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'A Dangerous Woman' Recounts Life of Adah Menken, Civil War Pin-Up Girl

(January 09, 2012)

NEW YORK, NY -- (Marketwire) -- 01/09/12 -- Though Americans spent 2011 observing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, few know the name Adah Menken, darling of soldiers on both sides, says historian Mike Foster, co-author of the new biography, "A Dangerous Woman," (Lyons Press),

The actress had more chutzpah than Marilyn Monroe and showed a lot more skin than World War II's favorite pin-up, Betty Grable, write Foster and Barbara Foster.

"When the telegraph was Twitter, Adah owned the media. Her scandals made front-page headlines," Foster says. "Long before Demi Moore posed naked on the cover of Vanity Fair, Adah was 'The Naked Lady.' And by the time she died at age 33, she had matched Elizabeth Taylor husband for husband -- five -- by the same age."

She counted among her friends writers Walt Whitman, George Sand and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Fosters write in "A Dangerous Woman."

Born poor in New Orleans of black, Jewish and Irish descent, Menken spent her teen years in Texas, where she attended Nacogdoches University. Her poetry was published in the local paper, and she worked as a circus performer, the Fosters write.

At 20, she got work as a dancer in a theater company and with the help of her new husband (her second) began acting at the New Orleans Crescent Dramatic Association.

"She hit Broadway on June 3, 1861, in 'Mazeppa,'" Foster says. "In one scene, a horse races up a four-story 'mountain' with her strapped to its back wearing only a pink body stocking to appear nude. 'Mazeppa' brought her instant stardom."

Celebrity photographer, Napoleon Sarony, took portraits of Adah in her body stocking and soon, her picture was pinned to tent posts in military encampments across the country, Foster says.

"But she risked her life during every performance. Adah would suffer injuries that, along with tuberculosis, contributed to her early death."

She wasn't just a famous actress, Foster says. She used her celebrity to champion unpopular causes, including writing essays and speaking out in defense of Jews during an anti-Semitic era.

About Michael & Barbara Foster

Michael Foster is a historian, novelist and biographer who earned his master of fine arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. "A Dangerous Woman" is his fifth book. Barbara Foster, an associate professor of women's studies at City University of New York, is the co-author of three books.

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Ginny Grimsley
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