Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 26, 1886 --- A Broadway Scandal

Respectable New York is shocked at the arrival of the young Earl of Lonsdale and his mistress, the actress Violet Cameron.

The Earl is traveling with Miss Cameron's theatrical company in the very thinly disguised role as the financial advisor to a touring production of "The Commodore." He banters dockside with the Press, gayly dismissing questions about his relationship with Miss Cameron, who is described admiringly as "encased in dark blue serge of faultless fit." As to Lady Lonsdale's whereabouts, the Earl is less forthcoming.

To thicken the plot, "Miss" Cameron's husband, M. DeBensaude, arrives the same day aboard another ship. He and Lonsdale had brawled at a Newcastle hotel and now he'd come to America vowing to cut his wife's throat. The Hoffman Hotel, understandly fearing a scene, asked Miss Cameron to leave after one night. When DeBensaude was seen sharing breakfast with Lonsdale at Delmonico's, the sceptics soon smelled a publicity stunt but The New York Herald reported, DeBensaude used the occasion to challenge Lonsdale to a duel.

De Bensaude soon found himself in the infamous Tombs jail for making public threats. Despite the raffish amusement this provided some, the Press became increasingly censorious, e.g. The New York Star: "We have no patience with a theatrical combination of a noble patron, a wayward wife and a complaisant husband that has recently landed on our shores."

At last, amidst all this tabloid scandal, Miss Cameron trod the boards. The critics were almost gleeful in their disapproval. The New York Times, while conceding that the actress had a "pleasing presence," chortled that the play was such a failure that "twenty minutes before it ended, the audience commenced departing in platoons." The play's run was cut short and a possible tour abandoned. The New York Times condemned the whole venture: "Trying to make a widely advertised suspicion of private immorality take the place of professional competency, the failure of this imprudent attempt is wholesome and exemplary."

Back in London, the Earl and Miss Cameron lived as "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson" in Hampstead. They were soon expecting. Queen Victoria finally intervened on behalf of the abandoned Countess Lonsdale. The Earl was prevailed upon to leave Miss Cameron, in fact, he left for the North Pole. For a time, he was lost and feared dead but returned something of a hero. He also returned to his wife.

The photograph from the National Portrait Gallery

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