The origins of dancer, Saharet are shrouded in mystery. Although claiming to be born in Melbourne there is no record of her in Victorian birth records. What is known of her early life was told in anecdotes and press releases. The veracity of this information is questionable.
According to a hand written note on the back of a postcard, Saharet was born in 1879. Her real name was Clarissa Campbell or Clarice Campbell, and her birthplace was Ballarat. She was one of two sisters and her mother was a circus performer whilst her father was a Scottish sailor.
Very little is known of her early life in Australia. In a 1909 interview Saharet revealed some details.
‘People, who came to our home in Melbourne Australia where I was born, told me
that I was beautiful and should go on stage. First Musgrove placed me in a pantomime
in Australia and then brought me to London, and for five years I did nothing but dance
In 1914, Clarissa’s first husband, Ike Rose, told a different story. According to Rose, Saharet made some appearances in pantomime in Australia, but after the death of her sister, the family moved to San Francisco. The year was 1893 and Clarissa was 14 years old.
After her arrival in the United States, Clarissa began to dance in sideshows and burlesques. When a leading burlesque dancer took ill, Clarissa replaced her at San Francisco’s Bush Street Theatre. Shortly afterwards, she was engaged by MB Leavitt and taken to New York, where she earned 5 pounds a week.
Whilst in New York, Clarissa at 16, met and married Ike Rose, a theatrical agent. The pair met at the Miner Bowery theatre in New York. They soon had a daughter and Clarissa retired from the stage.
Her retirement was of short duration. Three months after the birth of her daughter, Clarissa received an offer from Koster and Bial. The offer was for twelve pounds a week and the 17 year old Australian thought that she had finally made the big time. Her husband did not agree and arranged a short two week engagement with the company.
It was at this time that Clarissa was rechristened Saharet. A contemporary controversy surrounding the Sahara desert suggested the name.
Saharet’s turn at Koster and Bial was a fourteen minute acrobatic, high kicking ,dance. She would suddenly appear on stage and grabbed the audience’s attention by whirling her bare legs whilst her body was hidden by the stage curtain. The highlight of her turn was the splits. Her vivacity and audacity charmed the audience and soon she was acknowledged as one of the greatest high kickers in vaudeville.
Saharet’s turn was pure burlesque and included a daring and risqué element. According to Ike
For years and years she never made the least pretence at doing anything
of a delicate, artistic character
Soon Saharet had reduced her fast moving turn to a mere seven minutes. She was so successful that Koster and Bial engaged her for three months and her wages escalated to thirty pounds per week.
This engagement was the beginning of a lucrative and colourful career.
After a sensational season with Koster and Bial, Saharet travelled to London. The year was 1897 and she appeared at the Palace Theatre. Her performance caused a sensation that echoed all the way back to Australia. The Sydney Referee newspaper asked readers ‘ Where can this artist of whom so much has been heard of late, have appeared in Australia?". The readers had no answer.
Saharet’s Palace engagement was extended from four to eight weeks. Her hight kicking style and charismatic stage presence lead to further engagements in Europe. From London she went to Paris and then to Berlin. In Germany she was tremendously popular. She was earning 150 pound per week and topped the bill at the Wintergarden. Her fame was such that a German artist, Von Lenbach painted her portrait and paid one hundred pounds for the privilege. Von Lenbach called her ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ Artist Von Stuck painted another portrait. As the century progressed and photography emerged, she became ‘the most photographed dancer in Europe.’ Saharet’s beauty captivated European audiences and European critics saluted her dancing talent.
Between her and the other dancers stands a wall that the others can never hope to surmount, the divine
Saharet is so far removed from them all.
Husband Ike Rose estimated that between the years 1896 and 1909 Saharet signed contracts worth over 65 thousand pounds. It was an enormous amount of money for the time. She spent it lavishly and enjoyed fine clothes and jewellery. Clarissa was particularly fond of diamonds and once her husband saw her spend 1000 pounds on a pair of diamond earrings. She was generous with her wealth much of it being given to family and friends.
In 1909 an American newspaper described the famous dancer
Her face is a perfect oval, her mouth is red and well shaped, her nose set high,
the cheeks finely modelled and the eyes, large expressive and almond shaped with long
curling lashes. She is not more than 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs about 130 pounds.
In pictures she appeared to be stockily built with powerful stubby legs. In interviews she emerged as an honest character who on occasions could be vacuous. She had a quick nervous manner, but possessed extraordinary charisma.
Times were changing in 1909 and vaudeville theatre was changing with it. Burlesque was fading and family friendly routines were popular. Saharet was wise enough to alter her dance routine to fit into this environment. Yet she was also audacious enough to include some of her more risqué trademarks.
That year she appeared at Oswald Stoll’s Coliseum theatre in London. She had added a male dancer to her act, Signor Plauton. The pair danced a minuet and a tango. London critics regarded her attempt at the minuet as unsuccessful. They admitted that she was graceful, but thought that the stately nature of the dance did not suit her temperament. Her tango with Signor Plauton was more successful and applauded by critics.
