Unearthing Audrey Munson: Hollywood's First Nude Model

You've never seen an Audrey Munson movie, but you might have seen the many statues of her in Manhattan.

Audrey Munson's career began like a fairy tale. Her life ended like an existential horror movie.

While it's unlikely that you've ever seen any of Munson's films (she appeared in four silent movies, all thought lost until recently, when one was discovered in a French archive) you may have seen her face - at least if you've ever been to New York City.

Munson's career began as a sculptor's model, and her likeness is enshrined in at least 15 statues dotting the island of Manhattan. Perhaps the most notable is the USS Maine Monument at Columbus Circle, or the golden statue Civic Fame atop the Manhattan Municipal Building (most famous for movie nerds as where the Ecto-1 drives when visiting the Mayor in Ghostbusters).

She's also immortalized in dozens of other sculptures around the country, and her figure made up 75% of the female sculptures at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 (the World's Fair, essentially).

Civic Fame, atop the Manhattan Municipal Building

Munson and her recently divorced mother arrived in New York City (either from upstate New York or Rhode Island, accounts vary) in 1906. Munson was 15 and dreamed of being a dancer; one day while walking the streets she met a photographer who, struck by her beauty, took her on as a model.

The photographer introduced Munson to the famed sculptor Isidor Konti, and from there she quickly became one of the most sought-after models in all of New York. She was a socialite and a media darling.

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