Biography of Muse and Poet Adah Isaacs Menken Part 3

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


Adah Isaacs Menken (1835?-1868)

Following her U.S. triumph. Adah took Mazeppa to London. She opened at the Astley Theatre there, with a grand production that included 200 soldiers, a ballet, and a score of horses. She became an instant sensation, and performances were sold out weeks in advance. Fans hounded her, and the police frequently had to be summoned to escort her home.

Meanwhile Adah fell in love again, with James Paul Barkley, a well-to-do broker. He joined her in her rooms at the Westminster Palace Hotel, where she held court, entertaining lavishly and welcoming Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and other London literary greats. When Barkley sailed for the U.S., she followed him and once again opened in Mazeppa, this time at the Broadway Theater in New York. While touring in Boston and Washington, she discovered she was pregnant. She hurried back to New York to marry Barkley. It was her fourth trip to the altar, and the marriage lasted three days.

Married and divorced four times, Adah once wrote to a friend: "I believe all good men should be married. Yet I don't believe in women being married. Somehow they all sink into nonentities after this epoch in their existence. That is the fault of female education. They are taught from their cradles to look upon marriage as the one event of their lives. That accomplished, nothing remains."

Adah gave birth to a son, who died soon afterwards. Free to return to the theater, she packed her bags and sailed for Europe, leaving the U.S. for good. In a very short time. Paris was hers. Drama critics and admirers applauded her beauty and acting ability. The Emperor Napoleon III himself attended a performance.

Just as the Beatles influenced tastes in the 1960s, so the Menken rage swept Paris in 1867. There were Menken cravats, Menken pins, Menken collars. The Menken face adorned shaving mugs and ladies' handkerchiefs. Shop windows displayed Menken hats, coats, and pantaloons. The most photographed and admired woman in the world, Adah Menken had definitely "arrived."

Her last performance was on May 30, 1868, as Mazeppa at the old Sadler's Wells Theatre. Stricken with pains in her side, she collapsed at the theater and was taken to her hotel unconscious. Doctors never did come up with an acceptable diagnosis, and no detailed history of her case was ever made available. She died in her hotel room with only a maid in attendance. A mere 15 people comprised the funeral procession, with her famous horse following in the rear. She was buried in the Jewish sector of Montparnasse.

Her four husbands, her onetime lover Alexandre Dumas, her friend Swinburne, all of her fellow artists and friends--not one of these showed up to pay last respects. A French journalist, Alexandre Duvernois, wrote: "Not a solitary actress present! Where, then, were you, all you good friends of Miss Adah? And you directors, authors, and journalists who have so often sung the beauty and the talent of the American horsewoman?"

Dumas, upon hearing of her death, commented, "Poor girl, why was she not her own friend?"

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