Circa 1920s– Lillian La France in her early Motordrome riding days. This must be 1924, or so. She looks a little green, and that signature smile and exuberant confidence is not quite present.
“It was the thrill of risking my life that made me to take to drome riding. I was the girl who flirts with death. From childhood I was inspired by wanderlust. I was always alone, dreaming of adventures– how to ride a pony out West, to follow my calling to fame. This was my secret. I shared it with no one.”
In 1894, Agnes was the second of nine girls born into honest-livin’, hard-workin’ Catholic family standards. She christened herself Lillian LaFrance and quickly shook the dust of her Kansas hometown from her boots sometime around 1916, and roared off to create the life she had always dreamt of, carving it raw as she went along. She began Motordrome riding in 1924, and left a blurry, yet brilliant legacy behind that still haunts many who are taken by the images of her incredible spirit staring back through squinty eyes in a copy of a copy of old grainy photos. She became known as the girl who flirts with death.
Great shots of La France– I’m a sucker for the aviator goggles, jodphurs, and riding boots!
Lillian La France and fellow Motor Drome stunt-rider. Looks like International cities where they performed are painted behind her.
Lillian La France and fellow stunt-rider on the Wall of Death.
Lillian La France and fellow stunt-rider on an Indian motorcycle in front of the Wall of Death.
ca. 1920s Motor Drome where Lillian La France and other Wall of Death riders performed.
Lillian La France started riding the Motor Drome in 1924, at the age of 30 yrs old, and was equally adept on a motorcycle or on four wheels.
Lillian La France sporting a jersey with a skull and crossbones motif– which was quite popular among the stunt rider set of the day. A symbol of rebellion and perhaps a manifestation of an inner, romanticized death-wish.
Charming, candid shots of stunt rider Lillian La France.
Lillian La france — The World’s Foremost Lady Stunt Rider — left, with a broken arm.
Honolulu, Hawaii, Circa 1930– Lillian La France photographed with the Side Show performers she traveled with. Including seven-footer, Johan Aasen, who also enjoyed some stardom in his day.
Lillian La France showing off with no hands on the treadmill at full rev. She was one of the first, and also one of the most popular, female Wall of Death riders of the 1920s & ’30s.
“I was never meant to have children, or to be a plain housewife. I saw how my mother lived, so you know married life never appealed to me– to endure what she went through…”
–Lillian La France
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here’s another for you:
“Violette Morris took to dressing like a man, smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day and regularly cursed a blue streak.”
“Violette Morris has a story that you couldn’t make up if you tried. Simply stated, it’s just unbelievable.”
“Born the niece of French General Gouraud, Violette Morris was a naturally gifted and strong athlete who excelled at sports. She was an accomplished boxer who regularly competed against and beat men. Morris also went on to become a cycling champion, later graduating to riding motorcycles and racing cars. She was so committed to auto racing that she actually had an elective double mastectomy (yes, she had her breasts removed!) so she’d be more comfortable behind the wheeled of the tight-fitting cyclecars she raced back in the 1920s. Wow.
During WWII when France was occupied by the Nazis in the 40s, Morris joined the Parisian Gestapo and worked with the notoriously brutal “rue Lauriston” interrogation squad. In 1944, while she was traveling with military colleagues by car from Normandy back to Paris, the French Resistance bombed Morris’ vehicle, killing her along with everyone else. Yup, she definitely lived life to the full and died with her boots on.”
Violette, without a doubt, falls into the determined category– taking it to new heights.
In fact, she’s really in a category all her own when I think about it.
I mean really– having a double mastectomy so you’re more comfortable behind the wheel racing? That’s pretty hardcore in anyone’s book.
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rad rad rad!
JP-another brilliant essay, incredidle!
Well now, restoring my 1972 Honda is not so far off after all! I’m pioneering right along with my predecessors! I love this piece, so inspiring! I read with great interest the piece you did on Bessie Stringfield as well! You are so right on!
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great work sharing the wall pictures-old indians never die!
Kindly hold off on the admiration for Violette Morris. She was not exactly a role model. She joined the SS in 1935 and was an active spy for nazi germany. Her sporting achievements are undeniable, she held the world record for the shot-putt, was french national boxing champion, was a multi-talented sports woman. She was a lesbian, and a sadist, enjoying inflicting pain, and causing many scandals, but it was her distribution of amphetamines to other team members which led to her being disqualified from the french team for the olympics.
During the occupation of Paris she was a member of a group which had carte-blanche to smash its way into houses and apartements of pretty much anyone they did not like, dragging the occupants off for interrogation, the jews to the concentration camps, they became rich on confiscation and black-market selling. But Violette particularly enjoyed her other job, as a gestapo torturer for female prisoners in Paris. Her favourite activities involved using acetylene torches, electrical shock from car magnetos, and whips on her victims.
Eventually, the Resistance ambushed a car in which she was travelling in order to execute her, and riddled her body with machine-gun bullets, as she so richly deserved.
She rots in a communal grave, unmourned.
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