The Tragedy Of Audrey Munson, American Venus

By Mike Devlin on Monday, September 16, 2013
audrey
“Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the infinite.” —George Bancroft

In A Nutshell

Audrey Munson was known as the “American Venus,” a beautiful young woman who served as the model for over 20 different artists. In 1915, she had the dubious honor of being the first nude woman in a non-pornographic film. In 1919, she became involved in a murder scandal that ruined her career and destroyed her sanity.

The Whole Bushel

In 1906, 15-year-old Audrey Munson was discovered on the streets of New York and introduced to sculptor Isidore Konti. She agreed to model for him, and eventually went on to work with a series of artists. The epitome of classic Greek beauty, her image remains poised over several structures to this day, including the Manhattan Municipal Building, which features a gilded statue called “Civic Pride” created by Adolph A. Weinman. While statues molded in Audrey’s likeness can be found throughout the United States, there are over a dozen in New York alone.

In 1916, Munson branched out, moving to California to work on silent films. She appeared in Inspiration in a dramatization of her own career, as a nude sculptor’s model. It is thought that Audrey was the first nude woman filmed in a non-pornographic fashion. She would go on to work on four different films, only one of which survives to this day. In 1919, she returned to New York, staying in a rooming house owned by the married Dr. Walter Wilkins. It is unclear exactly what her relationship with Wilkins was. Audrey left the rooming house, and shortly thereafter, Wilkins murdered his wife Julia to free him for marriage with Ms. Munson.

Upon being questioned by police, Audrey told them that Wilkins had been obsessed with her, and she’d moved from the rooming house on Julia’s request. The police were content that Audrey had no role in the killing. Wilkins was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair, but he hanged himself in his cell. While she might have escaped charges, Audrey Munson’s career was destroyed by the resulting scandal, and she was forced to sell kitchen utensils door to door to get by. In 1922, she attempted to commit suicide by drinking bichloride of mercury (used at the time for the treatment of syphilis). She survived, but the following decade would find her plunging into madness, convinced there was some kind of conspiracy against her. By 1931, she’d become so unhinged that a judge sent her to the St. Lawrence State Hospital for the rest of her life. She died there in 1996 at the age of 105.

Show Me The Proof

The Girl Beneath the Gilding
Audrey Munson: ‘Miss Manhattan’ Died in Obscurity in 1996