By Jim Linderman
Edna Adams was the most beautiful child star in history. Shown here several times as a beautiful child, and again ten years later already on her way to becoming a beautiful grifter? Could be.
Child actors don’t usually start troubled, but their parents do. I’ve seen enough of TMZ and WTF Hollywood to know that. There is an industry built on reporting celebrity growth problems to the rest of us. It goes way back. Shakespeare knew what gossip was and apparently Jesus was against it. Marx erred when he claimed religion was the opiate of the masses… he didn’t anticipate the National Enquirer. Or Gawker. The opiate of the masses is celebrity news.
Actually, what Marx said was ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.’ But we need not bother with facts anymore… it’s a 24 hour news cycle and facts are boring, especially to the media outlets owned by the greatest gossip mogul in history, Rupert Murdoch. Freedom of the press certainly has led to some ignorant reporting, and seriously one day we are going to have to do something about it. Maybe a law requiring broadcasters to show pay stubs for researchers, or require them to run their scripts past the legendary anal fact-checkers at The New Yorker. I see a day when gossip and repeated unsubstantiated untruths will trump news for good, and most of us will unfortunately be quite satisfied with it.
Early celebrity child Edna Adams. Let’s get the photographers out of the way, then go lurid. Rupert would lead with the crime, or try to find some risqué shots. Edna can’t sue… she has passed on to Vaudeville heaven.
Edna Adams was photographed here, first by proto-celebrity photographer Charles Eisenmann around 1890 and again, all grown-up (by showbiz standards) by his understudy Frank Wendt. Both Eisenmann and Wendt are best known for their photographs of circus and sideshow performers. The freaks posed, then purchased their own “cabinet card photographs” to use as promotional objects. They were usually sold for a dime to fans, and when the little hoofers weren’t working, they were often signing them on the reverse. Origin of the headshot. Show business IS a business, and if a few of the hangers-on at the stage door (or a rube on the stem) had a dime, the manager was happy to provide a souvenir. How much of that went to Edna is unknown. For that matter, the LIFE of Edna is unknown. One would think a performer with the moxie to have sold a half-dozen different pictures of herself to admirers would be documented in the press. Not much, and what is there isn’t too encouraging. Mere blips on the screen today.
Chas. Eisenmann’s studio on the Bowery was a hub of the strange. Bearded ladies, weightlifters, acrobats… they all dropped in for portraits. Eisenmann eventually brought in Frank Wendt as an assistant and business manager who took over the studio and the camera. Changing times forced him to relocate to Boonton, New Jersey. He continued to photograph and produce hundreds of these cabinet cards, but he was also known to reprint Eisenmann originals, on request, as customers replenished their stock. The child here was but one out of scores he captured.
The author recently self-published an entire book of his work as Hoofers and Sweethearts: The Little Women of Frank Wendt, which is linked (and available for gifts) below. Step right up and enjoy the show! The egress is below! Never have exploited juveniles looked so lovely. Like Lewis Carroll’s questionable photographs of far too young waifs, one has to wonder. I do not mean not to taint all photographers of children in any case, as half of the photographs in boxes at flea markets are children. Certainly not all were deviant.
On the reverse of the Eisenmann photo, a yellowed slip of paper reveals this is Edna Adams as “Little Meenie” in the stage play Rip Van Winkle, where I am sure as a young star, she upstaged a wizened actor playing the narcoleptic. The trade press of the day mentions her a few more times in standard roles common to the stage before radio, the movies and television. A Victorian Vaudevillian at a tender age.
A 1913 issue of the Pittsburgh Press contains the small headline “Pretty Young Woman Says He Accused Her of Stealing Watch,” which reveals the plaintiff in a lawsuit is one “highly indignant young woman, Rose Meyers, known to stageland as Edna Adams.” While walking near her home, the young woman was accosted by one of three men who were standing on the corner, one of whom asked, “Don’t you want to go out with me,” and when she paid no attention asked, “Is money any object?” Miss Adams/Meyers continued walking and met her friend Walter Welfitt, also an actor, who protected her from the group. Not deterred, the crude man said, “Come on, I’m on to you,” and demanded the actress hand over her watch, chain and $20. Noble Mr. Welfitt “invited the stranger to remove his glasses,” which resulted in an accusation that the actress had stolen his watch earlier. Apparently all charges were dropped.
No real row occurred… would YOU fight a man named Welfitt?
The New York Times reported the story too, but for some reason it was far bigger news in Pittsburgh.
Normally, in a turn of the century story involving a woman on the street, a gold watch and skullduggery, one COULD assume a scam of some sort was going on, but I think not. Edna not only reported the event, she carried it to court. So we can not report the child star descended into drug use and prostitution after all. But if it happened today, the ghouls would be all over it, be she still an innocent or not. I favor the latter. I mean, look at that face.
NOTES: All original cabinet card photographs by Chas. Eisenmann and Frank Went collection Jim Linderman. Jim Linderman’s book Hoofers and Sweethearts: The Little Women of Wendt is available HERE in paperback or ebook. Buy the ebook, the pictures are better in digital form and it is cheap. It contains many examples of the child actors Frank welcomed to his studio. The Pittsburgh Press (with account of dispute and a photo of the actress at age 28) is HERE. The Armor Tree site subsequently found more information on Edna Adams (and shows a picture of the perp) HERE. News Corp and Fox Entertainment, the fact-challenged billion dollar babies of despot Rupert Murdoch are easily found, but not easily avoided. No one cares. View the sullied reputation of Lewis Carroll (AKA The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) HERE. Of the some 3,000 photographs attributed to the Reverend, half are children and a few are nudes. The hopelessly out of print book Monsters of the Guilded Age about the photographs of Chas. Eisenmann is HERE. To date, other than the book on Frank Wendt above, he has been largely ignored by scholars.
Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, popular culture historian and author. His network of blogs is approaching 4 million page views, and his VINTAGE SLEAZE BLOG which tells a true story from the golden age of smut every day has over 300,000 Facebook followers. For several years he has been working on TIMES SQUARE SMUT which will tell the story of several long forgotten writers, illustrators and mob-connected publishers from the 1950s who ultimately influenced contemporary culture.