Thursday, September 29, 2016

Introducing Guest Blogger Anneke Beunen...and the original Gibson Girl!

"If there were women or men in the world who do not believe that their lives would make an entrancing story they are either very humble or very clever."

With this keen observation, Evelyn Nesbit begins her 1914 memoirs. It is a keenness and intelligence which was deeply ingrained in this enigmatic woman, who is still remembered today for her bewitching beauty and her unfortunate - and undeserved - notoriety. 

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was born on Christmas Day in the small and unassuming town of Tarentum, Pennsylvania. There is some confusion as to the year of her birth. Officially she was born in 1884, but her actual year of birth is most likely 1885. Even Evelyn herself wasn't entirely sure about this, since any records which could clear the matter up once and for all were lost in a fire. Evelyn's childhood was a happy one, spent with her father Winfield, her mother Evelyn Florence, and her brother Howard, who was 2 years younger than Evelyn. She was very much a daddy's girl, enjoying a close bond with her father, who encouraged her appetite for reading, music, and dancing. 

The carefree days of her childhood ended abruptly with the death of her father when Evelyn was about 10 years old. Although Winfield had been an attorney and was an educated and kind man, he had been neglectful of the family's finances. After the family patriarch's unexpected death, the Nesbits suddenly found themselves penniless and in debt. A difficult time followed for the family. Evelyn's mother, still very much a product of her Victorian upbringing, was hopelessly ill-equipped for her new role as head of the family. She was an emotionally fraught woman, who frequently gave in to endless bouts of hysterical sobbing and a variety of melodramatic behaviors. Both Evelyn and her brother developed a habit of sleeping with a pillow over their heads to block their mother's wailings. 

Money was tight, and the Nesbits were forced to leave the family home. Evelyn's mother made continuous efforts to find work as a dressmaker. The family stayed with various relatives as well as in boarding houses. Eventually the family moved to a boarding house in Philadelphia, where Mrs. Nesbit had found work for all three of them at Wanamaker's department store. It was in Philadelphia that Evelyn, now aged 14, took her first steps in her modeling career. She was approached by a local portrait painter and miniaturist, who asked Evelyn if she would pose for a portrait. After getting her mother's approval - which was given in large part because the family needed the money, and because the artist was a woman - Evelyn agreed to do a sitting, which lasted 5 hours and earned her one dollar. The impecunious Nesbits were more than a little amazed and impressed, and the thought occurred to them that Evelyn might be in a position to earn some much needed money for the family.

From that first sitting, Evelyn's modeling career began to take flight. She sat for various artists, and quickly became the most sought-after artist's model in town. One of the earliest photos of her is one taken by Ryland Phillips, when Evelyn was 15 years old. 

photo by Ryland Phillips
In 1900 the Nesbits relocated to New York, motivated by the idea that better opportunities - and therefore more money - could be found there. The family took up residence in a small back room of a boarding house in 22nd Street. Again, money was tight. There were times when the only meal of the day consisted of a biscuit and a cup of coffee. Mrs Nesbit seemed to have had a change of heart concerning Evelyn's modeling, at first flat out refusing her to take up modeling again. But eventually, given the family's dire financial circumstances, she allowed Evelyn to take the letters of recommendation she had received from the artists she had modeled for back in Philadelphia to James Carroll Beckwith, a well-known New York painter who was under the patronage of John Jacob Astor. Beckwith took her under his wing and introduced her to other artists and illustrators. Evelyn's modeling career continued to develop, and her fame grew exponentially. She sat for artists such as George Grey Barnard, modeling for his statue "Innocence", also known as "Maidenhood". Perhaps most famously, she inspired Charles Dana Gibson's illustration "The Eternal Question": 
painting by James Carroll Beckwith
"Innocence" (aka "Maidenhood") by George Grey Barnard
"The Eternal Question" by Charles Dana Gibson
Soon, Evelyn's face was ubiquitous. Her likeness could be found on magazine covers such as Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan and Ladies' Home Journal. Her face was used to advertise a wide array of products, varying from toothpaste to face creams. She appeared on an endless variety of items, from pocket mirrors and postcards to beer trays and sheet music. Evelyn's star was well and truly rising. 

