The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Richard Fleischer

Starring:     Ray Milland (Stanford White), Joan Collins (Evelyn Nesbit), Farley Granger (Harry K. Thaw), Cornelia Otis Skinner (Mrs. Thaw),  Glenda Farrell (Mrs. Nesbit),  Luther Adler (Delphin Delmas),  Frances Fuller (Mrs. Elizabeth White). 

beautiful girl Evelyn Nesbit, architect Stanford White, murdering husband Harry Thaw

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In 1906, the Thaw-White murder case rocked America.  Because it involves a man of great consequence, another of great wealth, and a girl of extraordinary beauty, it remains unique in the annals of crime.  What follows is taken from the actual reports of the trial and from personal interviews with Evelyn Nesbit."

Louis Sherry's Restaurant.  An orchestra plays for the wealthy and the famous.  Stanford White comes in with Mrs. White for her farewell dinner.  She is going to Europe.  Into the restaurant strides Thaw, McCaleb and Donnelly.  Thaw demands a table, but the maitre-de Ludwig says that there will just be a wait of twenty minutes.  Thaw becomes infuriated when Ludwig explains that, since Thaw and his friends were two hours late, he gave the table to Mr. and Mrs. Stanford White.  With his cane, Thaw knocks the seeing glasses out of Ludwig's hand and smashes some drinking glasses.  His two friends grab him to calm him down.  Thaw shouts:  "I go to the races, Mr. Stanford White has the best box, at the horse show, the best seats.  What is he, the sultan of New York?"   White gets up to go see what all the fuss is about.  Thaw blusters at White for awhile and then he and his buddies decide to go over to Delmonico's. 

White returns to his table and tells his wife that Thaw thinks he blackballed him at the club.  And that's true because, as White says, it's a club not a reformatory.  He toasts Elizabeth on her trip.  They are both 48 years of age, but Elizabeth says as a man that makes Stanford look 20 years younger than her.  A friend Bobby Collier of Collier's magazine comes over to the table and shows Mrs. White an article about her famous husband.  The article mentions some of the famous building White has designed:  Washington Arch, Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Station in New York City and the Boston Public Library.  Elizabeth notices the drawing of the face and hair of a beautiful woman on the cover of the magazine.  It is the face of one of the models working for artist Gibson.  (And her name is Evelyn Nesbit.)

Evvie's mother tells her to cancel a modeling job, because she is very busy and doesn't have time to sit and watch over Evvie.  Evvie walks over to the theater producer's office to make a call.  The producer comes in telling Evvie that there is a public phone down at the drugstore, but as soon as he sees her beautiful face, he lets her make the call.  He stares at Evvie from different angles while she talks.  When Evvie finishes with her call, the producer finds out that she has never been on the stage before, but she can sing. 

White is out working on the Hall of Fame for the big railroad tycoon Jay Gould.  Gwen and some other women of the theater come out to see White.  She wants White to set up a meeting for her with Bobby Collier.  Evvie is one of the theater girls.  White sees her and is immediately struck by her beauty.  He asks Gwen to bring the young lady with her when they meet for lunch so he can introduce Gwen to Bobby Collier. 

On the stage, Evelyn sings and dances with the chorus.  Thaw appears back stage and hands out presents in honor of his birthday to the members of the cast and the chorus men and women.  When he sees Evelyn he does a double-take and talks with her.  He gives her two presents.  Then he invites everyone over to Sherry's for his birthday party.  Mrs. Nesbit knows the Thaw family because both families are from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Gwen tells Mrs. Nesbit that Evvie can't go to the birthday, because she is taking Evvie to see Mr. Stanford White. 

Gwen Arden takes Evvie into a small toy shop.  She then goes over and rings a bell.  The door opens to a fabulous private place owned by White. White greets the two women.  He takes them up to his office where Bobby Collier awaits him.  Gwen talks with Bobby and White speaks with Evelyn. 

Thaw is waiting for Gwen and Evelyn.  He becomes very angry again when he is told that the two young women are with Stanford White. 

At White's place, Evelyn sneaks a peek at the room on the top floor.  She asks White if she can go examine the room.  He goes in with her.  Evelyn is entranced by the red velvet swing in the room.  White says he was thinking about being very fresh with her and she gives him the green light by saying:  "If you kissed me, I'd like it very much." So he kisses her.  Then the two really kiss passionately as she sits on the swing. 

