The sad life of famous Twenties model Audrey Munson


Audrey Munson was fifteen when she was began her modeling career as a nude model for sculptors and painters. From 1906 until 1921, she was the preferred model for so many artists she became famous. She starred in several silent films and has the dubious distinction of being the first woman to appeal fully nude in an American film. 220px-Audrey_Munson1(Inspiration, 1915–a lost silent film; Purity 1916 is her only film that still exists) Both films were semi-autobiographical, about a model who poses for artists. 

Star,_for_the_%22Colonnade_of_Stars,%22_Court_of_the_Universe_building,_1915_Panama_Pacific_International_Exposition,_San_FranciscoA scandal involving a lover and murder brought her negative publicity and ruined her film and modeling career, and she tried to kill herself with mercury bichloride, a poison used by other famous people in the film world. Her attempt failed, but she declined into mental illness. In 1931, a judge sentenced her to a psychiatric facility where she remained until 1996–she died at the St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane at the age of 104.

$(KGrHqZ,!owF!F0PPH!IBQI+UncFng~~60_3Mourning_VictoryI became interested in this sad story because it was yet another example of a famous silent movie actor using mercury bichloride to kill themselves. I use that poison in several of my books. Sunset-FC-October-1915




Published in: on April 24, 2016 at 6:41 pm  Comments (7)  
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Antique Poison for Sale!

An alert reader pointed out this item for sale on eBay–an unopened bottle of mercury bichloride in tablet form. (Can you read the label, I hope?) This was the poison that killed Olive Thomas (Jack Pickford’s wife) in Paris, although her case involved a liquid version. It was used all too often in the Roaring Twenties for suicides. Note that it says For External Use Only. How do you use a pill for external use only? Dissolve in water. This drug was commonly used as treatment for syphilis. 

I wanted to buy the bottle for my collection of Twenties memorabilia that I’m planning to take with me when I do book signings for THE IMPERSONATOR, but I didn’t handle the eBay bidding correctly and missed my chance. Someone else got it for $10! I’d have paid more than that. Oh well, maybe another bottle will surface before I need it. The mystery doesn’t come out until fall of next year, 2013, so I have plenty of time to add to my collection. 

Published in: on August 25, 2012 at 8:11 am  Comments (2)  
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Popular Poisons Part II: Mercury Bichloride

In the days before antibiotics, physicians used mercury bichloride (also called mercury chloride without the “bi”) to treat a variety of diseases, notably syphillis. Highly toxic, odorless, and colorless, it was meant to be applied topically to the sores that developed as this disease progressed. It was also used in very diluted form (1 part to 1000) for tonsillitis.
Several deaths during the Roaring Twenties brought this poison to the attention of the entire country. The first was the death in Paris of silent film star Olive Thomas, wife of leading man Jack Pickford whose sister, Mary Pickford, was the foremost actress of her day. Whether Olive’s death was accidental, as Jack always claimed, suicide, or murder was never determined. The French were quick to ship the body, Jack, and the scandal home to America where the controversy raged for months. No definitive cause of death was ever established. To read more, check wikipedia or
Another highly publicized death occurred in 1925 when a young woman named Madge Oberholtzer was kidnapped, tortured, and raped by the head of Indiana’s powerful Ku Klux Klan. She managed to get hold of some mercury bichloride pills and swallowed them. She died a few days later after having had the presence of mind to accuse the Grand Dragon in signed testimony. Her written words were instrumental in convicting the man of murder, and the resulting publicity destroyed the KKK in Indiana. Details at wikipedia or
Mercury bichloride was available at drug stores, sometimes by prescription only, sometimes not. Depending upon the state, a person who purchased poison of any sort was supposed to sign a register so there would be a record of the transaction. (We still have to do that for some drugs today.)

Imercury bichloride use mercury bichloride and the poison registries in my second novel (yet to be published). If anyone has access to drug store “poison books” from the 1920s, I’d sure like to see a genuine example!

Published in: on August 15, 2009 at 11:01 pm  Comments (36)  
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