Evelyn Nesbit: The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

This is part 2 of Evelyn Nesbit’s story.

Read Part 1 here!

Thanks to her success as a Floradora girl, Evelyn Nesbit was offered a one-year contract to perform in The Wild Rose. And instead of being in a group of chorus girls, Evelyn was given a real role.

Evelyn as a gypsy in The Wild Rose
Evelyn as a gypsy in The Wild Rose

All New York was in love with her beauty. Her acting, less so. “As an actress, she was impossible. She had no talent. Even physical beauty will not carry a woman of the stage to favor if she cannot sing or act,” ran a March 15, 1907 piece in the United Opinion.

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White persuaded Mrs. Nesbit to return to Pennsylvania for a visit and sweetly promised to look after 16-year-old Evelyn while she was away. Having already disposed of Evelyn’s brother Howard by sending him to Philadelphia for an expensive education, White was now alone with Evelyn. After Mrs. Nesbit’s departure, White invited Evelyn to his West 24th Street studio, where he arranged for photos to be taken of her.

Stanford White's studio at 22 West 24th Street collapsed in 2007.
Stanford White’s studio at 22 West 24th Street collapsed in 2007.

Evelyn had been to White’s studio before. Her first visit had been with Edna Goodrich, a mutual friend of she and White. Evelyn was especially delighted with a dark green room that was decorated with Japanese parasols and a red velvet swing. White pushed Evelyn in the swing, while Edna held a paper parasol that Evelyn kicked. She liked to return to the red swing whenever she visited the studio.

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bear rug

On this particular evening, Evelyn wrote in her autobiography, White ordered supper and champagne to be brought to his studio. He gave her a tour of the place, ending in a room with walls and a ceiling entirely paneled with mirrors.

Nesbit sipped some champagne and blacked out. When she awoke, she was lying nearly naked on a bed in the mirror room and White was beside her. Spotting blood, Evelyn realized what had happened and started to scream. White hushed her, telling her flatly that if she disclosed what happened, her career and her life would be ruined.

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And Evelyn… stayed quiet. Today, that might raise eyebrows, but Evelyn lived in a time where a topic like rape would have never been discussed. She could not have known what to do. Add to that, the man who raped her had the power to end her career, cut her brother’s education short, and evict the family from their home.

Her silence is understandable, but it is less comprehensible that Evelyn slid into a relationship with White.

White's moustache may be described as impressive.
White’s moustache may be described as impressive.

However, the architect had numerous young girlfriends, and Evelyn must have seen the relationship for what it was. She did not appear to break her heart over White. Her many admirers, undeterred by her terrible acting, threw her bouquets, with stems wrapped in $50 dollar bills.

Evelyn

One such admirer was Harry Kendall Thaw, a young heir to a fortune of over $40 million dollars. Thaw was in the audience of the The Wild Rose over 40 times that year. John Barrymore was another admirer. Jack, as he preferred to be called, wasn’t yet interested in his family’s trade of acting, and worked as a cartoonist. He was handsome and fun, and a relationship soon blossomed between he and Evelyn.

John
Jack Barrymore

Stanford White bristled when the gossip began to circulate about Jack and Evelyn. He invented some objections and voiced them to Mrs. Nesbit. Evelyn’s mother may have seen through them, but she was acutely aware that White was paying the bills and discouraged her daughter’s romance with Barrymore. So when Jack proposed, Evelyn turned him down.

White was satisfied and resumed normal operations. Mrs. Nesbit was pleased as well, her gravy train would keep rolling. Whether Evelyn was distressed that Barrymore was out of her life is unclear.

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White, possibly not convinced that Evelyn and Barrymore were through, packed the young girl off to an elite boarding school in New Jersey. Perhaps there was another reason: Evelyn soon underwent an emergency appendectomy, which many historians believe was one of two abortions that resulted from her relationship with Barrymore.

Harry Thaw
Harry Thaw

Harry Thaw suddenly reappeared during Evelyn’s recovery. He whisked the 17-year-old and her mother off to Europe, where he said Evelyn would recover more easily. They left with him, though they knew little of Thaw.

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