Monday, July 14, 2008

mini book report- "American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the birth of the "it" girl and the crime of the century

I finally finished reading "American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the birth of the "it" girl and the Crime of the Century" by Paula Uruburu. The title alone is a good clue- this is a long book. It was not a fast and easy read at all, but it was detailed and interesting. Evelyn Nesbit was an underaged model and chorus girl in the early 1900s.

This is the story of her childhood and the events that led up to the murder of Stanford White. White was a famous architect in New York City (and elsewhere I suppose). He designed Madison Square Garden among other places. The book gives a lot of detail about Evelyn's relationship with White and others (including Jack Barrymore). The murder itself is but a flash, and then there is the aftermath- the trials of Evelyn's husband and the ordeals she had to go through.

What happened after the trials is another flash, which was disappointing to me, but understandable. This is not supposed to be a biography of Evelyn's whole life I guess. It's just an account of the events surrounding the murder of White, whom was Evelyn's benefactor and lover. Plus it talks about Evelyn's marriage to White's murderer, Harry K. Thaw.

I'll admit I'm more interested in learning more about Stanford White now, and how he managed to maintain so many secrets in his life without his wife's knowing, or maybe with her knowing and not caring. In any case, this book is good if you are interested in learning more about famous women from the 1900s, or about women in abusive relationships, and also about the theater life in New York in the 1900s, especially what was called the "Tenderloin district". From Wikipedia:

"The Tenderloin was a once-seedy neighborhood in the heart of the New York City borough of Manhattan. Police Captain Alexander Williams allegedly coined the term in the late 1870s.[1] This district was in Midtown Manhattan from 23rd Street to 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue to Seventh Avenue, much of which is known now as Chelsea and the Garment district. The northwest corner of the Tenderloin was Longacre Square, now called Times Square.

The Tenderloin was a notorious red-light district. The raffish reputation of the Tenderloin's 1890s bordellos, repeatedly raided by Anthony Comstock's vice squad, was recreated in the 1960 Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock musical Tenderloin, based on a novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams.

The Tenderloin of the early 20th Century is described from a police perspective in Behind the Green Lights, the memoirs of Police Captain Cornelius Willemse.

By 1914, middle-class African-Americans from the Tenderloin district started moving to Harlem, which had been primarily white.

The name appears to have fallen out of favor in the 1940s, when massive redevelopment of the area removed much of the associated stigma."

"Stanford White (November 9, 1853June 25, 1906) was an American architect and partner in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms. He designed a long series of houses for the rich and the very rich, and various public, institutional, and religious buildings, some of which can be found to this day in places like Sea Gate, Brooklyn. His design principles embodied the "American Renaissance". In 1906 White was murdered by millionaire Harry K. Thaw, leading to a widely-reported trial."

Information about Evelyn can also be found at Wikipedia etc, so I won't quote anymore of that. It's a long book, took me several weeks to read because of all the details, and honestly some nights I just wasn't up for it. So it sat sometimes a week in between chapters, but I got through it and now I know more about a piece of New York's history.

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