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Cleo de Merode - 2.
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Page 8 of 12
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Back in the day, sex symbol status didn't necessarily entail any degree of bodily exposure. Take Cleo de Merode: while being an indisputable turn-of-the-century sex symbol, she never ever posed naked or engaged in any form of promiscuous behavior whatsoever. And yet the impact her beauty had on the masses was such as to set their collective imagination running wild. This could've been the reason for the appearance of the only nude likeness of the lady in question, a sculpture by Alexandre Falquiere, made when the subject was still in pre-puberty.
In reality, Cleo de Merode must've been true to the impression her portraits give, and that is one of a prim and proper as well as calm and collected damsel, with good looks to boot. Endowed with a winning combination of talent and diligence, she makes it big as a ballet dancer by the age of 13 as well as being voted the Parisian Beauty Queen by readers of the Illustrator, a popular French newspaper. The hairdo she sports onstage becomes her trademark and spawns numerous copies. In 1896, while she dances as Phrynee with the Ballet de l'Opera National de Bordeaux, her fame comes to a head, and a scandal breaks out.
One night, Leopold II, King of Belgium, comes to her performance. Enchanted by the young dancer, he sends her a bouquet of red roses in token of his admiration. The keen-eyed scandalmongers are fast to note it down, and the next day the grapevine has it that Cleo and the king are having an affair, the 46-year age difference notwithstanding. Now Cleo will never live it down. Her protests come to nothing, not even a lawsuit can clear her name. The more she tries to defend herself, the more nudges and winks it draws. The newshounds rub their hands with glee, the rabble point their fingers and snicker. Cleo is dubbed "Cleopold" by the press, and her famed locks are now said to serve the lowly purpose of hiding her jutting ears. Mortified by the ceaseless chitchat, she finally leaves Paris to dance all over the world. In 1915, she checks back briefly, but leaves again in the absence of worthwhile offers, never to return this time. Now isn't it outrageous how cruel the world can be to its darlings? First they worship you as all get out, but then one little accident, and… We shudder at the prospect.
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