Evelyn possessed an insatiable zest for life, and craved new experiences. "If I were a man I should have been an explorer", she writes in her 1914 memoirs. Becoming bored with the endless hours of modeling, she began to search for a new distraction. She was greatly attracted to the theater, and decided to try her luck there. She didn't necessarily want to become a famous actress, she merely wanted to be a part of the magical world of the stage. As she describes it, she just wanted to be "in it". At first, Evelyn's mother protested vehemently against her daughter's wish to join the theater, which in those days was considered to be a disrespectful and borderline indecent profession. But 15 year old Evelyn, mustering all her teenage stubbornness, relentlessly tried to persuade her mother, and in the end Mrs. Nesbit gave in. Evelyn was accepted as a Florodora Girl, and it wasn't too long before she rose from being a mere chorus girl to getting larger parts in stage plays. 
 Evelyn as Vashti the gypsy in the 1902 production "The Wild Rose"
  Evelyn as Vashti the gypsy in the 1902 production "The Wild Rose"
Her involvement in the theater also meant that she now had a double income; she was still modeling during the day, while her evenings were spent performing at the theater. These were happy times for Evelyn : "posing as a model by day, rushing to the play at night, the parties that so often ended when the day had begun anew". For Evelyn, it was "a careless period of life which was all white roses and down." Evelyn was happier than she had been in a very long time : "I was permeated with the delight of living."

In the autumn of 1901 Evelyn met the man who would change the course of her life in more ways than anyone could have possibly foreseen. Evelyn had caught the eye of renowned New York architect Stanford White, whose firm McKim, Mead & White was responsible for landmark structures such as the second Madison Square Garden, the New York Herald Building and the Washington Square Arch, as well as the private mansions of the likes of the Astors and the Vanderbilts. White was equal parts genius and beast; he was a flamboyant character, described by the newspapers at the time as being "masterful", "intense", "burly yet boyish". He was an intelligent and educated man, a collector of art and antiques, and a lover of all things beautiful. But White - "Stanny" to his friends - was also a notorious womanizer, with an unrelenting appetite for adolescent girls. And unbeknownst to Evelyn, she had been marked down as his latest conquest.
 Stanford White
With the help of chorus girl Edna Goodrich, White arranged a lunch time meeting with Evelyn. Edna took Evelyn to an unassuming building on 24th Street, where White had an apartment above a toy shop. It was one of several "love nests" White owned in the city. As dull and unassuming as the building looked on the outside, the inside was a different matter altogether. The decor was lush and exotic; red velvet curtains, fine paintings hung on the walls, antique Italian furniture, a variety of objets d'art strategically placed around the room, luxurious divans with Oriental silk cushions, and the entire scene was illuminated by indirect lighting, creating a soft, rosy glow. Young Evelyn was more than a little impressed.
Stanford White's studio on 24th Street collapsed in late October, 2007
Her initial impression of White, however, wasn't very favorable. To teenage Evelyn, the 47 year old White seemed "terribly old".  At 15 years old, Evelyn was still very much a child. She had a great love of mechanical toys or "automata", and was still very much a young girl in many ways. During her first meeting with White, he seemed enamored by her childlike innocence. After lunch he escorted Evelyn and Edna to a room on the top floor, which was decorated in shades of deep forest green. Much to Evelyn's amazement and amusement, in this room there was a "gorgeous swing with red velvet ropes around which trailed green smilax, set high in the ceiling at one end of the studio." White invited Evelyn to sit on the swing, pushing her ever higher, in the direction of a colorful Japanese parasol that hung from the ceiling. He encouraged her to kick at the parasol and try to pierce the paper with her foot. White seemed as thrilled by the childlike bit of fun as Evelyn was. 

Looking back on this period of her life, Evelyn displays a keen insight in White's insidious methods, an understanding of his "grooming" formula. "Men like Stanford White reduce their methods to an exact science", she writes in her memoirs. Even so, she is eager to stress that she does not hate him : "White is to me a memory as of a great experience. One remembers an earthquake without blaming or condemning the seismic forces that produced the phenomena. White was an earthquake that shattered to the foundations the fabric of innocence." She continues : "I can only represent him as he was. Of his failing we know - it was his one failing." She describes him as being both "kind and tender" as well as "(preying) upon the defenseless". "He was a benevolent vampire."
Evelyn's initial dislike of White quickly vanished upon discovering his wit, his charm, his great mind, and his remarkable conversational abilities. "Cleverness in a man or a woman has always been the supreme attraction", she writes. And as her friendship with Stanny began to unfold, she became ever more entranced by his intellect and his kindness towards herself and her family. White assumed the role of the Nesbit family's benefactor. He arranged for Howard to resume his education at Chester Academy, Pennsylvania. He installed Evelyn and her mother in a luxurious hotel room, ensuring their every need was met. He encouraged Evelyn's education, seeing to it that she studied literature, art, and music. He even arranged for Evelyn to see his dentist, to get her front tooth fixed, which had been chipped during a childhood ice-skating accident and was slightly discolored. From all outward appearances, White played the role of a kindly uncle, showering the Nesbit family with one kindness after another. Evelyn became a frequent guest at his parties, meeting many of the big celebrities of the period, as well as having more intimate meetings with White himself. 

