Friday, May 29, 2020

Clinton, Iowa Born Actress Lillian Russell

Fay Templeton, Joe Weber, Lew Fields, and Lillian Russell.
(Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 2, 1912)
Helen Louise Leonard--Nellie to her friends--Lillian Russell to her fans, was born in Clinton, Iowa in 1861. Her father, Charles Leonard, owned and operated the Clinton Herald before moving his family to Chicago when Helen was just a young girl.

Her first appearance on stage was uneventful. She played the part of a kidnapped child in a performance of The Gypsy, given by the sisters of the Sacred Heart Convent. She sang in the choir at St. John's Episcopal Church - once. She was asked not to return after cracking peanuts during a solo performance by the tenor.

After graduating from Mrs. Bates' school at age 16, Helen moved to New York with her mother and two sisters so she could study under Dr. Leopold Damrosch.

Not long after that, Tony Pastor arranged for her to sing at a nearby theater as Lillian Russell. She was an immediate success and her salary quickly jumped from $50 to $150 per week.

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