Miss Kitty Lord and Her Egyptian Tours: A Burlesque Artist in Cairo, 1908-1912

Miss Kitty Lord graced international stages with her singing burlesque acts from 1894 to 1915. She performed in theater programs at the major music halls of London and toured extensively to Paris, Naples, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo—to name a few cities—becoming an international “eccentric star.” The postcards seen here date from her tours to Cairo, Egypt, where she performed at the Théâtre des Nouveautés du Caire (later called the Folies-Murger, 1911 onwards). Most are addressed either to her stage address or her personal residence in the rapidly developing theatre district of Azbakiyya.

Kitty Lord’s postcards offer a unique micro-history of Egypt during this period. At one level, the collection illustrates Kitty’s experiences as a foreign female performing abroad, shedding light on her theatrical audiences in Egypt and her affair with an Egyptian architect. From an art historical perspective, it invites us to explore the belle-époque architecture of Egypt’s urban centers, historical tourism of its ancient and Islamic sites, as well as the imagery of ethnography. This online exhibit explores these themes as an extended version of its physical counterpart on display at Harvard Fine Arts Library from Winter 2016 to Spring 2017.

The Kitty Lord Collection is unusual in that it represents a body of postcards entirely sent to or written by a single person, complete with almost all of accompanying stamps and dates provided by both the post and its correspondents. It offers significant views into this understudied area of Egyptian architecture as well as glimpses of now-demolished (or heavily altered) historic sites. With this online exhibition and accompanying bibliography, we aim to inspire others to take a closer look at Kitty’s life and this rich collection of historical views from Egypt in the early twentieth century.

Lovers, Audiences, and the Post

Often sent within Cairo to her residence and theatre of employ, these postcards largely came from her local admirers, reflecting a dialogue between visiting performers and local audiences. Although married, Kitty appears to have had some kind of affair with the most prolific of these postcard writers, M[onsieur Jack] Kouloussy Bey. His name is likely an improvised Latin-script spelling of Ya‘qūb Khulūsī Bey. Jack appears as a known Egyptian architect referenced in international trade journals like Le Béton Armé up until around WWI. He frequently includes notes that seem to hint at their romance (i.e. “I come tomorrow, baby” and “I always think of you”). Her other admirers proved more elusive to locate, signing their cards only as “Alex,” or “Leon Koffier.” Yet through these material gestures, their postcards to Miss Kitty give us an impression of theatrical audiences of the period and the appeal of foreign performers in Cairo to both foreigners and Egyptians alike.

The majority of her postcards are sent and received in Cairo itself, with a smaller number sent from Qina and Alexandria. Most are written and sent within the same day. These details reveal a more local use for postcards, contrasting their current function today as a token souvenir of distant travel. While we do have a couple international postcards that Kitty wrote to her mother, relating sites she may enjoy or recognize, for the most part, we see a use far more akin to that of a modern text message. Users received messages often within a day or two, which facilitated the exchange of frequent love notes.

--Gwendolyn Collaço, curator

January 2017

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