Helen Louise Leonard aka Lillian Russell was a famous beauty and singer of the Gay Nineties Musical Theater.
Helen/Lillian was born in Clinton, Iowa. There is a question of the exact birthdate. Some sources have Dec. 1861 and other sources -- such as the 1900 US Census -- have Jan. 1860. She was known for not giving her right age.
Lillian studied music in New York City.
After changing her name to "Lillian Russell" in 1879 she appeared in the Gilbert and Sullivan production H.M.S. PINAFORE. She then married the show's the orchestra leader, Harry Braham, who was born 1855 in England. Lillian continued to appear in the early vaudeville shows in NYC singing in opera comics.
In 1880s Russell starred in the Bijou Opera House, on Broadway, and elsewhere in Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera roles. She was known as first great prima donna of American theater. Between 1881 and 1899 she was the star in 24 musicals.
By early 1880s she divorced Harry Braham after the death of a baby son, Harry L. Braham, born June 1880 in NY. According to the story, one day the nursemaid inadvertently thrust a diaper pin into the baby's stomach and Harry Braham arrived home to find the infant dead. He blamed Lillian for not caring for the baby.
Lillian then married a composer, Edward Solomon, in May 1884. They had a daughter, Dorothy Lillian Solomon, born May 10, 1884, in England.
In 1886, Lillian learned Edward had another wife, so he was arrested for bigamy. Lillian divorced Edward by 1893 and began singing with the J.C. Duff Opera Company.
It was Lillian Russell that Alexander G. Bell requested to speak with on May 8, 1890, on the first long distance phone conversation. She sang "Sabre Song" to audiences in Boston and Washington, D.C, from New York.
In 1891, she opened at the Garden Theatre as the star of the Lillian Russell Opera Company.
Lillian then married John Haley Augustin Chatterton (stage name "Giovanni Perugini") in January 1894 but they quickly separated after six months. He had become violent and at one point tried to throw Lillian out of a hotel window. They formally divorced in 1898.
She always remained the "darling of the stage", not only for her beauty, grace but also singing ability. Audiences everywhere loved her.
In 1900 she was living in NYC with two servants. Her apartment was on E. 4th and Broadway. It was at this time Lillian became the companion of New York's Diamond Jim Brady and remained with him for years until his death in 1917.
Her signature song was "Come Down Ma Evenin' Star" and was the only one recorded.
Between 1900 and 1912, she continued in comic plays and in singing roles. After she married her fourth husband, Alexandra Pollack Moore, in 1912, she semi-retired from the stage and they lived in Pittsburgh, PA. He was publisher of the Pittsburg Leader paper.
In 1915, she was in a motion picture titled "Wildfire". Lillian still did some vaudeville performances occasionally until 1919 when she suffered from ill health and fully retired.
In retirement, she supported many causes including women's rights and the Red Cross. She wrote newspaper columns and gave speeches.
On returning from Europe in 1922 while researching for President Harding about America's isolationism and restricted immigration, she fell while on board ship during a storm and was injured. She became very ill for 10 days. Lillian died on June 6, 1922 in Pittsburgh, PA.
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No known carriers of Lillian's mitochondrial DNA have taken an mtDNA test and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.
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On 25 May 2014 at 08:23 GMT R. (Geleick) G. wrote: