American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the It Girl, and the Crime of the Century

( 19 )


The scandalous story of America?s first supermodel, sex goddess, and modern celebrity?Evelyn Nesbit.

By the time of her sixteenth birthday in 1900, Evelyn Nesbit was known to millions as the most photographed woman of her era, an iconic figure who set the standard for female beauty, and whose innocent sexuality was used to sell everything from chocolates to perfume. Women wanted to be her. Men just wanted her. But when Evelyn?s life of fantasy became all too real and her ...

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The scandalous story of America’s first supermodel, sex goddess, and modern celebrity—Evelyn Nesbit.

By the time of her sixteenth birthday in 1900, Evelyn Nesbit was known to millions as the most photographed woman of her era, an iconic figure who set the standard for female beauty, and whose innocent sexuality was used to sell everything from chocolates to perfume. Women wanted to be her. Men just wanted her. But when Evelyn’s life of fantasy became all too real and her insanely jealous millionaire husband, Harry K. Thaw, murdered her lover, New York City architect Stanford White, the most famous woman in the world became infamous as she found herself at the center of the “Crime of the Century” and a scandal that signaled the beginning of a national obsession with youth, beauty, celebrity, and sex.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
There was no controversy over who killed Stanford White in 1906. As numerous onlookers gawked, coal and railroad tycoon Harry K. Thaw strode up to the famed architect at a theatre performance and shot him three times. In this so-called Crime of the Century, the motive was as visible as the perpetrator. Thaw's spouse, artist's model Evelyn Nesbit, was at his side when the cuckolded husband killed the notorious womanizer who had deflowered his wife. Despite the indisputable evidence, the avenger was never convicted of the crime; after one jury deadlocked, the second declared him not guilty for reason of insanity. American Eve is the story of relationships, a crime, and two trials even more engrossing than the O. J. Simpson epic.
Ada Calhoun
American Eve is a real page turner, especially the later sections, which deal with the murder and the sensational trials.
—The New York Times
Harold Schecter
By centering her book on the ever-fascinating figure of Evelyn Nesbit—the stunningly beautiful chorine whose sexual charisma still burns through the Victorian photographs that adorn the book—Uruburu has produced not only a tour de force of historical crime writing and an illuminating social history but a rollicking piece of storytelling: a work that brings to life an entire glittering era while maintaining a breathless narrative pace. (Harold Schecter, author of The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century)
Michael D'Antonio
In American Eve a beautiful young woman, a lecherous prince of New York, and an unstable husband show us how the national sport of media-fed scandal began. Before the story ends, one man is dead, another is locked away, and Paula Uruburu has given us a look at an age of excess that looks remarkably like our own. It is page turning history at its best. (Michael D'Antonio, author of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams)
Honor Moore
Tragic now when a century ago it seemed merely scandalous, the story of Evelyn Nesbit is a gripping cautionary tale for those who believe Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are the first of their kind. How is it that after a century of feminism, young beautiful women still crash and burn for an eager public? Using newly available family sources, Paula Uruburu tells Evelyn Nesbit's story in all its darkness and terror. (Honor Moore, author of The Bishop's Daughter)
Martha McPhee
Paula Uruburu has given life to the tragic American story of the poor, beautiful nymph whose fate is so often entangled with extreme wealth and the powerful man. Evelyn Nesbit is like a Dreiser heroine—Sister Carrie, Jenny Gerhardt—though hers is a true story, harrowing in this writer's hands. (Martha McPhee, author of L'America and Gorgeous Lies)
Zachary Lazar
In American Eve, a fascinating evocation of a woman and her times, Paula Uruburu does more than just tell the story of Evelyn Nesbit. Sex, money, scandal, celebrity, doom—the whole cocktail of America's obsessions is served up here in this intriguing, addictive book. (Zachary Lazar, author of Sway)
Philip Lopate
Wonderfully absorbing . . . A lurid tabloid story of yore brought to fresh life and relevance with remarkable insight, verve and wisdom. Old New York is laid bare in all its decadence and the cult of pubescent beauty traced to its source, all with worldliness, wit, humor, compassion, and suspense. The result is a real page-turner. (Philip Lopate, author of Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan and Writing New York)
Mike Dash
Of all the famous beauties of a hundred years ago, Evelyn Nesbit is the only one who would still turn heads today. Paula Uruburu's triumph is to fix this very modern- looking girl in her proper time and place, and also to describe the New York of the early 1900s so vividly that we feel we, too, could be strolling towards the 21st Street apartment where the teen was seduced by Stanford White—or sitting in Madison Square Garden on the fatal evening that White was shot dead. (Mike Dash, author of Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century)
Karen Abbott
Paula Uruburu serves up an intriguing and meticulously researched slice of American history. Evelyn Nesbit typified the glorious excesses of the Gilded Age, and this story has everything: sex, deception, drama, and a lurid love triangle, all culminating in the crime of the century. (Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul)
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.
Library Journal

