Did Jenny Lind & P.T. Barnum Really Kiss In Real Life? Their Romance In 'The Greatest Showman' Was Mostly Fictionalized
Inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, known for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Greatest Showman recently debuted in theaters, and one question that people who have seen the film seem to have is whether Barnum and Jenny Lind kissed in real life. Well, odds are they probably didn't, as their real-life relationship was very different than what was depicted in The Greatest Showman. The two weren't known to actually be romantically involved.
Spoilers ahead. In The Greatest Showman, Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman) enlists a number of people as he begins his career in the circus business, including Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who was known as the Swedish Nightingale, according to the New York Times. In the movie, Lind is portrayed as falling in love with Barnum, who was married to Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams), but after he rejects her advances, she quits the tour, which essentially bankrupts him. Then, Lind kisses Barnum on stage in front of cameras and an audience, which leads to Barnum's wife leaving him. The thing is, none of this ever seems to have happened.
Much to the contrary, Lind was known for being a consummate professional, according to Entertainment Weekly, and for the most part wasn't linked with many well-known men. In 1852, just two years after begun her American tour with Barnum, Vanity Fair reports, Lind married her accompanist, Otto Goldschmidt. "We are put together of precisely the same stuff," Lind once wrote about her husband. Lind and Goldschmidt were together until she passed in 1887.
Unfortunately, in portraying Lind as a scorned lover, The Greatest Showman doesn't exactly do justice to her reputation, and the film also doesn't really give enough attention to the entire reason that Lind was involved with Barnum in the first place — to raise funds for charity. As the Times notes, Barnum was known for being a "hype man," who promoted performers and events. Lind was already a well-known opera singer in Europe, who had studied at the Royal Theatre in Stockholm. According to the Times, Lind retired from the European opera circuit in 1849, when she was 28, and her final performance was attended by Queen Victoria.
In addition to her voice, Lind was also known for her philanthropy. In fact, the reason she agreed to tour the U.S. was to raise funds for Swedish schools, EW reported. In doing a total of 93 concerts in America, Lind earned an estimated $350,000 (or about $10 million in today's dollars), and donated all her earnings to charity.
Unlike what is portrayed in The Greatest Showman, Lind did complete her tour, though not with Barnum. The two reportedly parted ways because of a business disagreement, not because of a romantic rejection, because Lind did not approve of Barnum's marketing of her tour, which EW referred to as "relentless and tacky."
The romantic storyline between Barnum and Lind certainly isn't the only creative liberty the movie adaptation took with Barnum's life. Interestingly, as History vs. Hollywood points out, Barnum didn't begin his circus career until he was around 60 years old, a full five years after his museum burned down. The Greatest Showman definitely depicts Barnum as being a bit younger when he got into the circus game, as Jackman is only 49 years old in real life.
As others have noted, the movie also ignores a few other darker parts of Barnum's life that included reportedly exploiting some of the talents in his circus. He also was behind offensive shows that included blackface minstrel, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Overall it seems as though the filmmakers used quite a bit of creative liberty in telling Barnum's story, especially when it came to his relationship with Lind.