La Femme Fatale
Carolina Otéro (1868 – 1965) Spanish born dancer, actress, courtesan, world-renowned seductress and member of the exclusive class of Grand Dames of the Theatre. Fancying herself an Andalusian gypsy, she sought and secured a sponsor early in life, fled to Marseille, created the character of La Belle Otero and wound up, not surprisingly, as the principle star of Les Folies Bèrgere productions in Paris.
With shameless conduct and a tireless work habit, she gained instant notoriety In her second Follies season with a self designed stage act that earned her recognition, disrepute and considerable wealth, most of it in the form of jewels, precious gems and pearls. With the help of the Parisian haute-couture designer Collette, Otéro created a wardrobe of scandalous costumes that featured diamond and pearl brassieres to enhance her most notable God-given asset — her breasts. Ogled by men, envied by women, she was a true arriviste, perfecting the art of social climber extraordinaire. In no time, she was known simply as
“La Belle – the Beautiful.”
So prodigious were her talents — and assets — she grew to be the most sought after woman in all of Europe. Both amorous and ambitious, La Belle plied her trade as a courtesan to the wealthy and powerful of the day, choosing her lovers with a diligence befitting a rabbinic scholar. No slacking lounge lizards to sully this temptress’s dance card.
Prudently, she surrounded 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 writer Gabriele D’Annunzio. Most femmes, fatal or otherwise, would have dropped to the fainting couch as a consequence of these all too frequently frenzied liaisons, but this Spanish sensation’s self-serving libido was dispensed with diplomatic discretion.
It was once said that her extraordinarily dark black eyes were so captivating and “of such intensity that it was impossible not to be detained before them”.
As men are wont to do around the dangerously elusive, at least half a dozen of them reportedly committed suicide after their love affairs with Otero and her famed bosom ended, although this has never been substantiated. But it certainly adds allure to the legend, no? What is fact, is the reported duel between two love-struck suitors so smitten by her charms, each was willing to fight to his death to win her love.
Inspiring attention and angst in her wake, La Belle was said to be pretty, confident, intelligent and famed the world over for those voluptuous breasts. One of her most famous costumes featuring said breasts were cleverly adorned with glued-on precious gems depicting the twin cupolas of the Riviera’s most famed hotel, the Hotel Carlton in Cannes, which rumor has it were modeled on La Belle’s well-endowed beauties.
There’s no dispute: her ample bosom served her well, enabling her to acquire and squander several fortunes throughout her lifetime. It’s told she enjoyed the casinos of Monte Carlo and was never bashful about betting or buying (She paid nine million francs (in US dollars of today: $15,000,000) for the home in the south of France where she retired shortly after World War I).
But as with most tales of this ilk, La Belle’s life was to end in what I have come to call alas. The legendary demimonde died in 1965 at the age of 97. She was penniless, but would no doubt take heart that her reputation and dignity remain intact with her most notable features immortalized at the Hotel Carlton.
Young Prince Peter of Russia was so besotted with Mademoiselle La Belle, he is rumored to have begged her for the slightest of consideration:
“Ruin me, but don’t leave me.”