Adah Isaacs Menken: The Naked Lady
Adah Isaacs Menken: The Naked Lady
Tina Fey: "Betty White once told me, 'Never let anyone tell you, you are not good enough to pose nude.'"
For better or worse, in the movies, on television, on the Net, for print, and in real life, the girls (of any age) are getting naked.
Helen Mirren, at 64, posed topless in New York mag for a puff promoting the film "Love Ranch," in which she plays the madam of a Reno whorehouse. Miscast?
Lindsay Lohan's nude spread for Playboy struck us, to quote Yogi Berra, as déjà vu all over again.
We are sympathetic to PETA women's frequent stripping -- “to go naked instead of wearing fur” -- to get both arrested and media covered for their pro-animal stances.
We are pleased by three topless young Ukrainian women climbing the fence guarding Davos' World Economic Forum to stick it to the one percent: “Gangsters party in Davos,” proclaimed one bare female torso.
We are impressed by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani posing nude in a French news magazine to protest strictures on women in her homeland. The Iranian government has warned the beautiful young woman never to return, and they have eliminated those who speak out, even abroad.
Golshifteh is in the tradition of Adah Isaacs Menken, the Naked Lady of America's Civil War era, who risked her life nightly by playing a freedom fighting prince on stage, cheered by packed houses from Broadway to Gold Rush California to Victorian London and Imperial Paris.
Taking it off can make a difference.
Adah, wearing a sheer bodysuit and “a little dimity nothing” (left) that her admirer Mark Twain compared to a diaper, became the first star pin-up. Her daring role in the stage play "Mazeppa," from a poem by Lord Byron, made Adah the overwhelming hit of Civil War entertainment.
Petite, curvy Adah, in battle against the forces of the Russian Tsar, posed, dueled, and when captured and strapped to a supposedly wild stallion, rode up a four-story stage mountain -- apparently nude.
Fortunately, the camera and reproducible photos had been invented. North and South the boys in uniform tacked up Adah's 3 by 5 inch shots on tent poles, along with those of her husband John Heenan, world heavyweight boxing champ.
The original power couple, Adah and John landed in court, to become the original sex scandal spread across the font pages of tabloid two-penny newspapers. To the background of cannon fire, the world of celebrity was being invented.
War and the love goddess are brother and sister in arms. Just as Betty Grable was the siren of World War II, Marilyn Monroe the darling of the Korean War era, Adah Menken, who toured by rail the war-threatened Union, captured the libido of her divided nation.
Crowds overwhelmed the theaters she played, advanced seating was attempted, preachers railed against Adah's nudity, and the media of the day -- newspapers, the telegraph, photography -- spread her image, and stories of her love life, far and wide.
In her brief life Adah breezed through five husbands and famous lovers including novelist Alexandre Dumas, poet Algernon Swinburne, and some said George Sand, a fellow cross-dresser.
The publicity drove Adah's income to unheard of heights, including one-third of the gate in Gold Rush San Francisco, where the audience of miners showed their appreciation by tossing bags of gold dust on stage. After the show, Adah, in top hat and tails, frequented the gambling joints of the Barbary Coast.