The Story of Hollywood’s First Supermodel and Why You’ve Never Heard of Her
Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh, Joan Crawford, or Coco Chanel — we know these women as beauty and style icons of the 20th century and remember them to this day. But there was actually a woman that came before them, who’s considered to be “America’s First Supermodel”. However, despite the huge success she enjoyed at the beginning of the 20th century, many of us still don’t know her name.
We at Bright Side decided to rectify this situation. So here’s the story of Audrey Munson, a model whose beauty enchanted many artists.
The man that changed her life
Audrey Munson was born in 1891. Her parents got divorced when she was little, and after that she and her mother moved to New York.
As Munson said herself, her career began by accident. When she was 15, she and her mom were walking down Broadway, and a man noticed her. He asked Audrey if she was a model and if he could take pictures of her. Turned out, she caught the attention of famous photographer Felix Benedict Herzog. Later, he also introduced her to his friends in the art world, among which were many sculptors.
Audrey’s mother also saw how beautiful her daughter was and the potential she had, so she pushed her toward the theater. In 1908, Munson debuted on stage as a member of Gerald Hampton’s Dancin’ Dolls at Rocky Point Amusement Park.
A natural and bold beauty
Audrey modeled for many sculptures and civic monuments in New York City, as well as US coins. Memory, Manhattan, and Spirit of Life are some of the sculptures located in New York. Because most of the art featuring her was located there, she was nicknamed “Miss Manhattan.” At that time, she was considered the ideal of female beauty. She became famous for her “Grecian” proportions, and people even called her the “American Venus.”
In 1915, Munson began her career as an actress. She starred in 4 films: Inspiration, Purity, The Girl o’ Dreams, and Heedless Moths. She was also the first woman to appear without a stitch in a film. “That which is the immodesty of other women has been my virtue—my willingness that the world should gaze upon my figure unadorned,” she said. Local newspapers called her “the transcendent embodiment of feminine grace and beauty.”
Some people even see her as a proto-feminist. She refused to wear corsets and high heels, saying that women’s clothes should be practical and natural.
More than just a pretty face
One of the reasons Munson became so successful was her work ethic. For example, she would visit different studios and ask for work.
Another reason is that she didn’t ask to be paid a lot, even though the job was hard. She would have to stay still for long periods of time, while holding a certain pose, and looking graceful and soft at the same time. “It is really a strain. If a girl’s nerves are not in excellent condition and her muscles [are not] strong and ready for such a test, she makes a wobbly sort of model, and the artist cannot work,” she said.
A tragic prophecy that came true
When Audrey was a little girl, only 5 years old, a Gypsy fortune-teller read her palm. She said: “You shall be beloved and famous. But when you think that happiness is yours, its Dead Sea fruit shall turn to ashes in your mouth.” And that prophecy haunted Munson for her whole life.
Acting opportunities came and went, and she was also involved in a scandal that further damaged her career and made it impossible for her to find a job. Apart from that, times were changing, and beauty ideals changed with them. As a result, she had to start working as a waitress and rely on her mother’s financial support as well, who was selling kitchenware door-to-door.
All that negatively affected Audrey’s mental health, and it got so bad that her mother requested that she be placed in an insane asylum. She was only 40 at that time, and she spent the rest of her life there, until she died at the age of 104 in 1996.
Did you know about Audrey Munson? Are there any other people from the past that have been forgotten and deserve more attention?