- Lydia Thompson
name = Lydia Thompson
imagesize = 200px
caption = Lydia Thompson in "Bluebeard" (1872)
birthname = Eliza Hodges Thompson
birthdate =birth date|1838|02|19
death_date =death date and age|1908|11|17|1838|02|19
years active = 52
notable role =
spouse = (1) John Christian Tilbury (2) Alexander Henderson
former spouse =
Lydia Thompson, born Eliza Hodges Thompson (19 February 1838 – 17 November 1908), was an English dancer, actress and theatrical producer.
After dancing in Britain as a teenager and then in Europe, she became a leading dancer and actress in burlesques on the London stage. She introduced burlesque to America in 1868 to great acclaim and notoriety.
Thompson was born in Brydges Street,
Covent Garden, London. Her her father was Philip Thompson (c.1801–1842) and her mother was Eliza ("née" Cooper). Her father owned the Sheridan Knowles, a public house. Thompson was the second of three surviving children.Gänzl, Kurt. "Lydia Thompson", "Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre", Blackwell/Schirmer (1994)] Her father died in 1842, and her mother remarried Edward Hodges. By the age of fourteen, Thompson had left home and joined the stage professionally as a dancer.W. J. Lawrence, rev. J. Gilliland, "Thompson, Lydia (1838–1908)", "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008]
In 1852 she became a member of the
corps de balletat Her Majesty's Theatre. By the following year she was playing a solo role, Little Silverhair, in the pantomime"Harlequin and the Three Bears, or, Little Silverhair and the Fairies" at the Haymarket Theatre. In 1854 she danced at the old Globe Theatre in Blackfriars Road, in James Planché's extravaganza, "Mr Buckstone's Voyage Round the Globe". She gained wider public attention later that year at the St James's Theatrein "The Spanish Dancers", a burlettaby Thomas Selby, playing the famous dancer Señora Perea Nena. " The Times" dismissed the piece but praised her performance highly: "It was no burlesque; it was one excellent dancer following in the steps of another, catching the spirit of her model, and rivalling her in the audacity of her execution. The youth and beauty of Miss Thompson gave an additional charm to her Andalusian feats." ["The Times", 18 October 1854, p. 6]
There, she also played in the burlesque "Ganem, the Slave of Love", and in the ballet-farce "Magic Toys". These performances brought a period of prosperity to what had come to be regarded as one of the unluckiest theatres in London. ["
The Daily Mirror" obituary, 19 November 1908, p.4] She also appeared that year in "The King's Rival" by Tom Taylorand Charles Reade( J. L. Toole's first London role),Sherson, Erroll. [http://books.google.com/books?id=5AQ71r_JC6YC&pg=PA308&lpg=PA308&dq=%22Zeffie+Tilbury%22+played+stage+thompson&source=web&ots=I3EgZZQl4W&sig=ygJ4BU8V8SNFbCeTRo7bivSWsU8&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA307,M1 "London's lost theatres of the nineteenth century",] pp. 307–08, Ayer Publishing, 1925 ISBN 0405089694] "Beauties of the Harem", and, again at the Haymarket, in the title role in the Christmas pantomime "Little Bo Peep, or, Harlequin and the Girl who Lost her Sheep". She then returned to complete the season at the St James's in "Cupid's Ladder" and the fairy spectacle, "The Swan and Edgar".
