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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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“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
“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
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Michael and Barbara Foster have tackled the various primary and secondary sources, sifting thru both hagiographers and detractors, to produce a comprehensive and readable biography of the woman Samuel Clements once dubbed "The Great Bare" as well as provide context for the period in which she lived. For those interested in the history of the theatre and popular culture in the mid-19th century, their work provides a good exemplar in Adah's career with its highs and lows. It also provides a perspective on the position of the female performer in that period as well as a taste of the melodramas which populated the stage at that time.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Had never heard of this fascinating person before. So much for fame.
She had quite a life and worked hard to make something of herself.
Highly talented. Read more
Before there was Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, there was Adah Menken - the original American star of stage and scandal! Read morePublished on March 13, 2011 by Susan N. Horowitz
Wow. That was the best biography I've read in a while. I have special fondness for biographies of people who are completely unique individuals. Read morePublished on February 8, 2011 by Erik S.
This is a fascinating account of a fascinating woman who entertained the masses and influenced the important movers and shakers of her day. Don't miss it....Published on February 7, 2011 by Taosharon