Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An acute triangle

One day, it's Liv Tyler, and then it's Paris Hilton, or Ariana Grande, and who knows who the current "It Girl" is in American pop culture? It changes almost every day, and it's always the same: a young woman, blessed with looks and sometimes a certain amount of talent, is suddenly all over the place, famous for being famous.

Imagine how it was when the mass media consisted of daily newspapers, and no "Entertainment Tonight" or E! channel or Instagram to make the unfamous famous overnight.

Evelyn Nesbit was the It Girl of the early 20th Century, a young lady from Philadelphia blessed with a gorgeous face.  She became a model in the very early days of mass advertising, and performed in Broadway musicals, where she caught the eyes of Harry K. Thaw and Stanford White.  White was a very well-known architect, a man who designed many famous buildings of the day (including the Lovely Lane Methodist Church in downtown Baltimore.) White both created beauty and appreciated beauty, and he took up with young Evelyn, becoming both her lover and her generous benefactor. They never made it to the altar, though.

Harry K. Thaw sounds more like a man of these days...rich by inheriting a ton of moolah, leader of a dissolute lifestyle, an avid drug abuser, and severely mentally deranged.  Thaw liked the ladies too, and to his voracious sexual appetite, he added the fillip of being into bondage and whips and so forth. So when he fell for Evelyn, she refused his hand in marriage for four years, since she knew that he valued chastity in the women he sought to debauch and defile.

But they later married, when his ardor overcame his puritanical weirdness.  That was in 1905.  The top of Thaw's head probably would have come off had he known that his dream girl had done the hibbidy-dibbidy with others besides White, most notably John Barrymore, the greatest actor of the time, and Drew Barrymore's grandfather, to connect this sordid tale with today.                    

Thaw's obsession with the man who had "ruined" (his term) the lovely Evelyn overtook his life, and at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906, during a performance of a musical called "Mam'zelle Champagne" (as the cast sang "I Could Love A Million Girls") Thaw approached White, brandished a pistol, and fired three shots at White, killing him instantly, while Thaw hollered  "You've ruined my wife!"

The trial that followed was that century's Trial Of The Century, and Thaw was found to be insane.  He wound up in a mental institution, until he escaped in 1915 and paid off enough people to get a new trial, at which he was adjudged no longer insane. In the 1920s, he moved to Clearbrook, Virginia, lived on a farm and  joined the local volunteer fire company, dying in 1947 of a coronary thrombosis.

He was insane, all right.  He was crazy about old Evelyn.

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