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Diva Image #3 Lillian Russell
by David for for group historicalziegfeld Oct 10, 2010

The dominant female personality in American lyric theater in the late-19th century, Lillian Russell emerged as an artist in Chicago, honed her talent in vaudeville under the tutelage of Tony Pastor, and burst into the first rank of comic opera talents playing Gilbert & Sullivan in the 1880s. A creature of heroic carnality, Russell combined a silvery sweet soprano with a physical presence that commanded every eye in any space in which she played. After conquering New York, she married composer Edward Solomon and triumphed in London. The marriage was dissolved because of bigamy. Russell was married to four men during her life, but her most enduring relationship was as companion to Diamond Jim Brady who squired her for 40 years concurrent with her various marriages. In 1899 she joined the troupe at Weber & Field's music hall in New York, an participated in their burlesques, arguably the most experimental theater taking place in the United States at that time. Vocal problems in 1904 caused her to leave the ranks of musicals and become a comic actress. A suffragette, a champion of actor's equity, and a lecturer on self-help, Russell remained a public figure in American until her death in 1922.
Though photographed by many camera artists on both sides of the Atlantic, her favorite lensmen were William McKenzie Morrison of Chicago, Benjamin Strauss of Kansas City, and Aimee Dupont of New York. Because no biography of Morrison exists, I've prepared a brief sketch here:William McKenzie Morrison was the finest theatrical portrait photographer in Chicago during the final decades of the 19th century. Born in 1857 in Detroit, and educated at Metropolitan Business College in Chicago. he began working as assistant in a studio at age 10. In the 1889 he founded the Haymarket Studio, located in Haymarket Theatre Building in Chicago. The studio possessed an opulent gallery and a great skylight. All of his portraiture was taken with natural light. In 1894 he won the Grand Prize of the Photographic Association of America at its St. Louis exhibition. He amazed the audience by observing, “I want to suggest forcibly that it is better often to catch the suggestions offered by the subject in hand rather than to trust entirely to your art feeling. In the use of this last you must best sometimes.” He evacuated the Haymarket premises in 1899, moving to the Champlain building. He operated only during autumn, winter, and spring, summering in New Jersey. A real estate developer, landlord, and cattleman, his various business interests increasingly distracted him from photography after 1903. David S. Shields

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