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'The Great Bare' Breathes Life Into America's First Great Diva

(June 25, 2012)

NEW YORK, NY -- (Marketwire) -- 06/25/12 -- Michael and Barbara Foster's new book, "A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken" (Lyons Press),, tells the story of the pioneer who forged the way for the likes of Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe.

Adah Menken was the first American major media celebrity, reaching the height of her fame and beauty about a century and a half ago, Michael says. She was known around the world as "The Naked Lady" because her stage show featured her nearly naked, in a sheer body stocking. Her star power inspired poet Walt Whitman and writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Menken as the basis for the classic Sherlock Holmes supporting character Irene Adler.

Menken's popularity was fueled by a new advent of the period -- mass-circulation newspapers, Barbara says.

"She is the originator of the modern celebrity femme fatale," she says. "Reporters couldn't wait to write about her latest adventure."

"Menken invented 'stardom' in the modern, media-driven sense, making use of the newly invented newspaper, the telegraph, photography, railroads and steamships to become the first global superstar," says Michael.

"During the Civil War, soldiers on both sides decorated their tents with sultry portraits of her."

Despite widespread recognition, which exploded after she posed for pictures in her body stocking, Menken lived a hard life. She was born poor in New Orleans, likely of black, Jewish and Irish descent, the Fosters write. Menken used her celebrity to champion unpopular causes, including writing essays and speaking out in defense of Jews during an anti-Semitic era.

Menken eventually became a circus performer, which served her well during her breakout role in "Mazeppa," where she risked her life in one scene by riding a horse up a set of stairs, representing a mountainside, in her pink body sock.

"She actually suffered tough injuries during those performances, which, along with tuberculosis, contributed to her early death," Michael says.

About the Authors

Michael Foster is a historian, novelist and biographer who graduated from Cornell University with honors in philosophy. He 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, has published poetry and travel articles extensively, and is the co-author of three books.

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Ginny Grimsley

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