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Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, And Scandals Of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America's Original Superstar Hardcover – February 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Globe Pequot Press; First Edition edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599216027
  • ISBN-13: 978-1599216027
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,950,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews



“The Fosters’ skillful narrative biography of nineteenth-century superstar Adah Menken captures the richness and complexity of this Civil War-era Jezebel, an archetypal American bad girl.”

—Eve LaPlante, award-winning author of American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans

Praise for Adah Isaacs Menken

“A magnificent spectacle dazzled my vision—the whole constellation of the Great Menken came flaming out of the heavens.” —Mark Twain

“Adah was the premier sight of the West, the Rockies a very poor second.” —Life magazine

“This is she . . . the world’s delight.” —Algernon Swinburne

“She is so lovely she numbs the mind and the senses reel.” —New York Post

“The inspired Deborah of her people.” —Baron Lionel de Rothschild

“Today’s Hollywood celebrities have nothing on the glamorous, scandalous, tragic and paradoxical Adah Isaacs Menken.” — American Jewish Historical Society

“Adah Menken was the most remarkable mingling of angel and devil.” — Napoleon Sarony, the first celebrity photographer

“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. She eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.” — Arthur Conan Doyle on Irene Sadler, his character based on Menken

From the Inside Flap

Marilyn Monroe might never have become the legend she did without America’s original tragic star: actress and poet Adah Isaacs Menken (1835–68). In a century remembered for Victorian restraint, Menken’s modern flair for action, scandal, and unpopular causes—especially that of the Jewish people—revolutionized show business. On stage she was the first actress to apparently bare all. Off stage she originated the front-page scandal and became the world’s most famous, highly paid actress—the darling of New York City, San Francisco, London, and Paris. At thirty-three this femme fatale mysteriously died. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, at her bedside, composed a farewell poem.

A Dangerous Woman is the first book to tell the entire fascinating story of Menken. Born in New Orleans to a “woman of color” and to a father whose identity is debated, Menken became a true daughter of Texas in her teens, learning to shoot and ride. Eventually she moved to the Midwest, where she became an outspoken protégé of the rabbi who founded Reform Judaism. Adah wrote heartfelt verse and essays in defense of the Jewish people. Later, in New York, she became Walt Whitman’s ally and a revolutionary figure in her own right. During the Civil War she was arrested as a Confederate agent—and became America’s first pin-up superstar.

Menken married and left five husbands. She could sing and dance, and she was a wonderful comic. She was fond of gambling the night away dressed in men’s evening clothes. She rode horses astride, took and discarded lovers, and wore revealing sheath dresses in an age of hoop skirts. Ultimately, this naughtiest of Victorians—who fought racial, religious, and gender oppression in her own time, and today represents sexual liberation for men and women alike—paid dearly for success.

