La Belle Otéro – Grand Dame of the Theatre

Carolina “La Belle” Otéro (4 November 1868 – 12 April 1965) was a Galician born dancer, actress, courtesan and possibly the worlds first film star.

Her given name was Agustina Otero Iglesias. After a troubled childhood she left home at age twelve and found small jobs in cafés, bordellos, and music halls. She married twice before finding a sponsor in Barcelona who moved with her to Marseilles in order to promote her dancing career in France. She soon left him and created the character of La Belle Otero, fancying herself an Andalusian gypsy.

At the age of twenty-one she joined the Follies Bergere in Paris. Otéro was pretty, confident, intelligent and with an attractive figure. After becoming the star of Follies Bergere she was a sought after courtesan to the wealthy and powerful men of the day. She associated herself with the likes of Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, Kings of Serbia, and Kings of Spain as well as Russian Grand Dukes Peter and Nicholas, the Duke of Westminster and the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. Her love affairs made her infamous, and the envy of many other notable female personalities of the day.

It was once said of her that her extraordinarily dark black eyes were so captivating that they were “of such intensity that it was impossible not to be detained before them”.

Six men reportedly committed suicide after their love affairs with Otero ended, although this has never been substantiated. It is a fact, however, that two men did fight a duel over her.

In August 1898, in St-Petersburg, the French film operator Félix Mesguich (an employee of the Lumière company) shot a one-minute reel of Otero performing the famous “Valse Brillante”, making her possibly the first film star in history.

Otéro retired after World War I. She had accumulated a massive fortune over the years, about US$25 million. Otéro died at the age of 97, by that time she had squandered all of her fortune away through her lavish lifestyle. In her final years she lived in a more and more pronounced state of poverty until she died of a heart attack in 1965 in her one-room apartment at the Hotel Novelty in Nice.

La Belle Otero

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La Belle Otero in an orientalizing costume for the Folies Bergere ... 

La Belle Otero in an orientalizing costume for the Folies Bergere, 1901

La Belle Otero

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La Belle Otero with Maria who portrayed her in the film La Belle Otero.

Upon meeting Maria, she said, “You are very beautiful, but, at your age, three men had already killed themselves over me.

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