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The Curse of Beauty: The Scandalous & Tragic…

The Curse of Beauty: The Scandalous & Tragic Life of Audrey Munson,…

by James Bone

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I had never heard of Audrey Munson before, and I had assumed that the author was taking liberties with the term "supermodel" in the subtitle. But Munson really was probably the closest thing to a supermodel that existed in her day. She posed for countless famous sculptures (many of which I recognized, and I am not really an art enthusiast) and starred in several silent films.

This book is a well-research biography about someone whose image is on a lot of popular landmarks around the country. It's a fascinating, frustrating, and ultimately sad account of a woman who enjoyed immense fame (for the times) and suffered because of it. The book discusses her career and many troubled relationships (with family, friends, boyfriends, and business associates) at length. Her proximity to many of the famous screen and theater names of the times is really interesting, and provides some insight into the inner workings of Broadway and Hollywood during the height of Munson's fame.

Munson suffers a pretty catastrophic fall from grace, but there are a number of things that triggered it, including what appears to be some kind of mental break. The author has clearly done a lot of research to figure out what may have caused Munson's mental health crisis, but we are still left wondering what exactly happened. It is not entirely clear that her problems were organic and not the result of the pressures of being a famous woman trying to find a suitable husband in a deeply judgmental environment with an overbearing and vehemently anti-Semitic mother. I found this to be one area where the book fell a bit short; I thought the author could've provided more context about the state of women's rights, their roles in society, and tabloid journalism. He touched on this a little bit, but I think he could've discussed it more while not straying too far from the main topic.

Overall, though, it is a great book about a woman I'd never heard of before. I highly recommend this book. ( )
  slug9000 | Dec 15, 2016 |
In the early 20th century, Audrey Munson, an artist's model and would-be actress, was so well-known for the statues that she posed for or inspired that she has become known as "America's First Supermodel." Munson was discovered by a photographer while window shopping in New York and eventually posed for more than a dozen landmark NYC statues, including The Three Graces in the Hotel Astor Grand Ballroom, and "Miss Brooklyn" and "Miss Manhatan," originally placed on the Manhattan Bridge but now posted on either side of the NYC Library main entrance. She was also the model for the 3/5 of the statues in the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915. Her likeness also adorns buildings and plazas in San Francisco, Colorado, and other cities worldwide. Munson's other distinction is that she was the first woman to appear nude on film.

Despite her notoriety, Munson became a rather sad, tragic figure, cheated and exploited by many who promised t make her financially secure as well as famous. People flocked to see her films--but not for her acting talent. She made only three films and claimed to have been cheated out of several contracts. In one case, the production company sent a look-alike to promotional appearances to avoid paying Audrey the posing fees she was promised. Although engaged several times, it seems she never married (although her domineering mother claimed that she wed Herman Oelrichs (the Comstock Silver Lode heir), who had the legal power to refute the claim and leave her penniless). Audrey also wrote a rambling, antisemitic letter to the FBI in 1919, stating that Oelrichs was part of "a Jewish network" that was out to destroy her career. She held similar beliefs about a number of producers and editors, including William Randolph Hearst. In one of the most bizarre events of her life, Audrey was implicated in her landlord's murder of his wife. The prosecutor claimed Dr. William Wilkins had fallen in love with his tenant, but this biographer could find no evidence that there was any salacious connection between the two. Fearing the publicity that a court appearance would stir up, Audrey and her mother fled to Canada to avoid her being subpoenaed. Wilkins was found guilty without her testimony, but the damage was already done in the papers.

Audrey's mental health was always fragile and grew more so over the years. She attempted suicide at least once, and in 1931, after she went after a farmer who was beating his horse with a pitchfork, her mother had her committed to an insane asylum where, sadly, she lived out the rest of her very long life; she died at age 104, having spent almost 65 years institutionalized.

We tend to see celebrity as a more recent phenomenon. Audrey Munson's life story not only shows it to be something as old as film, print,m and word of mouth but explains the tragic effects that relentless pursuit by the press and photographers can have on a person's psyche. Overall, a very interesting story. One can't help but wonder about the role that poverty and a broken home played in her Audrey's sad life.

As a side note: the book is packed with photos of Munson, the art she inspired, film stills, etc. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Sep 21, 2016 |
Even if you are unfamiliar with the name Audrey Munson (1891-1996), you've no doubt seen her face and figure. In the early years of the twentieth century, Munson was the best-known non-pornographic American model to make a career out of posing nude or in minimal clothing, as the ornate Beaux Art style of monumental public sculpture required. Her most famous likenesses are in New York City and include the "Star Maiden" and "Mourning Victory", among others.

James Bone's The Curse of Beauty follows the Audrey Munson story from her humble beginnings as the only child of divorced parents, through her heyday as a model for many prominent artists, her attempts at making it as an actress on Broadway and in Hollywood, her small role in a scandalous murder case, and finally, after a protracted descent into depression and paranoia, her sixty-five year stay at a state psychiatric institution. Through it all, her beauty ensured that she never lacked for suitors, but when she was a little girl a fortune-teller told her that she would never marry. That prediction became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The raw material of Munson's life is compelling, and James Bone tells it well in this book. If you choose to read it, however, watch out for the photographs interspersed with the text--the captions often give away spoilers.

Recommended for those who are interested in the art and artists of the early twentieth century. ( )
  akblanchard | Jun 3, 2016 |
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