White exerted a gentle, almost unnoticeable influence over many aspects of Evelyn's life. Including what she ate ("a girl must never let herself get fat") and drank. He was always careful that she didn't drink too much alcohol, only ever allowing her 1 drink. Looking back, Evelyn remembers "he wanted control - of when I had none." 

White introduced Evelyn to many of his artist friends, including renowned photographer Gertrude Käsebier, who took what is likely to be the most famous photograph of Evelyn, titled "Miss N."
Gertrude Käsebier photograph, "Miss N" - 1901. Published 1902
In November 1901, White began to encourage Evelyn's mother to visit some relatives back in Pittsburgh. Evelyn's mother was reluctant at first, hesitating to leave her daughter all alone in New York City. White reassured her : "I am here. She can hardly be alone when I am around to look after her." So Mrs. Nesbit left for Pittsburgh with a clear conscience. A few days after her departure, White took Evelyn to the studio of famed photographer Rudolf Eickemeyer jr. There, she had a marathon modeling session, endlessly changing costumes and posing for hours on end. By the end of the session, Evelyn was so exhausted that she drifted off to sleep on a bearskin rug, wearing a priceless Japanese kimono which Stanny said he had bought in Hong Kong especially for her. Eickemeyer immediately recognized a perfect opportunity and photographed the sleeping girl, thus creating another one of the most iconic portraits of Evelyn.
photograph by Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr.
The next night, Evelyn was on her way to a party at White's little hideaway in 24th Street, the place where the two had first met. In her 1914 memoirs she writes that up until that point she was "a child with no knowledge of the big and stunning facts of life other than any child has." Upon arriving, she was disappointed to find only White present. He informed her that all the other guests had turned down their invitations. But Stanny assured her "we will have our own party", and they sat down to dinner. Evelyn, having been painfully familiar with the pangs of hunger, had a very healthy appetite, and relished all the delectable delicacies which were a staple at all of White's parties. 
Uncharacteristically, on this occasion White allowed Evelyn to have more than her usual single drink of alcohol. She had several glasses of champagne, and eventually White took Evelyn upstairs, telling her that he had another room there which she had not yet seen. He escorted her to a small back studio, lavishly decorated with medieval tapestries, paintings and antiques. But above all, Evelyn was struck by the fact that "the walls and ceiling (were) covered with mirrors, the floor with imitation glass. The mirrors ... were so cleverly set together that they gave the appearance of being a solid sheet of mirror-covering. Here again, indirect lighting cast a soft glow over everything. At one side stood a large, moss-green velvet-covered couch, immense in so small a room. The multiple mirrors created an extraordinary effect; you saw yourself repeated in endless vistas." 

White then revealed another hidden room behind one of the tapestries. It was "a little bedroom, all hung in chintz", and a dark purple was the dominant color. In the room stood a four-poster canopied bed, with a little table next to it. The headboard, the dome of the canopy and the wall next to the bed were all mirrors, and around the top of the bed there were electric lightbulbs, with a series of buttons to regulate the lighting effects and the colors of the light, which varied from rose to soft blue. It reminded Evelyn of "fairy-book descriptions of nymphs' palaces under the sea". On the small side table stood another bottle of champagne and a glass. Stanny popped the cork, filled the glass, and handed it to her. As she remembers later, the champagne "tasted unusually bitter". Very quickly afterwards, she began to feel dizzy and sick. The room began to spin, and everything went black. 

