Stars of Vaudeville #98: Evelyn Nesbitt
Originally posted in 2009
This gal’s fame was similar to that enjoyed by such wonderful recent “entertainers” as Lorena Bobbit, Monica Lewinsky, and O.J. Simpson. Nesbit was an otherwise undistinguished chorus girl, when her husband, insane millionaire Harry K. Thaw shot and killed eminent architect Stanford H. White, her former (and probably current) lover. Nesbit moved to New York in 1900 at age 16 where she modeled as one of the famous “Gibson Girls”. From here she became a chorus girl, landing a role in the landmark show Floradora. Her distinguished stable of lovers included not only White but also John Barrymore. She dated and then married Thaw who was out of his gourd, but wealthy. Here’s how we know he was insane. He marries a chorus girl, and then dwells upon the fact the she is not a virgin! At any rate, Thaw plugged White in the Rooftop Garden at Madison Square Garden in 1906, thereby increasing the circulation of newspapers and transforming himself and his wife into “somebody”, and ending the life of someone who actually was. White was the keystone of the firm McKim, Mead and White, responsible for the designs of the original Penn Station, the Morgan Library, and the Washington Square arch, among countless others. Now White was food for worms, and Nesbit used his grave as a foundation for a new career. Oscar Hammerstein nabbed her for his Victoria Theatre in 1913, offering her a whopping salary to do three dances, but really just to be Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. This engagement gave her a career enough boost to keep her working in vaudeville and films through the mid-20s.
In 1955, she was the subject of a bio-pic called The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, starring Joan Collins! But Elizabeth McGovern portrayed her far more memorably in Ragtime.
Evelyn Nesbitt is an abiding interest of my own General Jinjur, who has written about her far more extensively and memorably than I ever could. For that, go to http://cavigliascabinetofcuriosities.blogspot.com/2011/01/poor-evelyn-nesbit-american-eve-part-1.html
And here is some really cool footage I found this morning of the real deal, performing at a night club in the 1930s:
For more on vaudeville history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc