Audrey Munson

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Audrey Munson
Nude Audrey Munson - Heedless Moths.jpg
Munson in Heedless Moths (1921)
Born Audrey Marie Munson
(1891-06-08)June 8, 1891
Rochester, New York, U.S.
Died February 20, 1996(1996-02-20) (aged 104)
Ogdensburg, New York, U.S.
Resting place New Haven Cemetery
Nationality American
Occupation Artist's model, actress
Years active 1906–1921

Audrey Marie Munson (June 8, 1891 – February 20, 1996) was an American artist's model and film actress, known variously as "Miss Manhattan", the "Panama–Pacific Girl", the "Exposition Girl" and "American Venus". She was the model or inspiration for more than 15 statues in New York City and appeared in four silent films.[1]


Audrey Munson with photographer Arnold Genthe's cat, Buzzer (1915)
Munson was the model for Adolph Alexander Weinman's The Setting Sun, created for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition and featured on the cover of Sunset magazine (October 1915)[2]

Long after she and everyone else of this generation shall have become dust, Audrey Munson, who posed for three-fifths of all the statuary of the Panama–Pacific exposition, will live in the bronzes and canvasses of the art centers of the world.

— New Oxford Item, April 1, 1915[3]

Audrey Marie Munson was born in Rochester, New York, on June 8, 1891.[4] She was not born in Mexico, New York, as is sometimes reported,[citation needed] although her father was 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.[citation needed]

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 held that year. She posed for three-fifths of the sculpture created for the event,[3] and earned fame as the "Panama–Pacific Girl".[5]

As a result of her celebrity related to the exposition, Munson entered the nascent film industry and starred in four silent films. The first, Inspiration (1915), the story of a sculptor's model, was the first time that a woman had appeared fully nude in an American motion picture. 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, although reviews were polarized.[6] Only one of Munson's films, Purity (1916), has survived.[7]

Munson returned to New York in 1919, around the age of 28. She lived with her mother in a boarding house owned by Dr. Walter Wilkins. Wilkins fell in love with Munson and murdered his wife, Julia, so he could be available for marriage.[1] 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.[8]

By 1920, when she was 29, Munson was unable to find work anywhere. She was living in Syracuse, New York, with her mother, who was selling kitchen utensils door to door to earn their support. In February 1921 it was announced that Perry Plays, Inc., had paid Munson $27,500 toward a contract in which she would star in Heedless Moths. The 1921 film was drawn from her life story, which was being serialized in dozens of newspapers,[9] and on short stories and other articles she had written for Hearst's Sunday Magazine.[10]

On May 27, 1922, shortly before her 31st birthday, Munson swallowed a solution of bichloride of mercury in an attempt to take her own life.[11]

In 1931, a judge ordered the 39-year-old Munson into a psychiatric facility for treatment. She remained there for the next 65 years, until her death at the age of 104.[1] Munson died February 20, 1996.[12]


Mourning Victory (1908), Melvin Brothers memorial by Daniel Chester French[13][14]
Civic Fame (1913) by Adolph Alexander Weinman
Star Maiden (1915) by Alexander Stirling Calder
Autumn (1915) by Furio Piccirilli
Day and Night clock surround (1906) by Weinman for Pennsylvania Station, now at the Eagle Scout Memorial Fountain, Kansas City, Missouri

Herbert Adams

Robert Ingersoll Aitken

Karl Bitter

Alexander Stirling Calder

  • Star Maiden (1915) – PPIE - Court of the Universe, now in the Oakland Museum
  • Eastern Hemisphere (1915) – PPIE - Fountain of Energy

Daniel Chester French

Sherry Edmundson Fry

Albert Jaegers

  • Rain (1915) – PPIE
  • Harvest (1915) – PPIE

Carl Augustus Heber

  • Figures on tablet outside the Little Theatre
  • Spirit of CommerceManhattan Bridge, NYC

Isidore Konti

  • Mother and Child – private collection of Richard & Lydia Kaeyer
  • Three Muses – Hudson River Museum
  • Three Graces Y– lobby of the Hotel Astor, NYC
  • Pomona – Konti finished the work after Karl Bitter was killed
  • Figure within the Column of Progress (1915) – PPIE
  • Widowhood
  • Genius of Immortality (1911) – Hudson River Museum

Evelyn Beatrice Longman

Augustus Lukeman

Frederick MacMonnies

Allen Newman

Attilio Piccirilli

Firio Piccirilli

  • Fountain of Spring (1915) – PPIE

Frederick Ruckstull

Adolph Alexander Weinman

Albert G. Wenzel

  • Madam Butterfly

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

  • The Fountain of El Dorado (1915) – PPIE

Others sculptures at Panama-Pacific International Exposition

  • Fountain of Ceres, Court of Four Seasons
  • Fountain of Rising Sun, Court of Universe
  • Pedestal & Friezes, Columns of Human Progress
  • Air, Court of Universe
  • Spirit of Creation, Court of Universe
  • Nature, Feast of Sacrifice, Court of Four Seasons
  • Pylon Groups, Festival Hall
  • Conception, Wonderment, and Contemplation, Palace of the Fine Arts


Audrey Munson and Thomas A. Curran in Inspiration (1915), her film debut

All four films in which Munson appeared were thought to have been lost until a copy of Purity (1916) was recovered in France.[7]

Year Title Role Notes
1915 Inspiration The Model Reissued as The Perfect Model (1918)[9][10]
1916 Purity Purity / Virtue [10]
1916 The Girl o' Dreams Norma Hansen [10]
1921 Heedless Moths Audrey Munson Based on Munson's stories and articles for Hearst's Sunday Magazine[10]



  1. ^ a b c Knafo, 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]. 
  2. ^ "American Venus". Balcony Press. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  3. ^ a b "Audrey Munson". New Oxford Item (New Oxford, Pennsylvania). April 1, 1915. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  4. ^ White, Justin D. "Rediscovering Audrey" (PDF). 
  5. ^ "The Broad Minded Romance of the Famous Panama-Pacific Girl". Richmond Times-Dispatch. June 27, 1915. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  6. ^ Rozas and Bourne-Gottehrer (1999). American Venus: The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, Model and Muse. Los Angeles: Balcony Press. pp. 81–82. 
  7. ^ a b "Purity". The Progressive Silent Film List. Silent Era. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Bowers, Q. David. "Inspiration". Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History. Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  10. ^ a b c d e "Audrey Munson". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  11. ^ "Model Who Attempted Suicide by Poison Will Recover". The New York Times. May 29, 1922. Retrieved 2009-02-04. Audrey Munson, famed as an artist's model also known as a motion picture actress, who attempted to end her life by swallowing a solution of bichloride of mercury at her home in Mexico, Oswego County, yesterday afternoon, was today... 
  12. ^ Number: 082-42-0284; Issue State: New York; Issue Date: 1996. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935–2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
  13. ^ "Concord Moment: 'Mourning Victory' Melvin Memorial". Barrow Bookstore (YouTube). January 10, 2016. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  14. ^ "Mourning Victory". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  15. ^ The sculpture was finished by Konti after Bitter’s untimely death.


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