry and dispensed ‘Law West of the Pecos’ for years. His saloon was called, ‘The Jersey Lillie.’
Roy Bean saw her in person only one time. That was the night he put on a makeshift tuxedo and sat in the front row to see her on stage in Austin, Texas. When, finally, Lillie visited Langtry, Texas, Roy Bean was never to welcome her, for he died eight months before. Lillie, presented with Roy Bean’s gun, and always the gracious lady, took the six-shooter with her back to England. It remained on her mantle until her death.
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