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Audrey Marie Munson (June 8, 1891 – February 20, 1996) was an American artist's model and film actress, today considered "America's First Supermodel,"[1] and variously known in her time as "Miss Manhattan", the "Panama–Pacific Girl", the "Exposition Girl", and "American Venus". She was the model or inspiration for more than 12 statues in New York City, many other statues, and was the first American movie star to appear fully nude in film, in Inspiration (1915), the first of her four silent films.[2]

Audrey Munson
Nude Audrey Munson - Heedless Moths.jpg
in Heedless Moths (1921)
Audrey Marie Munson

(1891-06-08)June 8, 1891
Rochester, New York, United States
DiedFebruary 20, 1996(1996-02-20) (aged 104)
Ogdensburg, New York, United States
Resting placeNew Haven Cemetery
OccupationArtist's model, actress
Years active1906–1921


Life and careerEdit

Long after she and everyone else of this generation shall have become dust, Audrey Munson, who posed for three-fifths of all the statuary of the Panama–Pacific exposition, will live in the bronzes and canvasses of the art centers of the world.

— New Oxford Item, April 1, 1915[3]

Audrey Marie Munson was born in Rochester, New York, on June 8, 1891,[4] to Edgar Munson and Katherine "Kittie" Mahaney. Her father was from Mexico, New York, and she later lived there. Her parents divorced when she was eight, and Audrey and her mother moved to Providence, Rhode Island.[5]

In 1909 the pair moved to New York City, where the 17 year-old Audrey sought a career as an actress and chorus girl.[1] Her first role on Broadway was as a "footman" in The Boy and The Girl at the Aerial Garden, which ran from May 31-June 19, 1909.[6] She also appeared in The Girl and the Wizard, Girlies and La Belle Paree.[6]

Star Maiden, for the "Colonnade of Stars," Court of the Universe building, 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco

While window-shopping on Fifth Avenue with her mother she was spotted by photographer Felix Benedict Herzog, who asked her to pose for him at his studio in the Lincoln Arcade Building on Broadway and 65th Street.[1] Herzog introduced her to his friends in the art world, and she began to pose for numerous artists. It was the sculptor Isidore Konti who first persuaded her to pose nude, using her as his model for the three figures in his Three Graces for the new Grand Ballroom at the Hotel Astor in Times Square.[1] For the next decade, Munson became the model of choice for a host of sculptors and painters in New York. According to The Sun in 1913, "Over a hundred artists agree that if the name of Miss Manhattan belongs to anyone in particular it is to this young woman."[7] By 1915, she was so well established that she became Alexander Stirling Calder's model of choice for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition held that year. She posed for three-fifths of the sculpture created for the event[3] and earned fame as the "Panama–Pacific Girl".[8]

Her newfound celebrity helped launch her career in the nascent film industry and she starred in four silent films. In the first, Inspiration (1915), the story of a sculptor's model, she appeared fully nude, the first woman to do so in an American motion picture. The censors were reluctant to ban the film, fearing they would also have to ban Renaissance art. Munson's films were a box office success, although the critics were divided.[9] The studio hired a lookalike named Jane Thomas to do Munson's acting scenes, while Munson did the scenes where she posed nude.[10] Her second film, Purity (1916), made in Santa Barbara, California, is the only one of her films to survive, being rediscovered in 1993 in a "pornography" collection in France and acquired by the French national cinema archive.[1] Her third film, The Girl o' Dreams, also made in Santa Barbara, was completed by the fall of 1916 and copyrighted on December 31, 1918, but appears never to have been released.[1]

Munson with Buzzer the cat

Munson returned to the East Coast by train via Syracuse in December 1916 and became involved with high society in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. There are accounts her mother insisted she marry "Comstock Lode" silver heir Hermann Oelrichs Jr., then the richest bachelor in America, but there is no record of Audrey Munson's making this claim herself. On January 27, 1919, she wrote a rambling letter to the US State Department denouncing Oelrichs as part of a pro-German network that had driven her out of the movie business. She said she planned to abandon the United States to restart her movie career in England.[1][11]

At the time Audrey Munson was living with her mother in a boarding house at 164 West 65th Street, Manhattan, owned by Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins fell in love with Munson and murdered his wife, Julia, so he could be available for marriage.[2] Munson and her mother left New York, and the police sought them for questioning. After a nationwide hunt, they were located. They refused to return to New York, but were questioned by agents from the Burns Detective Agency in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The contents of the affidavits they supplied have never been revealed, but Audrey Munson strongly denied she had any romantic relationship with Dr. Wilkins.[1] Wilkins was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the electric chair. He hanged himself in his prison cell before the sentence could be carried out.[12]

