Beatrice Lillie? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The story of a snobbish person experiencing a comeuppance has been the template of many entertaining and satisfying anecdotes. Are you familiar with the tale of the actress Beatrice Lillie and the imperious wife of a wealthy Chicago meat-packer? Was this incident genuine or apocryphal?
Quote Investigator: Beatrice Lillie was a popular performer on stage and screen in Britain and United States. She married Sir Robert Peel in 1920, and thus on appropriate formal occasions the name Lady Peel was applicable.
The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI appeared in the widely-syndicated gossip column of Walter Winchell in 1931. Lillie and two members of her theatrical group visited a Chicago dress shop for a fitting according to Winchell. The “wife of a stock yard prince” became unhappy when she entered the fitting room. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
“Oh,” she oh’d haughtily. “I did not know show girls were here for a fitting or I would certainly have made my appointment for some other time.”
La Lil’e burned up, but went in for her fitting. As she ankled out of the shop, she meowed within the haughty one’s hearing: “Tell the butcher’s wife that Lady Peel has been fitted and she may go in now.”
Several different versions of this story began to circulate during the following decades. The last name of the meat-packer’s wife was not specified by Winchell, but other anecdotes mentioned both Armour and Swift. Beatrice Lillie recounted the tale in her 1972 autobiography “Every Other Inch a Lady”, and the details for this important instance are given further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1931 December 18, The Scranton Republican, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 5, Column 5, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