Long before Elvis made the bobby-soxers swoon and Justin Bieber posters lined the walls of every teenage girl, these 19th century lads had the ladies reaching for their fans, and looking for the nearest fainting couch. It sounds like an oxymoron, but here are 10 of the hottest heartthrobs from the 1800s.
Beau Brummel, Fashion Icon And Regency Dandy
Harry Houdini, Magician
Magician Harry Houdini had fans that hailed from around the globe. Because he was a bit of a pack rat, his personal collection contained hundreds of their letters, which he had collected from his years in the spotlight. Among these were notes from young women, who often flocked to his shows to admire his boyish good looks and rather rugged (and often scantily clad) exterior. While the image of Harry Houdini as a kind and devoted husband to his wife, Bess, was one that was heavily played during his lifetime, since his death in 1926, rumors of multiple affairs—including those with female fans—have swirled in the public sphere. Whether or not these rumors were true, Houdini was certainly the object of many young girls’ affections in the late 1800s and early 1900s. And perhaps the picturesque appearance of Harry Houdini as a man immune to the intoxication of fame, may indeed be just another one of his illusions.
Edwin Booth, Stage Actor
While John Wilkes Booth certainly usurped his older brother in notoriety when he assassinated President Lincoln in 1865, Edwin Booth, the handsome and successful star of the stage, was likely the first real celebrity actor of his time. Women swooned over the Shakespearean thespian, often waiting after his shows just to catch a glimpse of him in person. This was a new phenomenon for theater in the late 1800s, and the staff of the playhouses where he worked, as well as Booth, were unprepared for how to deal with his clamoring female “fans.” Often bits of his clothing were torn as young women reached out to touch their acting idol. One such woman, Annie L. Van Ness, mentioned an encounter with her idol in her diary after she went to see Booth in a performance and was able to meet him backstage in 1869. “We met Edwin Booth and I feel dead in love with him immediately,” she wrote. “He has such magnificent eyes.”
Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s Iron Chancellor
You would think Prussian leader Otto von Bismarck, who lived from 1815-1898 and unified Germany, would be an unlikely recipient of undying female affection. However, the man they called the Iron Chancellor of Germany received well over 6,000 fan letters during his time in power. Nestled within these missives were professions of love from women who were already married (“I am unhappy in love but know that we could be wonderful together. I am a very good cook and stuffed pig’s stomach is my speciality.”) as well as dozens of proposals of marriage from women who were decades his junior. Apparently old Otto just had that etwas Besonderes that only 19th century German women could see …
Lord Byron, Poet
George Gordon Byron, known to us all as the poet Lord Byron, died at the age of 36 in 1824, but left behind an impressive anthology of romantic poetry than makes even the modern reader’s heart flutter.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright,
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
But Byron also left an extensive collection of love letters that were sent to him from his adoring, apparently sex-crazed fans, sometime between 1812 and 1814 that illustrate the power that his words had on the tender sensibilities of 19th century women.
Lord Byron, Playing Dress-Up
While scholars believe Byron destroyed the majority of his mail, in the 45 missives that remain, sexual undertones abound on the part of his many female fans. The occasional woman even offers herself up for a meeting with the caddish wordsmith, alone and—gasp—unaccompanied.
One such woman writes, “Should curiosity prompt you, and should you not be afraid of gratifying it, by trusting yourself alone in the Green Park at seven o’clock this evening, you will see Echo.” The young miss goes on to prove she is both accommodating and actually rather desperate, by writing, “If this evening proves inconvenient, the same chance shall wait you tomorrow evening at the same hour.” Ostensibly, Byron will only get two chances with this female fan, however, because she closes her letter with the following, “”Should apathy or indifference prevent your coming, adieu forever!” Even Victorian female Poet stalkers have their limits, apparently.
Franz Liszt, Composer And Musician
Liszt, Doing His Thing
Liszt’s female fans were actually obsessed with him, and would be overcome during his performances. The German poet Heinrich Heine, Liszt’s contemporary, dubbed the phenomenon “Lisztomania.” Women would flock to his shows, where Liszt would turn his piano to face his audience, his signature long hair thrashing against his face, as he swung his head to and fro while he played.
He dazzled them with his charm and sex appeal, and the scene was like nothing anyone in Europe had ever experienced. Women fainted and collapsed at the very beginning sounds of his Piano Concerto Number 1. Women threw their (19th century!) clothing on stage and elbowed each other out of the way for the chance to touch his boot or scrape up the butt of his cigar. It was chaos. Franz Liszt was clearly a rock star of epic… well… 19th-century proportions.
Giacomo Casanova, Lothario And Possible Feminist
A list of historical heartthrobs would be remiss if it did not include the original ladies man himself, Giacomo Casanova. Born in Italy in 1725, Casanova is so notoriously known for his romantic relationships with women that his name alone is synonymous with the word “womanizer.” But what is perhaps less well known about Casanova is how much mutual admiration he had from women, who found him to be much more sympathetic and attentive than his male counterparts of the late 18th century. Whether it was in an effort to seduce or that Casanova truly had progressive views on the intellectual capabilities of women, he was good—notoriously good—at making women feel heard. And boy, did they love it.
While We’re Talking, Let Me Lead You To My Bedchamber
Casanova left very detailed diaries of his life and within them, he divulges the minute particulars of over 200 sexual encounters with women. Because of his views, which placed women as his equals—a highly unusual perspective for the late 1700s—there was one reoccurring thread that was woven throughout all of these sexual experiences. First, he claimed that he would not sleep with a woman unless he found her physically and mentally stimulating. And second, he wrote that he aimed to satisfy the women he slept with both intellectually and sexually, each time they were together.
Okay, so it’s not that difficult to see why Casanova found himself with so many adoring female fans.