The Reader: Antebellum Pop
Adah Isaacs Menken was (arguably) the first American pop star, an international phenomenon as infamous for her transgressions as she was famous for her considerable talents as an actress, poet and sex symbol. In the course of her meteoric career in the mid-1800s, Menken married five husbands, among them the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, cross-dressed onstage, posed nude for public consumption, was an outspoken Zionist and was arrested as a Confederate spy. Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Algernon Swinburne and Alexandre Dumas were her close friends; Mark Twain was among her admirers, and Arthur Conan Doyle used her as the model for Irene Adler, the woman who bewitches and bests Sherlock Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia. Hers was a truly remarkable life, chronicled in a new biography by Michael and Barbara Foster, A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America’s Original Superstar (Lyons Press, 2011).