When Evelyn came to, she found herself lying naked in bed, with an equally naked Stanny beside her. She noticed "blotches of blood" on the sheets and began to scream. White tried to silence her, saying "it's all over, it's all over". He took the bewildered Evelyn home, all the while instructing her to keep quiet about what happened. He pleaded with her one minute, covertly threatening her the next. As she recalls, he said to her "Everybody was bad, everybody was evil. Evil was the basis of life." The only sin was to talk. "It was a terrible thing to talk." A young, impressionable and vulnerable Evelyn, utterly lost and confused as to what to do, felt she had no choice but to accept White's explanation. Evelyn was not only influenced by her era's view on sex - consensual or otherwise - but she was also very skillfully groomed by White. Additionally, there was also the very real fear of White withdrawing himself from his role as the family's benefactor, cutting short her brother's education, evicting them from their home, and putting an end to Evelyn's career. 

So, Evelyn did the only thing she could do : she picked up the pieces and continued with her life as best she could. In her 1914 memoirs she writes how she was "dazed and bewildered, as all the fair fabrics of my faith crumbled into dust". She could only do what her survival instinct told her to do : lock away all the bad stuff in a remote corner of her mind and go on with her life. 

Despite his most recent despicable behavior towards her, Evelyn had grown to love Stanny. And for some time they became lovers, albeit secret ones. Evelyn would later write about White that he didn't ruin her life. "He merely made a way for me, a painful way, not the smoothest or the least exciting, but a way that was inevitable mine. It is not for me to judge, nor for you."

So Evelyn went on with her life, and notes : "I found myself almost as I had been before that night, with interests as keen, with as poignant a sense of humor as ever, though a change had come over me and though my angle of vision had changed."

In 1902 she met John Barrymore of the famed Barrymore acting family (grandfather of Drew Barrymore), who fell head over heels in love with Evelyn. There was a brief period of intense courting between the two, but eventually, through intervention of both Mrs. Nesbit as well as White, the blossoming romance fizzled and died.
John Barrymore
Then later that year, Evelyn met the other man who would change the course of her life forever.
Harry Kendall Thaw
Just like other theater girls, Evelyn had her fair share of admirers. She regulary received flowers, gifts, love letters, even marriage proposals. One of her most ardent admirers was Harry Kendall Thaw, the millionaire son of a Pittsburgh family who had made their fortunes in coal and railroad. "Mad Harry" Thaw had a long history of mental instability. His increasingly erratic behavior was kept under wraps by his wealth and status as well as through the efforts of his doting mother, Mary Copley Thaw, the iron-willed matriarch of the family. Harry's already fragile sanity was shaken further by his use of morphine and cocaine. Though he was given to all manner of sexual perversions himself, he had an unrelenting obsession with purity and chastity, seeing himself as the protector of young girls against "voluptuaries" such as Stanford White. Harry had long been obsessed with White, and when Harry fell in love with Evelyn this added more fuel to the fires of his obsession. 

Evening after evening, Harry visited the play in which Evelyn starred. he wrote her love letters and sent her gifts, all under the assumed name of "Mr. Munroe". Eventually, he had a fellow chorus girl arrange a meeting with Evelyn. They met for lunch several times, and he finally revealed himself to be none other than "Harry K. Thaw, of Pittsburgh!" A slightly bemused Evelyn could offer no other response than "Indeed!"

A friendship developed between Evelyn and Harry, who was very careful to always be on his best behavior with her. Although his strange antics were widely known, for the time being Evelyn remained blissfully unaware of Harry's mental instability. 

Stanford White, unhappy with Evelyn's frolics with both John Barrymore and Harry Thaw, arranged for her to take up studies at Mrs DeMille's elite boarding school for girls in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. In spite of initial efforts to keep her identity a secret from her school mates, the secret eventually got out and Evelyn soon found herself to be quite a celebrity at the school. She was "a real live actress transplanted into their midst." Although Evelyn was very unhappy to have been forced to leave her life in New York behind, true to her spirit she tried to make the best of things and settled into life at the school. 

In April of 1903 Evelyn suffered from acute appendicitis. She had an emergency appendectomy, and for her "recovery" Harry arranged a trip to Europe, for Evelyn, her mother and himself. In May of that year the trio travelled to England aboard the S.S. New York. 

By this point, Harry had proposed marriage to Evelyn several times, but she had always refused him. This might have been in part because she intuitively understood that marrying Harry wouldn't be a very good idea. But in part it was also because of her relationship with Stanny. She felt extremely guilty for not being truthful about it to Harry, especially given his obsession with purity and chastity, which began to make itself ever more clear to Evelyn. 