Uruburu (English, Hofstra Univ.) posits that today's Lindsay-Britney-Paris-obsessed media culture has its roots in the "crime of the century": the 1906 murder of renowned New York architect Stanford White on the roof of the original Madison Square Garden (which he designed) by Harry Thaw, the jealous husband of Evelyn Nesbit. Early photographs of this child-woman are both discomforting and hypnotic, and hers is indeed a sad tale. Neglected by her widowed mother, she modeled for artists and photographers to support her family, performed on stage, and was promoted by the entranced White, who allegedly raped her. At Thaw's murder trials (the first ended in a hung jury, the second in acquittal by reason of insanity), Nesbit testified to all the lurid details of her life. Uruburu was granted access to Nesbit family materials, and though she offers an interesting case study, her often sketchy book gives short shrift to the last 50 years of her subject's long life. In the end, evidently mesmerized by Nesbit's story, she offers her own lurid take on events to the exclusion of other, more nuanced explorations. Not appropriate for academic collections, this should be popular with "ripped from the headlines" biography and true-crime readers in public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ11/15/08.]
—Karen Sandlin Silverman

Kirkus Reviews
Uruburu (English/Hofstra Univ.) sees the sensational, salacious career of Evelyn Nesbit as a cautionary tale about a preternaturally beautiful pubescent Red Ridinghood surrounded by hungry wolves in the dark woods of early 20th-century Manhattan. Born on Christmas day near Pittsburgh, Pa., probably in 1884 (her mother was always vague about the year), Nesbit lost her father at 11 and by age 13 was supporting her family as an artist's model. In late 1900, she came with her brother and mother to New York City, where she became a wildly popular subject for painters and photographers. (A generous selection of illustrations shows why.) Nesbit was the first in an American procession of very young, very attractive girls who all eventually disappeared down celebrity's maw, writes the author. She attracted the notice of powerful moneyed men, including architect Stanford White and insane Harry K. Thaw, scion of a Pittsburgh fortune, who eventually married Nesbit and in 1906 shot and killed White in view of a crowd on the roof of Madison Square Garden. At the ensuing trials (the first ended with a hung jury), Nesbit told the sordid story of how White had paid her mother to take a trip out of town in 1901 and leave 16-year-old Evelyn in his care; he then plied her with champagne and raped her in his Garden tower. Her scandalous testimony reversed the arc of Nesbit's fame, sending her into a 60-year decline, years covered swiftly in the book's final paragraphs. Uruburu accepts Nesbit's version of the events throughout, quoting liberally from her two memoirs and portraying her as an innocent victim of powerful men and a bad mother. The author's stout defense is sometimes couched in prose as florid asthat of the fin-de-siecle journalism she deplores: "Seconds later, a startlingly loud gunshot pierced the torpid night air."Cliche and hyperbole vitiate this pathetic parable, whose larger cultural significance struggles for attention amid detailed accounts of the rapacious principals' perversions. Agent: Katharine Cluverius/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615544400
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula Uruburu
Paula Uruburu is an associate professor of English at Hofstra University. An expert on Evelyn Nesbit and the early 20th Century, she has been widely published and has appeared on A&E's Biography, PBS's American Experience, and has been a consultant for the History Channel.
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Table of Contents

Introduction The Garden of the New World 1

Ch. 1 Siren Song 7

Ch. 2 Beautiful City of Smoke 21

Ch. 3 Poses 31

Ch. 4 The Little Sphinx in Manhattan 53

Ch. 5 Florodora 79

Ch. 6 Benevolent Vampire 97

Ch. 7 Through the Looking Glass 131

Ch. 8 At the Feet of Diana 145

Ch. 9 The Barrymore Curse 163

Ch. 10 Enter Mad Harry 177

Ch. 11 The Worst Mistake of Her Life 205

Ch. 12 The "Mistress of Millions" 249

Ch. 13 Curtains: June 25, 1906 269

Ch. 14 Aftershock 289

Ch. 15 Dementia Americana 303

Ch. 16 A Woman's Sacrifice 317

Ch. 17 America's Pet Murderer 357

Epilogue: The Fallen Idol 367

Notes 375

Further Reading 387

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Decent book

    What an interesting life. I do wish the author had provided more detail about her later life after the murder with her career in Hollywood and more info. on her son. All in all, quite intriguing. The photos of this girl are great. What a beauty she was.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2009

    A disgrace to historians but if you're a fan of romance tripe, this is a book for you. It's a thinly disguised bodice ripper masquerading as a scholarly biography.

