Crash Course: Little Known History – Lily Elsie, Most Photographed Edwardian-Era Woman

Picture Perfect: One of many photos of Lily Elsie.

Picture Perfect: One of many photos of Lily Elsie.

When Lily Elsie took the stage in 1907 in the leading role of “The Merry Widow,” London audiences and theater critics swooned.

The operetta was such a hit it ran for 778 performances, making the lovely Elsie a bona fide star whose beauty was so captivating she’s known as one of the most photographed women of the Edwardian Era.

In 1910, the Chicago Examiner declared: “She is famous above all for two things — for having been photographed more frequently than any actress ever on a London stage, and for having had more proposals of marriage. It is said she has been photographed at least once every week day in the year. Even then the insatiable demands of the photographic firms were not satisfied. They could not obtain enough of her photographs to supply the enormous demand.”

Exhausted by the public attention and newly married to a man who wasn’t interested in her working, Elsie retired soon after her “Merry Widow” run ended. The rocky marriage later dissolved, and Elsie, who had been plagued with chronically poor health, spend the last part of her life in a sanitarium and died in 1962. Her obituary described her as “the most glamorous figure of the theatre world, whose portrayal of Sonia in Lehar’s The Merry Widow in 1907 took London by storm.”