Biography of Muse and Poet Adah Isaacs Menken Part 2

About the famous actress, poet, and muse Adah Isaacs Menken, biography and history of her influence.


Adah Isaacs Menken (1835?-1868)

Adah, who loved the theater first and foremost, lived with the Irish boxer only two or three months. Heenan, who had in that short time taught his wife to be a fairly skillful boxer, left for England to train for a world championship fight with Tom Sayers. The match went 42 rounds and ended in a draw. The clever Menken, anxious to capitalize on her "husband's " publicity, billed herself as Mrs. John Carmel Heenan. She played to packed houses at the National Theater in Boston and the Old Bowery Theater in New York. Her charm, her talent, and her beauty made her an immediate success. The sensation she was creating in America, however, didn't please Heenan in England. He ended their relationship and refused to send her any more money.

Adah Menken and John Heenan continued to be the talk of New York in 1860. Attempting to quiet the newspaper publicity, Adah rented a hall and delivered her famous "self-defense" speech. She denounced the journalists and blasted Heenan for his indifference and hostility.

The "Adorable Menken," clever in all things, turned the bad publicity to her advantage. She bobbed her hair, smoked cigarettes, and acted out the part of the temperamental artiste. She was soon before the footlights once again, appearing in The Soldier's Daughter, The French Spy, and Black-Eyed Susan. She toured Detroit, Albany, and Chicago. The newspapers hailed her as a second Lola Montez. She was introduced to the literary circle at Charley Pfaff's, a popular New York beer cellar. There she met Walt Whitman, George Arnold, Fitz-James O'Brien, and William Thackeray. And there she was able to be the "Royal Menken," drinking, talking, arguing into the night with her adoring friends.

On June 7, 1861, at the Green Street Theater in Albany, Adah realized her first big success. She was signed to play in a melodrama called Mazeppa, which had been adapted by Henry Milner from a poem by Lord Byron. It was a spectacle drama, with elaborate costumes and scenery and live horses. The plot involves a Tartar prince who loves a Polish nobleman's daughter. The most memorable scene in the play is when the hero is stripped of his clothes, lashed to the back of a wild horse, and carrired along a narrow runway. Dummy substitutes were often used for this dangerous ride. But Adah, in the male role of Mazeppa, and wearing only flesh-colored, full-length tights, shocked and thrilled audiences by performing the feat herself. She was a sensation. She played to packed houses, and critics hailed her for her courage and daring.

A year later she "divorced" John Heenan and went on to better and bigger successes. Theaters were jammed night after night. She took Mazeppa to San Francisco and filled the Opera House to capacity. More than half the population of the city attended her 16 performances. On Sept. 24, 1862, she married again, this time to an old friend, the American journalist Robert Henry Newell.

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