Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Hat Made of Hair

Anna Held, Polish-Jewish singer-dancer-actress (1872-1918) made world-famous in the 1890s by her lover, the impresario and Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfield.  According to Wikipedia, "He set about creating a wave of public interest in her, by feeding stories about her to the American press, such as her having had ribs surgically removed. By the time Held and Ziegfeld arrived in New York, she was already the subject of intense public speculation. When she finally performed, the critics were dismissive of her, but the public liked her."

Held became a millionairess, but didn't live long enough to enjoy it.  After a heroic stint entertaining the French forces on the Western Front--sometimes very close to the front lines--she died at 46 in 1918, a victim of Kahler's disease, now known as multiple myeloma.

Held converted to Roman Catholicism in her early years in Paris.  (She and her family--her father was a glove-maker--had ended up there in 1881 after fleeing a series of antisemitic pogroms in Poland.)  Held later refused to acknowledge her Jewish background.  Photos, like the one above, convey a louche yet indubitable charm.