Lillie Langtry (13 October 1853 – 12 February 1929), usually spelled Lily Langtry when she was in the U.S., born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was a British actress born on the island of Jersey. A renowned beauty, she was nicknamed the “Jersey Lily” and had a number of prominent lovers, including the future king of the United Kingdom, Edward VII.
At the suggestion of either her close friend Oscar Wilde or Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie embarked upon a stage career. In December 1881, she made her debut before the London public in She Stoops to Conquer at the Haymarket Theatre. The following autumn, she made her first tour of the United States, to enormous success, which she repeated in subsequent years. While the critics generally condemned her interpretations of roles such as Pauline in the Lady of Lyons or Rosalind in As You Like It, the public loved her. In 1903, she starred in the U.S. in The Crossways, written by her in collaboration with J. Hartley Manners. She returned to the United States for tours in 1906 and again in 1912, appearing in vaudeville.
Langtry used her high public profile to endorse commercial products such as cosmetics and soap, becoming an early example of celebrity endorsement. Her famous ivory complexion brought her income as the first woman to endorse a commercial product, advertising Pears Soap. Her fee was allied to her weight so she was paid ‘pound for pound’.
Scholars believe the fictitious Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891), the first Sherlock Holmes short story, who bested the private investigator when he sought an incriminating photograph of her and a European monarch, is based upon Langtry.
Langtry was possibly the subject of The Who’s 1967 song, “Pictures of Lily“, about a young man infatuated by the image of a woman named Lily; the fact that her death occurred in 1929 (as mentioned in the song) gives credence to this theory. A British feature film used the song title Pictures of Lily in 2011.
In The Simpsons episode in which Montgomery Burns auditions children to be his new heir, the theatre in which the auditions are held on Burns’ estate is called the Lillie Langtry Theater.