    Purple prose, passages that can't possibly be authenticated. No real bibliography - just a list of books the author cannibalized in order to embellish her fantasy. Bore bore bore to anyone with an IQ in the triple digits.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Very Interesting

    I enjoy historical ficton more, this was Non Fiction for sure, but kept my interest throughout. Amazing how such a big story at the time is almost completely forgotten 100 years later.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2008

    A reviewer

    Paula Uruburu¿s AMERICAN EVE: EVELYN NESBIT, STANFORD WHITE, THE BIRTH OF THE ¿IT¿ GIRL AND THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY is a first-rate, spirited and entertaining chronicle involving sex, celebrity, murder, media frenzy and a dead hippo. Uruburu¿s exhilarating tale begins in NYC during the final hours of 1899¿an ¿Eden¿ where Nesbit, the titular Eve and ¿Little Sphinx,¿ rises from poverty and obscurity to become the preeminent model and pin-up girl of the day. Part Ophelia, part Salome, the inscrutable Nesbit 'also an actress and Gibson girl' captures the fancy of famed architect Stanford White, the ¿Pharaoh of Fifth Avenue¿ whose contributions to the ¿priapic city¿ included the gilded bronze weathervane of a scandalously nude Diana ¿appropriately, the goddess of the hunt and chastity¿ that sat atop the second Madison Square Garden 'which White designed'. Notorious for plucking ripe ¿tomatoes¿ from the stage to add to his Garden, the married, lustful and predatory ¿Great White¿ 'who was three times Nesbit¿s age' fawns over Nesbit, wooing her with money, charm and a red velvet swing. Although Nesbit was only 16, White initiates the fall of this Eve during a night of lights, mirrors, a canopied bed and too much champagne. Awakening in ¿an abbreviated pink undergarment¿ and with a nude White next to her, Nesbit is told by the architect, ¿Don¿t cry kittens. It¿s all over. Now you belong to me.¿ Not quite. Enter Mad Harry¿Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh¿ with a carnivorous appetite and penchant for forbidden fruit as well. The heir-apparent to a $40 million coke and railroad fortune, Thaw was a puritanical vigilante with a history of mental illness and a hatred for White. Nesbit is initially wary of Thaw¿s dichotomous personality¿he could be charming and tyrannical, solicitous and sadistic ¿and her instincts 'which she ignores' unfortunately prove sound, as the 17-year-old Nesbit suffers another violation, and one night is raped and beaten with a leather riding crop by Thaw. Nesbit¿s relationship with Thaw and White¿both men are hedonistic, controlling and bitter rivals¿is compelling and, ultimately, sad, as Thaw¿s virgin complex and mounting obsession with White¿s despoilment of Nesbit leads to murder and Nesbit¿s downfall in White¿s Garden: On June 25, 1906, three shots ring out during a performance of Mamzelle Champagne. As White drops dead to the floor, Thaw shouts in defense, ¿I did it because he ruined my wife!¿ AMERICAN EVE then chronicles the ¿Crime of the Century¿ and the media storm¿an explosion of yellow journalism and the defamation and assassination of Nesbit¿s character¿ that followed the woman who ¿put one man in the grave and another in the bughouse.¿ Uruburu¿s depiction of the protracted court case is tiptop and accentuates her greatest strength as a biographer: the ability to inject verve, vitality and narrative flair into a historical account. AMERICAN EVE is peppered with colorful prose, humor and élan that spring off the page. Those wary of dreary, stuffy biographies weighted down by tedious storytelling and a profusion of facts and footnotes need not worry. Uruburu¿s confident, consistent and dynamic voice is the perfect complement to this lurid, page-turning piece of American history. Uruburu places these events in their historical context, delineating an America in transition, while also drawing comparisons to today¿s culture. But the story always returns, as it should, to Nesbit. This is her story, and Uruburu is in no way ambiguous about that. She does not paint this tragic beauty as a flawless saint, nor does she shy away from her subject¿s sometime inconsistent 'and inaccurate' testimony. What Uruburu does, and does well, is give voice to Nesbit¿s side of the story. It is only fitting that the epilogue is entitled ¿The Fallen Idol¿ and underscored by this 1934 quotat

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2011

    Fascinating Story

    Well researched and well written, Evelyn Nesbitt's life was so improbable as to seem more like fiction. What were the limited options available to a beautiful, impoverished girl in the 19th century? It was her misfortune to choose a blatant womanizer (famous architect Stanford White) for an affair and an unstable, violent and jealous millionaire for a husband. The result was called "The Crime of the Century." Paula Uruburu recreates the era and brings to life the people with simple but descriptive prose that keeps the well paced story moving along. An excellent read for people who love all things Americana.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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