During their trip to Europe, where they visited England, France, Holland, Germany and Austria, the party had an extremely hectic itinerary. Much too exhausting for a still weak and recuperating Evelyn. Even more worryingly, Harry began to expose some of the madness that lurked beneath his gentlemanly veneer of kind solicitude. At every opportunity Harry would bring Evelyn's attention to statues of the Virgin Mother and various virtuous saints and martyrs, who had chosen death over giving in to sin. While visiting Domrémy, the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Harry wrote in the guestbook : "she would not have been a virgin if Stanford White had been around."

During their stay in Paris, the already strained relationship between Evelyn and her mother blew up to such a degree that they had a terrific row, and a furious Mamma Nesbit left the party to return to the States by herself, leaving Evelyn behind with Harry. One evening Harry visited Evelyn in her Paris hotel room, asking her once again to marry him. Again she refused, and Harry pressed her to tell him why she wouldn't marry him. Evelyn finally broke, and slowly and in minute detail she told Harry all that had occurred between herself and Stanford White. Harry was highly distraught, hysterical one minute and completely numb the next. Eventually he assured her that he forgave her, and the two resumed their travels. 

While in Austria, Harry rented a castle, Schloss Katzenstein, for three full weeks. After traveling at such a frantic pace for so long, Evelyn was glad of the respite. During their stay there, Harry suddenly revealed his Jeckyll & Hyde personality; possibly fueled by his drug use, he broke into Evelyn's bedroom one evening and proceeded to launch a devastating attack on her. He beat her, he choked her, he lashed her with a rawhide whip, and finally he raped her. 

 Schloss Katzenstein
Over the next few weeks, a completely dumbfounded and both physically as well as psychologically wounded Evelyn was completely under Harry's control. It was 3 weeks before she had sufficiently recovered to resume their travels. Aided by some friends she finally managed to return to the States without Harry. Evelyn distanced herself from Harry for some time. She renewed her friendship with White, who, upon learning what had happened during the fateful trip to Europe, took Evelyn to see attorney Abraham Hummel. Evelyn made statements regarding their travels and she signed an affidavit detailing Harry's vicious assault on her.

But eventually, because of her youth, her vulnerability, her impressionability and her longing for companionship, she tentatively allowed a now extremely kind and highly solicitous Harry back into her life. He resumed his relentless courtship of Evelyn, assuring her that all had been forgiven. He gradually won her over again, promising her the world, showering her with affection, and pledging his undying love for her. Harry's control over Evelyn became even more complete than White's. He even arranged for Evelyn to see his own dentist, who was instructed to remove and redo all the dental work that had been done by White's dentist. 

Eventually, for reasons only known to herself and against her better judgment, Evelyn married Harry in April of 1905. Mother Thaw had long objected the marriage, given Evelyn's low status. But Harry always got what he wanted, and in the end Mother Thaw gave in, on the condition that Evelyn's past must be buried and never spoken of again. Although Evelyn didn't learn about this stipulation until later, she certainly had no objections. "Nobody desired more earnestly to close my past; it needed less closure than obliteration."

Evelyn and Harry occupied a wing in Lyndhurst, the Thaw family mansion in Pittsburgh. She found their life there to be excruciatingly boring. Life consisted of luncheons and dinners with the Thaws, whom Evelyn found to be dull and uncultured, and who had no great sympathy for Evelyn, nor she for them. There were church visits, charitable bazaars, and endless dinners with ministers and their wives. Evelyn writes : "Those dinners! Those ministers who came in benign and stately procession! And last, but not least, those ministers' wives! They were good women; they invariably acted with a monotony and a sameness that led me to suppose that there existed somewhere in America a school for ministers' wives where they were taught to say the same things in identical terms." 

Evelyn was bored out of her head, and she especially had no patience for what she calls "a certain type of Christian". She was appalled by the hypocrisy and the shallowness of some of the people she met. She recalls one specific incident : "There was a clergyman who was a frequent visitor to the house, who had been associated with my marriage. He was very nice, a very fair specimen of Christianity. One morning, when we were sitting in the front of the house, a dog of mine came along, and in its light-hearted fashion jumped upon the knees of the reverend gentleman. His reward was a kick that sent the poor dog flying. I always tried to behave myself with that decorum that the position called for, but here was an instance that roused all the latent devil in me, and, to the horror and consternation of all the Thaws present, I rose and in such violent language as I could summon to my command, spoke very freely. It was not perhaps a tactful thing to do, but I am a great lover of animals."

