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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

4.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for A DANGEROUS WOMAN

“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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; First Edition edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599216027
  • ISBN-13: 978-1599216027
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,424,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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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
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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Format: Kindle Edition
As a student of the history and development of burlesque as an American performance art form, I was already aware of Adah Issacs Menken as a performer who stretched performance boundaries in the mid-ninetheenth century. While scholars credit the arrival of Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes in 1868 with the start of burlesque in the US, "The Menken," was one of the most prominent home-grown performers who had already pushed the boundaries of what could be done on stage and prepped audiences for the leg shows to come. Adah shocked and titillated audiences with her cross-dressing roles, stage combat skills, and her signature "nude" (i.e., full body stocking) bareback ride as Mazeppa. Born to a woman of color in New Orleans, a convert to Reform Judaism, a published poet, and a part of the "bohemian" crowd as well as an actress, Adah achieved international acclaim and foreshadowed several of today's superstars with her selective reinvention of her past, public private life, outspokenness, and media savvy. As with Gypsy Rose Lee who also offered different versions of her history which appeared in print, this makes the job of a biographer difficult.

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.
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