Munson was the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman's The Setting Sun, created for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition and featured on the cover of Sunset magazine (October 1915)[13]

By 1920 Munson, unable to find work anywhere, was living in Syracuse, New York, supported by her mother, who sold kitchen utensils door to door. In February 1921, agent-producer Allan Rock took out advertisements showing a $27,500 check he said he had paid Munson to star in a fourth film titled Heedless Moths. She later said the $27,500 check was just a "publicity stunt," and she filed suit against Allan Rock.[1] The 1921 film was based on her life story, which was then being serialized in dozens of newspapers,[14] and on short stories and other articles she had written for Hearst's Sunday Magazine.[15] In the series of twenty articles that recounted her life story, she asked the reader to imagine her future:[2]

What becomes of the artists' models? I am wondering if many of my readers have not stood before a masterpiece of lovely sculpture or a remarkable painting of a young girl, her very abandonment of draperies accentuating rather than diminishing her modesty and purity, and asked themselves the question, "Where is she now, this model who was so beautiful?"

On May 27, 1922, Munson attempted suicide by swallowing a solution of bichloride of mercury.[16]

On June 8, 1931, her mother petitioned a judge to commit her to a lunatic asylum. The Oswego County judge ordered Munson be admitted into a psychiatric facility for treatment. She remained in the St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane in Ogdensburg, where she was treated for depression and schizophrenia, for 65 years, until her death at the age of 104.[2][17]

Over thirty years after her career ended she was sufficiently famous to serve as the subject of an anecdote in a memoir that P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton wrote of their years on Broadway, Bring on the Girls! (1953), though that memoir is considered more fiction than fact by Wodehouse's biographer.[18][a]

For decades she had no visitors at the asylum at all, but she was rediscovered there by a half-niece, Darlene Bradley, in 1984, when Munson was 93.[1] Munson died February 20, 1996 at the age of 104.[20] She was buried without a gravestone of her own in the Munson family plot in New Haven Cemetery, New Haven, New York until 2016, 20 years after her death when her family decided to add a simple tombstone for what would have been her 125th birthday.[21]


Mourning Victory (1908), Melvin Brothers memorial by Daniel Chester French[22][23]
Civic Fame (1913) by Adolph Alexander Weinman
Star Maiden (1915) by Alexander Stirling Calder
Autumn (1915) by Furio Piccirilli

(Note: "PPIE" = Panama–Pacific International Exposition)

Herbert AdamsEdit

Robert Ingersoll AitkenEdit

Karl BitterEdit

Alexander Stirling CalderEdit

  • Star Maiden (1915) – PPIE - Court of the Universe, now in the Oakland Museum
  • Eastern Hemisphere (1915) – PPIE - Fountain of Energy

Daniel Chester FrenchEdit

Sherry Edmundson FryEdit

  • Torch Bearer (1915) – PPIE
  • Muse and Pan (1915) – PPIE
  • Maidenhood – Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina
  • pediment (1913) – Frick Collection Building, NYC
  • Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture (1924) – Missouri State Capitol, Jefferson City[25]

Albert JaegersEdit

  • Rain (1915) – PPIE
  • Harvest (1915) – PPIE

Carl Augustus HeberEdit

Isidore KontiEdit

  • Mother and Child – private collection of Richard & Lydia Kaeyer
  • Three MusesHudson River Museum
  • Three Graces – Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Astor, NYC
  • Pomona[b]
  • Figure within the Column of Progress (1915) – PPIE
  • Widowhood
  • Genius of Immortality (1911) – Hudson River Museum

Evelyn Beatrice LongmanEdit

Augustus LukemanEdit

Frederick MacMonniesEdit

Allen NewmanEdit

  • Music of the Waters FountainRiverside Drive, NYC
  • Monument to Women of the Confederacy - Jacksonville, FL
  • The Triumph of Peace - Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA.

