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LANGTRY, EMILIE CHARLOTTE

LANGTRY, EMILIE CHARLOTTE (1853–1929). Emilie Charlotte (Lillie) Langtry, actress, was born on October 13, 1853, on the Isle of Jersey, the sixth child of the Right Reverend William Corbet Le Breton, dean of Jersey, and Emilie David (Martin) Le Breton. She became a "professional beauty" and popular actress, who appeared in her first play at the Haymarket Theatre in London in 1881. Before long she was an internationally acclaimed personality, largely because of her beauty and her rich and prominent gentleman admirers, of whom the most prestigious was the Prince of Wales. She married Edward Langtry, a young Irishman, in 1874. In 1887 she became an American citizen, not for love of the country but to make possible the divorce that Langtry had denied her in England. After the divorce (1897), she married Hugo de Bathe in 1899. Her great love, however, was Frederick Gebhard, Jr., a rich American.

In 1888 a transcontinental tour took her to the Southwest, where she displayed her talents and her wardrobe in Galveston, Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. This brought her as close as she ever came to an ardent Texas admirer, Judge Roy Bean, who had become "the Law West of the Pecos," first at Vinegarroon and later at a hamlet near Eagle's Nest Springs just west of the Pecos River. Although sources differ as to how it happened, Bean began worshipping at the Langtry shrine, struck up a desultory correspondence with her, and called his tavern the "Jersey Lilly" in her honor. When the village became eligible for a post office in 1884, he named it Langtry. Southern Pacific Railroad records say that the town was named by a construction foreman, but Bean took credit for naming it. He may well have seen her on stage at the time of her San Antonio appearance in 1888, but it is unlikely that they ever met. Mrs. Langtry never mentioned a meeting in her memoirs, although she gave considerable space to her pause at Langtry on January 4, 1904, in the course of another transcontinental tour. She spent a short time talking to the townspeople and accepting gifts, which included Roy Bean's six-shooter. Bean had been dead for ten months when she arrived. Lillie's biographers give the Bean connection little attention, but Texas newspapers made much of it, as do Bean enthusiasts.

Lillie Langtry continued her intercontinental tours until she was sixty-five and even made one moving picture in the United States. She died at her home on the French Riviera on February 12, 1929, of a heart attack brought on by influenza. She was buried, according to her wishes, in St. Saviour's Churchyard on the Isle of Jersey.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Noel B. Gerson, Because I Loved Him: The Life and Times of Lillie Langtry (New York: Morrow, 1971). Lillie Langtry, The Days I Knew (New York: Doran, 1925). Pierre Sichel, The Jersey Lily (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1958). C. L. Sonnichsen, Roy Bean, Law West of the Pecos (New York: Macmillan, 1943; rpt., Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986).

C. L. Sonnichsen

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

C. L. Sonnichsen, "LANGTRY, EMILIE CHARLOTTE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fla74), accessed August 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.