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Cora Urquhart Potter

Biography: 

(1857-1936)

A New Orleans belle who became a theatrical sensation and a notorious woman, Cora Urquhart Potter married New York millionaire James Brown Potter in 1877, moved to New York at the age of nineteen and installed herself as the focus of high society. An exhibitionist, she was not content with being the spectacle of the cotillions and threw herself in the amateur theatricals that then amused the 400. One of her recitations - "Ostler Joe," a tale of adultery and flight - provided the excuse to manufacture a scandal. Mrs. Potter insured that her manufactured reports of horrified auditors appeared in the papers. Instantly Potter's name took on a lurid conspicuousness. She judged it enough to launch a stage career.

When she and her husband traveled to England in 1886, she declined to return and announced her attention to seek a a career on the stage. She took leave of her husband and daughter. Her initial forays, Ann Silvester in "Man and Wife"(1887) and in "Civil War" proved modestly successful. She partnered with matinee idol Kyrle Bellew,forming the most gorgeous partnership in the theater. When she returned to America from Europe, she jangled the proprieties of the bon ton, particularly her New York performance of "Cleopatra" in which she bared her breast to apply the asp.

When in 1900 Jimmie Potter attempted to divorce Cora, she resisted, winning popular approbation in England. Eventually he secured the divorce, but could not compel her to surrender her stage name "Mrs. James Brown Potter"; it had become her brand. This rankled the second Mrs. Potter who in 1908 organized a society boycott of Cora's American tour, a welcome publicity.

If that were insufficiently attention-getting, Cora announced that she was joining the ranks of the suffragettes. Her vanity at times interfered with her artistry. When she sank her fortune into a elaborate staging of "Du Barry" she leased the Savoy in 1904-05, hired the most lux costumers, she could not possibly profit from the run. Her temporary bankrupts forced her to enter the employment of others. Her last appearances took place in 1912. David S. Shields/ALS