During this season, her fame spread to her native land. Theatre Magazine described Saharet in glowing terms.
Her southern face is a sparkle with languorous vivacity. The very poise of her head is grace,
The length of limbs, the exquisite shoulders and bust, the little feet like pinions
combine to make her in appearance as well as in reality an ideal dancer.
For the next two years Saharet continued her non stop tours of Europe and the United States. By 1911 she had returned to the Coliseum. Signor Plauton again accompanied her. The pair danced the minuet and the tango and audiences were astounded by her trademark exit. Saharet would throw one leg right over her head and hold the ankle with her hand, whirling the leg at the audience, she would disappear with a saucy wink.
That season at the Coliseum was also notable for dramatic events off stage. Clarissa’s marriage to Ike Rose was falling apart. According to the dancer she received information about her husbands ‘mode of living’ which was incriminatory. The principal evidence in the subsequent divorce was an entry in a hotel visitor’s book. Clarissa stated that her husband had been cruel and ignored her. In 1914 Rose was blaming certain ‘Spanish gentlemen’ for the split. Regardless of cause, it was clear that by 1911 the marriage was over.
It soon became clearer that American millionaire, Fritz von Frantzius had become infatuated with the dancer. Some years before, Fritz and his wife had been in Pittsburgh where they had seen Von Stuck’s painting of Saharet. Fritz immediately bought it and began a long obsession with the sitter. Ironically Saharet considered the portrait ugly. Fritz disagreed. He divorced his wife and followed the dancer around the world. In November 1912, when Saharet’s divorce became final, she was dancing in Moscow. Von Frantzius was there too. When she became free he began a long and persistent courtship .
In June 1913, Von Frantzius issued an ultimatum to his wandering love. Marry me immediately and give up the stage. Saharet dithered for a day and then agreed to sign a contract stating that she would never again dance publicly. On June 23rd the stage was set for the culmination of Fritz’s dream.
Saharet, dressed in champagne coloured tight skirt, white plumed hat and satin slippers with four diamond buckles on each shoe, walked into the marriage bureau clutching a large bunch of roses. After vows were exchanged she told reporters.
I am happy, but if you take my advice, don’t do it. I’ve been there before and I know.
My dear, dear, Fritz, he has been so persistent and he is going to be so kind to me.
She seemed to be in strange mood that day as she trilled a scale and reputedly sang.
I’ll be true to monkey doodle do way down in jungle land.
She stayed true a mere four days, ripped up the contract and flew to Europe to fulfil dancing engagements.
The shocked bridegroom was optimistic about her return. He told reporters that July
She has gone to Europe, yes, but she will return in September. We love each other
and always will.
The Von Frantzius home in Chicago was festooned with portraits of his wife, Her pictures covered every wall in the house. The building was a shrine to the brown eyed, dark haired, rosy cheeked Australian .
Fritz was hopeful when September arrived. Saharet did indeed return to Chicago but had a nasty surprise for her husband. She was performing in the city with her new dance partner, Signor Florido. Fritz heard rumours that the pair had been embracing outside the Bismarck hotel. He engaged lawyers and detectives to investigate and Saharet and her partner were caught in a very compromising position. The couple ensured detection by leaving the key in the lock of their rented hotel room. During the subsequent divorce hearings, Von Frantzius was described as speaking weakly and without composure. Two years later he died a broken and bankrupt man.
Clarissa and Signor Florido announced their intention to marry. However, Florido had complex marital problems to untangle. Meanwhile the pair continued to tour. In 1913 they toured the United States. Their first appearance in Los Angles gained rapturous reviews.
Saharet is lovely, she is graceful, she wears gowns that are dreams and she is a poet.
What more can one say in eulogy of a dancer. And almost the same terms of laudation can be
applied to Florido.
Saharet and Florido never married but their dance partnership lasted for some time. In 1915 Clarissa appeared alone at the London Coliseum. Yet the next year, she appeared with Florido. The two performed a polka, and several Spanish dances. After that date performances became rare and unnoticed.
A short article in the Chicago Tribune of 1917 seemed to be the final note of Saharet’s career. On June 2nd 1917 Clarissa Campbell Saharet Rose Von Frantzius married Maxim P Lowe, a theatrical agent of Chicago. The marriage took place in New York. The bride remained in that city whilst the groom returned to Chicago.
Saharet was undoubtedly a woman of strong character, a beautiful lady who bewitched painters, millionaires and worldwide audiences. She was a graceful, nimble and audacious dancer, diamond lover, and above all a devotee of the dance. Her image remains in Edwardian postcards and forever associated with posters of the Moulin Rouge. In these images there is a glimpse of the cheeky, mischievous, young woman who conquered the world with her feet.