On first glance, today’s photo is a study in things that don’t belong together: E.L. Doctorow’s novel of New York City in the early 1900’s, Ragtime, and a Barbie Doll with an American flag as the backdrop. Add the photo of a line drawing of a Charles Dana Gibson “girl,” and a picture of chorus girl, model, actress, and socialite Evelyn Nesbit, and it all seems a little bizarre.
Bear with me.
E.L.Doctorow often chose to write about subjects that were inherently American. Many of his works include cover art that features the American flag. Ragtime was my first exposure to his talents with character and place. The noise and heat of New York City and the scrabbling of its inhabitants to make a life for themselves serve as a fantastic backdrop for a story of trying to get ahead in a difficult time. The characters, many chosen from history, arrive like shooting stars and often burn out just as quickly. It’s a stunning journey.
One of those characters – and a minor one, at that – is Evelyn Nesbit, known more for her visage than actual talent. Her alleged stalker/predator in this part of the story is architect Stanford White, later shot and killed by Nesbit’s husband Harry K. Thaw in a scene that rivals today’s headlines. All three were actual figures in New York history, and Doctorow’s work makes them live and breathe, even today.
Nesbit was said to be the inspiration for this well-known, often-seen line drawing by Charles Dana Gibson called, The Eternal Question. The photo of Nesbit on the right was taken of her in 1903 by Gertrude Kasebier.
Which brings us to Barbie, dressed for the times, and looking much like I suspect Nesbit did in her socialite days, doing her acting for the social scene, no longer working on the stage but as a benefactress to others – at a price.