American Beauty

Stanford White had an appetite for pretty, young girls. Never mind that the renowned architect was 47 and married. The nubile chorines of the Gilded Age musical comedy hit Floradora were tempting treats to his lascivious eye. The loveliest of all was 16 year old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit – hazel-eyed, red gold hair, perfect complexion, and best of all, trusting and naïve. White was smitten.

White quickly befriended both Evelyn and her mother. Playing the role of benefactor, he moved the impoverished family to a nicer apartment, sent Evelyn’s brother to a private school and cheerfully funded a trip so Evelyn’s mother could visit family. Now that her protectors were so handily dispatched, White could reveal his true role: villain. He lured Evelyn to his apartment with the promise of a non-existent party, drugged her champagne and raped her.

It is fitting, then, that White would meet his demise five years later at another musical comedy called Mamzelle Champagne. After what was by all accounts a yawn-inducing performance, Harry Thaw, Evelyn’s husband, provided the most excitement of the evening by calmly shooting White point blank and killing him with three bullets.

“I did it because he ruined my wife,” Thaw said and willingly went with his captors to jail.

Was Thaw the avenging angel? As the long and torturous legal battle would reveal, Thaw was a nefarious character  who manipulated Evelyn just as much as White. If you aren’t familiar with the salacious, twisted triangle of White, Nesbit and Thaw, you must read Simon Baatz’s lively account The Girl on the Velvet Swing.

Julie Nelson

Constant reader, book selector, shameless promoter of good reads - these are just a few of the things I do as a Collection Development Professional. I love sharing the hidden gems in our nonfiction collection!