Audrey Marie Munson (June 8, 1891 – February 20, 1996) was an American artist's model and film actress, known variously as "Miss Manhattan," "the Exposition Girl," and "American Venus." She was the model or inspiration for more than fifteen statues in New York City and appeared in four silent films.
Audrey Marie Munson was born in Rochester, New York on June 8, 1891 – not in Mexico, New York as is sometimes reported because her father is from that town and the family did live there. Her parents, Edgar Munson and Katherine "Kittie" Mahaney, divorced when she was young and Audrey and her mother moved to New York City.
In 1906, when Munson was 15 years old, she was spotted in the street by photographer Ralph Draper, who in turn introduced her to his friend, sculptor Isidore Konti. Konti persuaded the young woman to model for him. For the next decade, Munson became the model of choice for a host of sculptors and painters in New York City. By 1915, she was so well established that she was chosen by Alexander Stirling Calder as the model of choice for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) held that year. She posed for three quarters of the sculpture at that event as well as for numerous paintings and murals.
In 1916, probably as a result of her exposure in California at the PPIE, Munson moved to California and entered the nascent film industry, starring in four silent films. The first, Inspiration, the story of a sculptor’s model, was the first time that a woman appeared fully nude on film. The censors were reluctant to ban the film, fearing they would also have to ban Renaissance art. Munson's films were a box office success, while reviews were very polarized. Only a single print of one of Munson's films, Purity, has survived.
Munson returned to New York in 1919 and was living with her mother in a boarding house owned by Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins fell in love with her and murdered his wife, Julia, so he could be available for marriage. Although Munson and her mother had left New York prior to the murder, the police still wished to question them, resulting in a nationwide hunt for them. They were finally questioned in Toronto, Canada, where they testified that they had moved out because Mrs. Wilkins had requested it. This satisfied the police, but the negative publicity generated by the case effectively ended Munson’s career as a model and actress. Wilkins was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to the electric chair. He hanged himself in his prison cell before the sentence could be carried out.
Later years and death
By 1920, Munson, unable to find work anywhere, returned with her mother to the town of Mexico, New York and worked for a while selling kitchen utensils door to door. On May 27, 1922, she swallowed a solution of bichloride of mercury in an attempt to take her own life. That was the start of her mental illness and paranoia.
In 1931 a judge ordered the 39-year-old Munson into a psychiatric facility for treatment. She was to remain there for the next 65 years, until her death in 1996 at the age of 104.
^ abcKnafo, Saki (December 9, 2007). "The Girl Beneath the Gilding". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-04. "Ms. Munson was eventually taken to the St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane, in nearby Ogdensburg, where she lived from her 40th birthday, on June 8, 1931, until her death in 1996 at age 105 [sic]."