Harry was on his best behavior during this period in their lives. Although there were certain peculiarities, such as his insistance that Evelyn should only wear white clothing. And of course his unrelenting obsession with White, which led him to press Evelyn for more and more details night after night, sitting on her bedside, sobbing as she was made to tell him of her dealings with White over and over again. But overall he did his best to be as good a husband to Evelyn as he could be. 

Because Evelyn's past as a chorus girl and artist's model should be forgotten, there weren't many instances where she was photographed during this period. But Harry did arrange for a photographer to come to the Thaw mansion one day, to take a type of picture which was very popular in those days. A sheet would be put up, which had various slits in it through which women would stick their heads. They would then have their hair pulled up, as to create the impression of the severed head of one of Bluebeard's wives. Many women would even whiten their faces with powder and apply fake blood to their necks, to make for an even more gruesome photograph. Harry had Evelyn pose for such photographs, which resulted in a collage titled "Evelyn's Moods" :
 "Evelyn's Moods" photo collage 
Evelyn's past may have been buried, but the Thaws certainly did not let her forget where she came from. They treated her as a sinner, and their cold attitude towards her added to Evelyn's unhappiness. In addition to this, Harry's unrelenting nightly visits, during which he compulsively pressed her to recount the details of her relationship with White, caused Evelyn to question Harry's sanity more and more, and she reproached herself for agreeing to marry him. 

Harry's longstanding and ever increasing obsessive hatred of White finally culminated in a dreadful climax. On June 25th 1906, during an evening out in New York with Evelyn and two other friends, Harry encountered Stanford White during the opening night of the play "Mlle Champagne" at the Rooftop Theater of Madison Square Garden. As the party was preparing to leave, Harry suddenly walked up to White, who was sitting at a table. He pulled out a gun and shot the architect point blank in the face, killing him instantly. A hysterical Evelyn made her escape, fleeing to a friend's house where she spent the night. Harry was arrested and imprisoned in The Tombs.

Harry was charged with first-degree murder, and the subsequent trial was to be dubbed the "Trial of the Century". It was the first instance in the history of American jurisprudence where a jury was sequestered, due to the overwhelming amount of publicity of the case. The public greedily lapped up every tiny detail, relishing in the scandal that unfolded before their eyes. The case had all the necessary ingredients to make for a sensational story : the famed architect, the millionaire playboy, the celebrated model and actress, the mysteries and intrigues of the rich and famous, with a side of sex and a main course of murder. People couldn't get enough of it. 

Harry was tried twice for the murder, over the course of several years. The first trial was declared a mistrial, when after 47 hours the jury emerged deadlocked. Seven members of the jury had voted guilty, five not guilty. At the second trial, Harry pleaded temporary insanity. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sentenced to life imprisonement at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Fishkill, New York. In 1913 Harry escaped from prison and fled to Canada, but he was caught again and extradited to the US in 1914. In July of 1915, a jury found him to be no longer insane and he was released from prison. However, the following year he was again arrested and charged with the kidnapping, beating and sexual assault of 19 year old Frederick Gump. He was again incarcerated, and released in 1924. 

Evelyn had testified on her husband's behalf at both murder trials. The proceedings took an enormous toll on her. She was emotionally distraught, acutely aware of the fact that her husband's life might lay in her hands. She was constantly hounded by the press, which only added to her distress. Photographs taken by journalists at this time show an emotionally drained and stressed Evelyn. 

 Evelyn's testimony included all the sordid details of her year-long relationship with White, which was presented as the cause for the murder. She felt dreadfully embarrassed, struggling immensely with the fact that all the details of her private life were now public property. She writes : "The pressure of Harry's finger upon the trigger had done more than send the swift bullet upon its terrible way. It had released the curtain, which hid us all from the gaze of the world. All these eyes that stared, all these fingers that pointed, startled me. I have a dim recollection of being haunted by an army of reporters. I see again the flaming headlines that told the world of Harry's mad act."

Through both trials and Harry's subsequent imprisonement, Evelyn stood by her husband. In 1910 she gave birth to a son, Russell William Thaw. Evelyn maintained that Russell had been conceived during a conjugal visit while Harry was confined in Matteawan, although Harry always denied paternity. Evelyn eventually divorced Harry in 1915.

