Today’s lesson plan has us journeying to the stages of New York City and meeting that daring blonde beauty, Lydia Thompson.
Born in The United Kingdom in 1838 and growing up in the pantomime tradition that flourished in the mid to late 1800s, Lydia soon graduated to the burlesque shows at the time, which harkened to the literary meaning of burlesque more than the burlesque we think of now. She performed in parody retellings of classic works while wearing tights and performing rewrites of then popular songs. She was especially noted for her darling stage demenor.
Lydia Thompson is credited with introducing Victorian burlesque to the United States. She brought her troupe of “blond beauties” to the New York stage in 1868 where the sight of curvy women in tights playing traditionally male rolls caused quite an uproar. A producer, performer and off-stage firebrand once noted for publicly horse whipping a journalist, Lydia and her performers traveled the USA and Europe until her style of “high” burlesque (that is, burlesque that parodied classical works instead of pursuing “low humor”) began to fall out of fashion. She returned to England where she eventually died of pneumonia in 1908.