In 1908, Edna Goodrich was subpoenaed to testify in the second Harry K. Thaw trial. Thaw had allegedly shot and killed the famous architect Stanford White, rumored lover of Thaw’s wife, Broadway actress Evelyn Nesbit. Goodrich refused to testify, stating to the media that she did not introduce White to Nesbit, as had been previously stated.
You might be familiar with the key players of Thaw, White, and Nesbit, as it became known as the “The Trial of the Century” and became memorialized in the film “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.” Nesbit even makes an appearance as a character in the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical, “Ragtime” (and was given her own song, “Crime of the Century”).
But Edna Goodrich? You’re probably never heard of her.
Edna Goodrich was a celebrity in her day, a contemporary of Nesbit, gracing the stage both in the U.S. and Europe as a theatrical star. Marrying Nat C. Goodwin, a comedian and powerhouse producer, she became a leading lady of not only the stage but also the early days of film. Her fame was such that before the first Harry K. Thaw trial in 1907, she invited a Brooklyn Daily Eagle reporter to her dressing room while on the road in New Orleans to denounce the media, repeating her insistence that she had made no introductions or had any involvement in the affair.
When she eventually sued her husband for divorce in 1911, it garnered a front page article in the same newspaper. When her Park Avenue belongings were auctioned in 1923, the auction room advertised her name in large font to let the world know they could have the opportunity to be the winning bidder on one of Ms. Goodrich’s belongings.
Over one hundred years ago, Edna Goodrich was a celebrity. Today she is largely unknown. When thinking about this post, I could have chosen any one of thousands of celebrities from the past that haunt our performing or literary history.
If you’re like me, and you’ve grown cold to celebrity culture, you’ll agree that Ms. Goodrich is a good example of the celebrity fade. There is a long list of stratospheric celebrities of one hundred, or three hundred, or six hundred years ago who are now either footnoted or forgotten.
It would be refreshing if the current media embraced this perspective. It would be equally refreshing if some artists took themselves more seriously by sharing their gifts of art with the media, rather than sharing wasteful information about their lifestyles. Then celebrity culture wouldn’t seem so silly.
If your life goal happens to be fame, think twice about it. There’s a good chance that one hundred years from now, nobody will remember who you were. Even with the digital age, your celebrity social media life will probably be swallowed by future celebrities down the road, and whatever new digital invention that accompanies it. (And if fame isn’t your goal, your selfies will also be hard to find some day.)
Sharing one’s artistic gifts is important, as the world needs art. If only the media would focus on that art, and not celebrity, as the art should remain part of our cultural history.