Still a teenager, Thompson then toured through Europe for over three years. She danced in Russia, Germany, Austria, France, Scandinavia and elsewhere, "winning acclaim for the dexterity of her dancing – which included the
Highland Flingand Hornpipe– as wellas the charms of her person and the vivacity of her character."Hoffos, Signe and Moulder, Bob. [http://www.kensalgreen.co.uk/documents/FOKGC43_Thompson.pdf "Desperately Seeking Lydia" and "Appreciating Lydia",] "The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery Magazine", Vol. 43, Autumn 2006, pp. 1–7] She returned to England in the summer of 1859, by which time " The Times" referred to her as "one of the most eminent of English dancers". ["The Times", 3 October 1859, p. 7]
In the winter season of 1859–60 Thompson danced at the St James's in several pieces, including "Virginius, or, The Trials of a Fond Papa", Lester Buckingham's burlesque "Virginus", Valentine in "Magic Toys", Dolly Mayflower in "Black-Eyed Susan" and Young Norval in the ballet-burlesque "My Name is Norval". In 1860–1861, at the
Lyceum Theatre, she played again in "Magic Toys", as Morgiana in the Savage Club burlesque of " The Forty Thieves", in the farce "The Middy Asthore", as Fanchette in George Loder's "The Pets of the Parterre" ("Les Fleurs animées") and as Mephisto in the fairy extravaganza "Chrystabelle, or the Rose Without a Thorn". She also played Norah in the first production of Edmund Falconer's comedy "Woman, or, Love Against the World", as Blondinette in "Little Red Riding Hood" and had a role in the Brough burlesque "The Colleen Bawn Settled at Last".
Thompson married John Christian Tilbury, a riding-master, in 1863 and soon gave birth to a daughter. She soon returned to the stage in "The Alabama" at the
Drury Lane Theatre. Her husband died fifteen months after their marriage, in a steeplechasing accident in 1864, when he was rolled on by his horse. In the following years, she alternated between London and provincial tours, mixing dancing and acting in plays. In 1864, at the opening of the new Theatre Royal, Birkenhead, managed by Alexander Henderson (1828–1886), she created the title role in a burlesque of " Ixion" by Francis Burnand. She joined Henderson's company at Prince of Wales's Theatre, Liverpool, together with the rising young actors Squire Bancroft, Marie Wiltonand Henry Irving. There, she played in Brough's "Ernani" (1865), as Max in a burlesque of Weber's "Der Freischütz" (1866), as Prince Buttercup in "The White Fawn", as Massaroni in the burlesque "The Brigand", and as Prince Florizel in another burlesque, "Perdita". Thompson excelled as "principal boy" in burlesques: "She was charming to look at, a good singer, a really clever dancer, and the life and soul of the scene while on the stage." Other successful London runs from 1866–1868 included, at the Drury Lane, Sophonisba in Delibes' "Wanted Husbands For Six" ("Six Demoiselles à marier") and at the Strand Theatre, "Blue-Beard" (after Jacques Offenbach's version) and Darnley in the very successful "The Field of the Cloth of Gold".
America and later years
Thompson married Henderson, and the two sailed in August 1868 for America, heading a small theatrical troupe, adapting popular English burlesques for middle-class New York audiences by adding topical and local references and reworking the lyrics of popular songs, while preserving the rhymed couplets and comic puns of the burlesque form.
Thompson's troupe, called the "British Blondes", was the most popular entertainment in New York during the 1868–1869 theatrical season. "The eccentricities of pantomime and burlesque – with their curious combination of comedy, parody, satire, improvisation, song and dance, variety acts, cross-dressing, extravagant stage effects, risqué jokes and saucy costumes – while familiar enough to British audiences, took New York by storm." The six-month tour ran for almost six extremely profitable years, and during two subsequent tours, it drew huge crowds at leading theatres across the U.S. The troupe launched careers of several actresses, including Markham,
Alice Burvilleand Rose Coghlan. It also drew fierce criticism from those who felt it transgressed the boundaries of propriety. Criticism reflecting on the virtue of her dancers by Wilbur F. Storey, the owner of the " Chicago Times" led Thompson and her troupe first to post notices calling Storey "a liar and a coward" and appealing for the sympathy of the people.Hudson, Frederic. [http://books.google.com/books?id=lHAFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA205&lpg=PA205&dq=%22Lydia+Thompson%22+%22chicago+tribune%22&source=web&ots=9tmXsVrdNJ&sig=two7W0KFzPs773PGQXbkdMGI8to&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result "Journalism in the United States, from 1690-1872"] Harper & Brothers, 1873, pp. 205–06] Then, on 24 February 1870, Thompson, her husband and her colleague, Pauline Markham, horsewhiped Storey at gunpoint, for which they were arrested and fined. Thompson told a reporter that Storey "had called her by the most odious epithet that could be applied to a woman, and she could stand it no longer. She was glad at what she had done." This resulted in more publicity and popularity for the troupe. Actress Olive Logan protested, "I cannot advise any woman to go upon the stage with the demoralizing influence which seems here to prevail more every day, when its greatest rewards are won by brazen-faced, stained, yellow-haired, padded-limbed creatures, while actresses of the old school – well trained, decent – cannot earn a living."
