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Date: May 09, 2008
Hofstra English Professor Paula Uruburu Celebrates Spring Publication of Her New Book
"AMERICAN EVE: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the It Girl and the Crime of the Century"
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY … One hundred years ago, the trial of millionaire Harry K. Thaw for the murder of his wife’s lover—renowned New York City architect Stanford White—engendered an unprecedented media frenzy. The woman at its center was Helen of Troy and Delilah rolled into one: the original Gibson Girl, the first “It Girl,” the Girl in the Red Velvet Swing—the first supermodel celebrity, Evelyn Nesbit. Thaw was acquitted by reason of insanity, but the real story behind the “Crime of the Century” was the rise and fall of that young woman, illuminated vividly in Paula Uruburu’s AMERICAN EVE: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White and the Crime of the Century (Riverhead Books; Publication date: May 1, 2008). Dr. Uruburu is an associate professor of English at Hofstra University.
Dr. Uruburu has been acknowledged as the expert on Evelyn Nesbit and has been widely published and has acted as a consultant to A&E, PBS, and the History Channel. Dr. Uruburu is also a specialist in American Literature, women’s studies, film history and 19th and 20th Century American popular culture. A native New Yorker, she lives in Lindenhurst, NY.
Evelyn Nesbit’s meteoric rise to fame, which marked the beginning of our country’s obsession with celebrity, and her catastrophic fall from grace, captivated a nation. Her husband’s trial ignited a media firestorm that marked the beginning of the modern era of publicity. In AMERICAN EVE, Dr. Uruburu separates the fact from the fiction, and puts the previously widespread, distorted interpretations of Nesbit’s life into accurate cultural context.
Born Florence Evelyn Nesbit in 1884 in the small town of Tarentum, Pennsylvania, she enjoyed a stable and secure childhood until her father’s untimely death in 1893. She, her mother and her brother were left destitute. Her mother was unable to cope with their situation and Evelyn and her brother were shuttled from one relative to another for several years. One day, when she was 14 years old, Evelyn’s extraordinary beauty was captured by a photographer, and a career was born. By 1900, Evelyn’s mother moved the family to New York, where her daughter could further her career and their income. Everyone who met Evelyn agreed that her looks were uniquely captivating, and she became the country’s most sought-after model. She then made the natural leap to chorus girl and actress.
Drawing on previously untapped resources, including family correspondence, personal photos, and original trial documents, Dr. Uruburu traces Nesbit’s life story in intimate detail, including her entrance into the modeling world, where she appeared in fashion spreads in magazines like Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan; and posed for the most in-vogue artists and photographers of the day, including Harrison Fisher, Howard Chandler Christy, Henry Hutt and Archie Gunn. Photos of Evelyn sold everything from soap to Coca-Cola to sewing machines.
If Evelyn’s public life was a dramatic rise and an equally dramatic fall, her mother played as large a part in the latter as the former. As Dr. Uruburu points out, from their first meeting Evelyn looked to renowned architect and purveyor of fine art Stanford White (architect of the Washington Square Arch, the 1890 Madison Square Garden, and much of New York) as a father figure. Her mother’s instructions to “obey” White proved to be catastrophic, as he was manipulative and without scruples when it came to young girls. Nearly three times her age, and with a wife and son of his own, White wined and dined her, and bought her childish gifts. While Evelyn’s mother was out of town one night in 1901, White plied 16-year-old Evelyn with alcohol and raped her, threatening her livelihood if she told anyone. Evelyn Nesbit, with no protective guardian in her life, accepted her fate as his mistress.
When their relationship cooled, Evelyn began to see other men, including the actor John “Jack” Barrymore and Harry K. Thaw, a multi-millionaire from a prominent Pittsburgh family. Thaw, who was known as “Mad Harry,” had been tracking Evelyn Nesbit for nearly a year, fascinated by her charms and jealous of Stanford White. Thaw played the part of a gentleman, and after receiving several marriage proposals from him, Evelyn told Thaw the shameful truth about her ruination at the hands of Stanford White. Initially professing sympathy, Thaw verbally abused Evelyn for two weeks before severely beating her with a leather riding crop and raping her in a castle in Germany.
Evelyn agreed to marry Thaw anyway, but his loathing for White was relentless. In fact, Thaw, along with an army of detectives and lawyers, was building a case against White for his abuse of Evelyn and other young actresses when, on June 25, 1906, he broke down and shot Stanford White before nearly a thousand witnesses in Madison Square Garden, which White had built. He shouted, “I did it because he ruined my wife.”
Dr. Uruburu vividly recreates Thaw’s two dramatic court trials, featuring a hard-nosed district attorney who badgered Evelyn, the star witness, forcing her to recount in open court every detail of her relationship with White. Evelyn hated Harry for what he did, but didn’t want him to be electrocuted, so she supported his insanity defense. After the trial, Thaw was placed in a sanitarium where conjugal visits led to Evelyn’s pregnancy, and the birth of a son who Thaw refused to acknowledge. Evelyn went on to live a full, if somewhat damaged life, traveling, performing in silent films and sculpting. She remarried and later divorced, and struggled to make ends meet until her death at the age of 82, in 1967, in Santa Monica, CA.
Evelyn Nesbit—the “American Eve” who proved a true femme fatale for Stanford White—helped usher the prudish Victorian America into and beyond the uninhibited Gilded Age. As quickly as she rose from poverty to privilege, she fell victim to a media frenzy that nearly destroyed her. In placing Nesbit and her story in the context of her times, Dr. Uruburu tells the story of an America on the cusp of the modern era.
Filmmaker and Hofstra alumnus Chris Rubeo collaborated with Dr. Uruburu to create a short video timed with the release of the book. It can currently be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCb3YNsUYJs&feature=email.
To read an excerpt from the book visit: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120905457260941943.html?mod=2_1167_1
Media inquiries regarding Dr. Uruburu and AMERICAN EVE should be directed to Jennifer Prost (973) 746-8723 / email@example.com and to Stephanie Sorensen, director of publicity, Riverhead Books (212) 366-2576.