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American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White: The Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century Hardcover – May 1, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Uruburu, an associate professor of English at Hofstra who has consulted for the History Channel, examines the notorious life of model and chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit (1885?–1967), whose rise to stardom was as spectacular as her subsequent fall. Born in rural Pennsylvania, Florence Evelyn Nesbit was an exceedingly pretty infant who by 15 had achieved success as an actress and model in New York City, where her blend of sultry sexuality and unspoiled purity attracted the eye of famed architect and playboy Stanford White. But Pittsburgh heir and sexual sadist Harry K. Thaw wanted Nesbit for himself and vowed to expose White's immoral conduct with underage girls. Thaw went on to brutally rape and beat Nesbit, yet she agreed to marry him. Still consumed with jealousy, Thaw shot White to death in 1906, leading to a headline-grabbing trial. Uruburu's depiction of Nesbit's early life and career is richly detailed, but the book loses steam near the end and barely addresses Nesbit's post-trial tailspin into alcoholism. Still, readers will appreciate the parallels between Nesbit's It Girl status and our own celebrity-obsessed culture. Photos. (May 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Americans have always been intrigued by sex and scandal. Even in seemingly more innocent eras, sexually fueled transgressions and crimes had the power to transfix the public. Uruburu recounts the salacious details of an early-twentieth-century crime that both shocked and gripped the collective public consciousness. A superstar by turn-of-the-century standards, Evelyn Nesbit, model, actress, and advertising creation, represented an idealized version of American womanhood. When her unbalanced millionaire husband shot and killed her lover, renowned New York architect and man-about-town Stanford White, the stage was set for a virtual media circus. All the decadent details revealed at the trial were devoured by a public just as hungry to see young, beautiful, and successful women crash and burn as they are today. Uruburu draws some valid comparisons between then and now in this tell-all biography of one of the first in a long line of tarnished “It Girls.” --Margaret Flanagan
Top customer reviews
This book shows us the rise of the cult of celebrity and how modern media made a star out of Evelyn. Nesbit was the first It girl and a famous Gibson girl. The sensational murder trial of Thaw set the pattern for tabloid journalism in the new century. Dr. Paula Uruburu of Hofstra University has written a readable and well researched story of a female Horatio Alger whose life was destroyed by sexual intrigue. A good book. Well worth a read.
Enter Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburg, a millionaire of sadistic habits. Metal illness ran in his family, and Harry ran hot and cold in his courtship of Evelyn. She put him off, knowing her shameful secret, but he browbeat it out of her. This gave him new power in their relationship and fueled his hatred of White, which was already blooming. At 17, Evelyn was raped by Thaw as he beat her with a dog whip. Nonetheless, she married him, thinking that no one else who knew her past would ever have her. Poor dear.
But it gets worse. Thaw's fixation on White reaches epic heights, to the point where he demands that Evelyn have the cosmetic dentistry paid for by his predecessor replaced by work that he pays for--leaving her with subsequent damage. Then one night in 1906 (with Evelyn present) he shoots White to death during a performance at the Garden. He shouts to the crowd, "I did it because he ruined my wife!" His trials (there were two) made her a key witness, having to tell the world her sordid tale in Harry's defense. His family promised her a million dollars and a divorce if she testified, but she only got the latter. Harry was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to a facility for the criminally insane. Evelyn went on to raise the son that she claimed was Thaw's, although he disavowed the boy, and spiraled down into alcoholism after the trial. In her time, Evelyn was portrayed as a villainess, a seductress who lured men to their doom. But she is more correctly understood as a victim, of her times and her men and her mother. Read the book to understand HER . . . she really was quite nice.
Some level of this is to be tolerated, and even expected, but the author's passionate condemnation of everyone surrounding her subject is so blatant that it detracts from the readability of her book. I'd have been much happier with a more balanced presentation. Alongside the obvious bias of the author, the unimportant details sometimes overwhelmed this reader; my interest in menu selections and specifications of the contents of buffet tables flagged long before the author tired of listing them.
On the other hand, it is an interesting story, and the numerous photos and paintings reproduced in this book are a decided asset. It's decidedly worth a read to anyone interested in the period, particularly if the reader can look beyond the author's bias.