Market Watch: “It All Started with Menken”



Adah Menken was the first media celebrity, who was known around the world as “The Naked Lady” because her stage show featured her nude (in a sheer body stocking). Her star power inspired poets like Walt Whitman and writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Menken as the basis for the classic Sherlock Holmes supporting character of Irene Adler. Her biographers call her the originator of the modern celebrity femme fatale.

“Menken was an original who pioneered in several areas we now take for granted,” said the Fosters. “Adah invented ‘stardom’ in the modern, media-driven sense, making use of the newly invented newspaper, the telegraph, photography, railroads and steamships to become the first global superstar — number one on Broadway, the rage of gold rush San Francisco, the toast of Victorian London and Paris. Onstage, Adah risked her life every evening in the Civil War sensation Mazeppa, in which apparently stripped naked she rode up a four-story stage mountain tied to a stallion. The mix of sexuality and danger made her the Civil War siren, the highest paid actress in the world, and caused her death at 33. A ‘shooting star,’ her example would be followed by the likes of Jean Harlow, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and a roster of short-lived superstars.”

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