Thompson, Henderson and her troupe finally returned to England in 1874, and she resumed her starring roles in London and provincial productions, including
H. B. Farnie's burlesques of "Bluebeard" (which she had already made a hit in America) and "Robinson Crusoe", and Robert Reece's "Carmen, or, Sold for a Song", as well as "Piff-Paff" ("Le Grand Duc de Matapa"), "Oxygen", "The Lady of Lyons", "Pluto!", and other burlesques. Henderson purchased the Folly Theatrein 1876, and it became a burlesque house, with Thompson in the lead roles. The first piece was a production of "Bluebeard". [Gänzl (2002)] In the following years, Thompson returned to America several times, where she remained popular. Thompson separated from Herderson, but the two continued to work together into the 1880s. In 1881, after two years in retirement, she returned to the stage as Mrs Kingfisher in the farce "Dust".
Thompson returned to New York following the death of Henderson in 1886 and again in the winter seasons of 1888 and 1891. In 1887 she opened at the
Royal Strand Theatre, London, under her own management, in Alfred Cellier's comic opera, "The Sultan of Mocha". She next starred in the French vaudeville-opérette "Babette" (1888, Antonio), but her voice was judged inadequate. After this, her career began to decline. Her last American performances were in 1894 in "The Crust of Society" in a supporting role. Back in London, George Edwardescast her briefly in the Edwardian musical comedy" An Artist's Model" (1895), but by 1899, she had depleted her funds. A London benefit night was held for her in May 1899 at the Lyceum Theatre, when she performed in "The Wedding March" by W. S. Gilbert. Her final performances were in 1904, as the Duchesse du Albuquerque in "A Queen's Romance". ["The Daily Mirror" obituary, 19 November 1908, p. 4]
Thompson died in London at the age of 70. She is buried in
Kensal Green cemetery. Her daughter, Zeffie Agnes Lydia Tilbury, became an actress known first on the London stage [ [http://www.phyllis.demon.co.uk/theatricalia/07class/souv.htm "Classical Plays: Souvenirs and Portraits",] Rob Wilton Theatricalia] and later for playing wise or evil older characters in films, such as Grandma in "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) and Grandma Lester in "Tobacco Road" (1941). [ [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0863193/ Zeffie Tilbury,] The Internet Movie Database]
*Baker, H. B. "The London stage: its history and traditions from 1576 to 1888", 2 vols. (1889)
*Gänzl, Kurt. "Lydia Thompson: Queen of Burlesque", NY & London: Routledge (2002) ISBN 0415937663
*Gänzl, Kurt. The encyclopedia of the musical theatre, 2nd edn, 3 vols. (2001) Schirmer Reference ISBN 0028649702
*Hollingshead, John. [http://books.google.com/books?id=CzgOAAAAIAAJ&dq=john+hollingshead+gaiety+chronicles "Gaiety Chronicles"] (1898) A. Constable & co.: London
*Scott, Clement. "The drama of yesterday and today", 2 vols. (1899)
*Kenrick, John. [http://www.musicals101.com/burlesque.htm The history of burlesque] The Cyber encyclopedia of musical theatre
*"Daily Telegraph", 20 November 1908
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.