In 1911 Evelyn's mother, with whom she had by now reconciled, took on the role of Russell's caregiver, while Evelyn tried to build a new life for herself and her son. She began to appear in vaudeville acts, and in 1916 she married her dancing partner Jack Clifford.
 Evelyn and Jack Clifford
 Evelyn and Jack Clifford
 Evelyn and Jack Clifford
 Evelyn and Jack Clifford
But Evelyn's past continued to haunt her. The public would never let her forget her past, and audiences frequently turned out in droves to see the "lethal beauty". Clifford was unable to deal with his wife's notoriety. He finally grew tired of being "mrs Evelyn Nesbit" and left her in 1918. Evelyn eventually divorced him in 1933. 

Evelyn went on to star in a number of silent films, frequently alongside her son Russell. These films are now lost, all that remains of them is a handful of movie stills. 

 silent film "Redemption"
 silent film "A Fallen Idol"
 silent film "I Want to Forget"
silent film "Thou Shalt Not"
Throughout her life, Evelyn embarked upon a variety of careers. In the 1920's she owned a tearoom as well as a speakeasy. During the 1930's she worked the burlesque scene, although never as a stripper. In 1939 she told a reporter : "I wish I were a strip-teaser. I wouldn't have to bother with so many clothes." She also wrote columns for a newspaper, and continued to be a regular fixture in the celebrity news.

Evelyn struggled with addictions to alcohol and drugs. There were money problems, brushes with the law, as well as several unsuccesful suicide attempts. But eventually she managed to overcome her difficulties, reinventing herself time and time again, and always making the best of her circumstances. She strove to better herself as a person, continuing to educate herself and studying subjects such as philosophy and religion.  

In the 1940's she relocated to Los Angeles, where she found a new career in teaching ceramics and sculpting, something which had always been one of her passions, at the Grant Beach School of Arts and Crafts.

In 1955 a highly fictionalized account of her life was made; Evelyn herself served as a technical advisor on the movie "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing", which starred Joan Collins as Evelyn. 

Evelyn and Joan Collins while filming "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing"

 Evelyn and Joan Collins while filming "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing"
Evelyn 1955 
Evelyn died of natural causes on January 17th 1967, in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California. 

Her legacy is still very much alive today. She remains an icon of her era. She was the first supermodel, the first "It Girl". She embodied the spirit of her time in a quintessential way, and yet she also transcends her era. Even today Evelyn's face and look is as ubiquitous as ever; books continue to be written about her, there are many websites which are dedicated to her, and her face still graces a wide variety of objects and trinkets, from phone covers and mousepads to christmas ornaments and jewelry. Her enigmatic smile and sphinx-like gaze continue to bewitch a modern audience. One can't help but wonder what Evelyn herself might have thought of the enduring legacy she has left behind. 

--- by Anneke Beunen

I'm 36 years old and live in a small town in the South of the Netherlands. I have a lifelong love affair going on with both reading and history, and especially the two of them combined. I also love writing, and although I'm by no means a "pro" I do enjoy writing poetry (just for myself, not meant to be published) as well as just generally writing with people. I started penpalling when I was in my teens, and writing with other people has always been something I enjoy very much. Although these days it is primarily online, instead of via letters.

And well ... I'm just a person who has a real passion for life and its many beautiful aspects. I love art, history, culture, literature, poetry, music, movies, and just generally learning as much as I can about the world. And hopefully even contribute something positive during my short stay on this globe. 

Thanks so much, Anneke, for sharing both your love of history and writing here on Enchanted Revelries! I do hope you'll return in the future and write for us again!

Now, my lovely followers, go make something beautiful!
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)(¸.•´ 
(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥


Anonymous said...

Very interesting, like it.

peggy gatto said...

Fascinating, just loved reading this story. I do remember the girl in the red velvet swing and this info made it so much more interesting! Thank you Tristan!!!

JP Bloch said...

Fascinating woman! I did not know she became a sculptor or lived so long. Very well researched and written.

Heather said...

fabulous article, Thank you Anneke, a very facinating artical and well written.

Tommy. said...

Amazed that a single person could jam so much into one life.

Lloydene said...

Wonderful article, Anneke. You really did a lot of research and captured Evelyn's essence beautifully.

Unknown said...

Excellent reading- what a fascinating life Evelyn led, this should be expanded into a book. I also loved the many accompanying photographs. Thank you so much for sharing this Anneke! I love to learn about strong, creative women. I really do hope you write a book.

GK said...

Excellent article.