Legend of Jersey Lily (How This Blog Got Its Name)
Jersey Lily (Lily Langtry) with a Jersey lily in her hair
How This Blog Got Its Name
When I moved from New Jersey to California many years ago, someone jokingly called me "JerseyLil," referencing my Jersey roots and the Paul Newman movie (The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean) about the Old West Texas Judge who had a crush on a British actress known as "Jersey Lily." I thought the JerseyLil name was fun and decided to use it in the name of my blog.
I had seen the Paul Newman movie about Judge Roy Bean. Frankly, I was too busy watching those gorgeous blue eyes of Paul Newman’s to pay much attention to the Jersey Lily character (played by Ava Gardner in the movie) until someone called me JerseyLil. Then I did some research and discovered the actress known as Jersey Lily was quite the personality in her time...and so was Judge Roy Bean!
About Jersey Lily: Lily Langtry (1853-1929) was a renowned British actress in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Born as Emilie Charlotte Le Breton on the British Isle of Jersey, she was known to be well-educated, beautiful and willful. She was the only daughter of the Dean of Jersey, Rev. William Corbet Le Breton. At age 20, she married a wealthy Irish landowner, Edward Langtry. She also had a long-standing love affair with the Prince of Wales, later King of England, Edward VII (Queen Victoria's son), who often came to her performances.
Lily began her acting career in 1881 at the suggestion of her good friend, the Irish writer and poet, Oscar Wilde. She was very successful in British theatre and had several successful tours in the U.S., later appearing in Vaudeville. In 1888, she purchased a winery in Lake County, California. In 1897, she became an American citizen and divorced her husband in California that same year. After Judge Roy Bean’s death, Lily visited the town of Langtry, Texas, and wrote about her visit in her autobiography, The Days I Knew, published in 1925. She died in February 1929 at the age of 75. Her stage name, "Jersey Lily," was taken from the Jersey lily flower, which grew profusely on the Isle of Jersey where she was born.
About Judge Roy Bean and Jersey Lily:
Judge Roy Bean
The movie, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, was based on factual events and legendary tales about the larger-than-life outlaw turned lawman and self-appointed judge, Roy Bean, who ruled a desolate desert empire in southwest Texas in the late 1800s. He decreed himself to be, "The Law West of the Pecos."
Judge Roy Bean (1825-1903) built a saloon and general store in a small tent city near the Rio Grande called Langtry, named for a railroad boss, George Langtry, who had supervised the construction of the Southern Pacific railroad through that area. Langtry also happened to be the name of the renowned British actress, Lily Langtry, who went by the stage name, "Jersey Lily." Although Judge Roy Bean had never seen Lily perform, he became enchanted with her after reading about her and seeing her picture.
He named his saloon, "The Jersey Lily," in honor of Lily Langtry, and it became the eccentric Judge Bean’s headquarters, where he served as justice of the peace and notary public. He followed no state or district laws, preferring to decide cases based on whatever rule he made up at the moment. Fines were often levied for exactly the amount in the accused person’s pocket. Legend has it that he kept a pet bear in his saloon courtroom. A cherished picture of Lily Langtry was always prominent at the saloon, and anyone disturbing it without his permission was fined.
Judge Roy Bean carried on a one-sided love affair with Lily Langtry for decades, even building an Opera House across from the saloon with the hope that she would sing there one day. He sent letters inviting her to come, and she is purported to have written back, even sending him two pistols which he cherished. Judge Roy Bean died in 1903 at the age of 78 after a night of heavy drinking. He never got to meet his Jersey Lily, but a year after his death, Lily Langtry visited the town.
Judge Bean's Jersey Lilly Saloon, Langtry, Texas, abt. 1882
That’s just a short synopsis, but Lily Langtry and Judge Roy Bean had quite extraordinary lives, the kind of stuff movies are made of! I found it fascinating, and I hope you do, too.