Attilio PiccirilliEdit

Furio PiccirilliEdit

  • Fountain of Spring (1915) – PPIE

Frederick RuckstullEdit

Adolph Alexander WeinmanEdit

Albert G. WenzelEdit

  • Madam Butterfly

Gertrude Vanderbilt WhitneyEdit

  • The Fountain of El Dorado (1915) – PPIE

Other sculptures at the Panama-Pacific International ExpositionEdit

  • Fountain of Ceres, Court of Four Seasons
  • Fountain of Rising Sun, Court of Universe
  • Pedestal & Friezes, Columns of Human Progress
  • Air, Court of Universe
  • Spirit of Creation, Court of Universe
  • Nature, Feast of Sacrifice, Court of Four Seasons
  • Pylon Groups, Festival Hall
  • Conception, Wonderment, and Contemplation, Palace of the Fine Arts
Audrey Munson and Thomas A. Curran in Inspiration (1915), her film debut


The four films in which Munson appeared were thought to have been lost until a copy of Purity (1916) was recovered in France.[26]

Year Title Role Notes
1915 Inspiration The Model Reissued as The Perfect Model (1918)[14][15]
1916 Purity Purity / Virtue [15]
1916 The Girl o' Dreams Norma Hansen [15]
1921 Heedless Moths Audrey Munson Based on Munson's stories and articles for Hearst's Sunday Magazine[15]


  1. ^ A letter to The New York Times in 1996 recounted the story:[19]

    Wodehouse was working alone in an apartment that has recently been vacated by a sculptor. His wife told him to expect a woman who would redo the couch, so when Audrey Munson knocked and asked if there was any work for her, Wodehouse said yes and "How much would it be altogether?"

    "You want the altogether?" she replied and ducked into a bedroom. She "emerged in an advanced form of nudity," which Wodehouse thought was "pretty eccentric even for a lady decorator."

    Anyway, things got sorted out, and Bolton thought the situation so funny that he incorporated it into the play they were working on, Oh, Lady, Lady.

  2. ^ a b The sculpture was finished by Konti after Bitter's death in April 1915.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bone, James (2016). The Curse of Beauty: The Scandalous and Tragic Life of Audrey Munson, America's First Supermodel. New York City: ReganArts.
  2. ^ a b c d Knafo, Saki (December 9, 2007). "The Girl Beneath the Gilding". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Audrey Munson". New Oxford Item. New Oxford, Pennsylvania. April 1, 1915. Retrieved January 23, 2016 – via (Subscription required (help)).
  4. ^ White, Justin D. "Rediscovering Audrey" (PDF).
  5. ^ Bone, James (Apr 23, 2016). "The Glamorous Life And Tragic Fall of America's First Supermodel". The Daily Beast. Retrieved Apr 24, 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Internet Broadway Database".
  7. ^ Jacobs, Andrew (April 14, 1996). "Rescuing a Heroine From the Clutches of Obscurity". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  8. ^ "The Broad Minded Romance of the Famous Panama-Pacific Girl". Richmond Times-Dispatch. June 27, 1915. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  9. ^ Rozas and Bourne-Gottehrer (1999). American Venus: The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, Model and Muse. Los Angeles: Balcony Press. pp. 81–82.
  10. ^ Donnelly, Elisabeth (Summer 2015). "Descending Night". The Believer. 13 (2). Retrieved May 16, 2016.
  11. ^ " FBI archive "Old German Case Files"". 1919.
  12. ^ "Audrey Munson: "Miss Manhattan" Died in Obscurity in 1996 | Keith York City". Retrieved 2016-05-26.
  13. ^ "American Venus". Balcony Press. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Bowers, Q. David. "Inspiration". Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History. Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Audrey Munson". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  16. ^ "Model Who Attempted Suicide by Poison Will Recover". The New York Times. May 29, 1922. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  17. ^ Brock, Chris (September 19, 2014). "'American Muse' story of beauty from Oswego County carved in stone, forgotten in memory". Watertown Daily Times. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  18. ^ Donaldson, Frances (1983). P.G. Wodehouse: The Authorized Biography. London: Futura. p. 12. ISBN 0-7088-2356-4.
  19. ^ Weller, Steve (June 16, 1996). "Famed Artist's Model Bared All for a Playwright". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  20. ^ Number: 082-42-0284; Issue State: New York; Issue Date: 1996. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935–2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  21. ^ "Audrey Marie Munson". Find a Grave. July 29, 2006. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  22. ^ "Concord Moment: 'Mourning Victory' Melvin Memorial". Barrow Bookstore (YouTube). January 10, 2016. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  23. ^ "Mourning Victory". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  24. ^ "Twenty-Eighth Annual Exhibition of Architectural League of New York". The American Architext. 103: 104. February 12, 1913. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Purity". The Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved January 23, 2016.


External linksEdit