More About the Author

My mother said I kicked to get out of the womb and ran away from home at age nine months to be returned by a fireman. I was born in Coney Island, Brooklyn. My folks, a loving happy couple, ran a lunch counter with a Murder Incorporated gambling operation in the back room. The tough kid on the block, I read the Russian classics by age 10, and was awarded a full scholarship to Cornell at 16 and Harvard Law at 20. But I left Harvard to join Che in Cuba and write historical novels, biographies, and erotic history. I was destined to create new ideas and relationships. My books include the Revolutionary War novel Freedom's Thunder; two biographies of the French woman explorer of Tibet: Forbidden Journey and The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel (called one of the best books ever written by NY Review of Books); and Three in Love: Menages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times, named "racy and engaging" by Entertainment Weekly. Upcoming in February, 2011 is A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, America's original superstar, a woman of color, Jewish, and a cross-dresser. She could run for governor of NY on that ticket. Adah Menken's website is http://www.thegreatbare.com named for a famous quote about Menken made by her friend Mark Twain.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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I found the biography informative, absorbing, and very entertaining.
Bernadette Miller
The information presented takes you way, way back in time when the US was a simpler but still complex place.
Larry Zawadzki
One such woman and most likely the first true female celebrity entertainer was Adah Isaacs Menken.
Charles Ashbacher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bernadette Miller on January 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Fosters have done it again! An unputdownable biography of a Victorian era icon, Adah Isaacs Menken. The prose races ahead like a thriller, yet is filled with finely-researched details. This vivid portrait captures the essence of a true Bohemian who died at the height of her fame, like Marilyn Monroe, and packed several lifetimes into her 33 years on Earth. She had five husbands, including a world-champion boxer who abandoned her with his child, gained fame as the "naked lady," although she wore a body stocking, inspired a Sherlock Holmes story, "Scandal in Bohemia," wrote poetry, and hobnobbed with such luminaries as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Alexander Dumas, and Longfellow. She was acclaimed as an actress, and vilified for daring to smoke in public, wear men's clothes, and gamble the night away. Michael and Barbara Foster have brought back to life this remarkable woman ahead of her time. I found the biography informative, absorbing, and very entertaining. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Eva C. Schweitzer on January 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I'm so happy that I found this book on Adah Isaacs Menken, the nineteenth century superstar who is so totally NOW. The Fosters readable, yet very documented biography, brings to life this fabulous charmer who revolutionized entertainment with a 21st century flair. During the Civil War, she seems to have known so many significant cultural icons: Mark Twain, Alexander Dumas, George Sand, Longfellow. Multicultural before the fashion, part Jewish, Irish and African American, she touched all the bases. A Dangerous Woman is a life very well written up, which tells a story the general reader as well as the specialist will be enthralled by.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By booker on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I thought it was a middle of the road bit of non-fiction: plenty of new information, but unfortunately tarnished by obvious bias from the authors.

Menken's been written about before for years, but since she was one of those celebrities with an ever nimble imagination when it came to facts about herself, the most mundane details have become totally obscured over time. This biography has some amazing research in uncovering Adah's true parentage and her early years before she became a sex symbol in the years leading up to and during the Civil War, and explores why she is claimed as one of their own by the Jewish, Lesbian, and African-American communities. She was, apparently, all three - although the second is, as always, up for debate in absence of plainly-stated evidence. Throughout, the authors aren't always upfront about when they're stating irrefutable fact and when they're filling in the gaps with educated guesses (or wishful thinking) about this or that aspect of Menken's life.

The main gripe I had with this book - and with any biography like it - is that the authors are obvious fans of Menken's, and the partiality often was full-blown advocacy. I really don't like it when a biographer is so biased in favor of their subject that most events described become a story of "Him/Her vs. All the Haters."

This was the case here, with Adah portrayed as having faults, yes, but nothing worthy of any critical editorial comment, whereas anyone who said a bad word against her or had a moment where they didn't act in Menken's best interests got some scathing aside by the authors.
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Format: Hardcover
With the modern world full of celebrity women that act, bare their bodies, sing, dance and sometimes do all four, the first such women are often forgotten. The Victorian age of the nineteenth century was a time of harsh morals, albeit with many of them twisted and unusual. In terms of sex, the virtuous woman was a passive and dutiful recipient of her husband's semen; her purpose was to convert it into children. On the other hand, the gentleman that wanted to enjoy sex with women that enjoyed it felt free to keep a mistress or frequent the more reputable houses of "ill repute" in order to satisfy his urges.
In those hypocritical times, there were some women that stretched the moral code, engaging in scandalous behavior that made them famous and rocked the world. One such woman and most likely the first true female celebrity entertainer was Adah Isaacs Menken. Jewish and almost certainly possessing some African blood, she titillated audiences of both sexes from San Francisco to Paris.
Adah was married several times to a wide variety of men, from writers to a prizefighter. She also took several lovers and she was the first to realize the value and necessity of publicity for stardom, although she was most likely the first to have the opportunity. With the widespread establishment of the telegraph, news could now travel at a rapid rate across the United States and even across the Atlantic.
Known as "the Menken", a precursor to single-named stars such as Madonna, Cher and Britney, her life story is one of rising from a dubious and uncertain background to being an international star to having her death greeted with an inconsequential public hiccup.
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