On September 1, 1850, 30,000 onlookers packed the waterfront around Canal Street in New York City, clamoring to catch a glimpse of the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind as she disembarked from the steamship Atlantic to begin an American tour. Lind’s American promoter, the visionary entertainer and entrepreneur P.T.
Barnum, greeted the singer with a bouquet and waved her into a private carriage as police pushed the teeming crowds apart, Hard Day’s Night-style. The Jenny Lind tour was a barnstormer, taking in the modern equivalent of $21 million over a nine-month engagement and spawning an American mania for all things Lind: concert tickets, women’s hats, opera glasses, paper dolls, sheet music, even Lind-branded chewing tobacco.
(The craze persists in today’s children’s furnture stores, where you can still purchase a spindled “Jenny Lind crib.”) But more than Lind’s fame or Barnum’s marketing success, the story that has persisted most through the decades is the did-they-or-didn’t-they frisson of a suspected romance between the entertainer and his star attraction. Certainly the new Hugh Jackman film The Greatest Showman, a highly fictionalized musical biopic starring Rebecca Ferguson as Lind, subscribes to the idea of an infatuation between the showman and the singer.
Nor is this the first such suggestion: fictionalized versions of Barnum’s life, including the eponymous 1980 Broadway musical, have often relied on the tension of a man torn between his steady, Puritan wife and an exotic European songstress. The love triangle is, however attractive, a fiction.
From unassuming origins, Jenny Lind became the darling of European opera. Born out of wedlock and into a dismal childhood, she was admitted to the Royal Theatre in Stockholm as a voice student at the age of nine, and by her tween years was a renowned professional singer. Read more from vanityfair.com…
thumbnail courtesy of vanityfair.com