White pays for a famous dentist to fix Evelyn's chipped tooth.  Evelyn is very impressed by White and tells her mother that he is the first great person she has ever met.  Her mother reminds Evelyn that White is married and too old for her anyway. 

The next day Evelyn goes over to see White.  He scolds Evelyn saying he dislikes unannounced visitors.  This makes Evelyn start to cry and White has to apologize for his bad mood.  He tells her to go away and not come back.  He is afraid of what he might do with the young lady, if he gets the chance.  White wants her to leave, but wants her to understand why he has asked her to leave.  She says she does understand and adds:  "I won't come back again."  

Gibson, the famous painter, is painting Evelyn down by the sea in her bathing outfit.  Thaw and another fellow race back and forth on a road by the beach. 

Thaw gets down and walks over to the beach to see Evelyn and talk with her.  Thaw tells her:  "I always get what I want." 

Thaw shows up at a White party, as a guest of Jay Gould.  White says something short and pleasant and goes about his business.  Evelyn has been hired as a girl who will pop out of a pie.  White finds out and doesn't like it.  He calls for a substitute for Evelyn.  White has her come along with him.  He takes her home and criticizes her mother for leaving her in New York City with all its evil characters.  Evelyn asks to see White's little black book and tears up the phone numbers of the vaudeville girls contained therein.  White receives a phone call and Evelyn goes up to the top floor room again.  He goes after her and finds her in the red velvet swing.  He pushes her hard enough for her to touch the moon on the far wall.

Whites attends the dedication of the Hall of Fame building.  Evelyn meets him in secret under the bleachers.  She tells him she will work around his work schedule.  They have to part.  She looks for a ride home and Harry K. Thaw offers her one.  She takes the ride.  When she arrives home her mother is in her room waiting for her.  She is upset that Evelyn might be up to no good.  Mom is further upset when she sees that Evelyn has $120 dollars in her purse.  Evelyn admits she got the money from White, but says that she loves the man. 

White comes to the theater to see Evelyn.  He goes back stage to Evelyn's dressing room where he runs into Mrs. Nesbit.  The mother is not too pleased with White.  She also complains that this affair between Evvie and him has Evelyn crying through the night.  He leaves the room asking the mother to tell Evelyn that he will be waiting for her in the manager's office.  Evelyn comes into the office and the two embrace and kiss.  Much to Evelyn's disappointment, White says he still loves his wife, but he wants to take care of Evelyn.  Evelyn says to him:  "You can't make me your wife, so you're trying to make me your daughter."  White looks upset about the remark and leaves. 

Evelyn, however, does agree to go to his selected Pompton Seminary.  White and his wife drive Evelyn out to the school.  When the Whites leave, Evelyn seethes with resentment. 

One of Thaw's friends talks with Gwen.  Thaw wants to find out where Evelyn is.  Gwen, however, doesn't know where she is. 

Evelyn tries to call White, but his number has been changed. 

Harry Thaw shows up at the seminary.  The principal says that two doctors have examined Evelyn and found nothing wrong with her physically.  She figures that Evelyn just has the worst case of home-sickness she has ever seen.  Thaw asks Evelyn to come with him on a trip to Europe.  She agrees to go with him. 

Bobby Collier tells White that Evelyn is going to Europe with Harry Thaw.  Evelyn's mother is going too.  White can't believe it at first.  Collier says they are headed for Switzerland. White immediately starts making arrangements to leave on the next ship heading to France.  The famous architect gets a cable from his wife saying that she is returning from Europe tomorrow and can't wait to see her husband.  He can't go to Switzerland, but White does make arrangements to wire some money to Evelyn and her mother. 

In the Alps Harry asks Evelyn if she will become Mrs. Harry K. Thaw.  Evelyn tries to ignore his proposal, but he insists she give him an answer.  So Evelyn says:  "I can't."  She is still tied to White.  Thaw laughs and tells her to grow up, get rid of this school girl crush on an older man.  Evelyn says it was more than a crush.  This angers Thaw and he grabs her hands and violently forces her onto the ground.  He keeps telling her to tell him that she was never one of White's girls.  He shouts the question over and over and then he slaps Evelyn twice across the face twice.  Evelyn starts crying and breaks away from Thaw. 

On the train back to France, Thaw tells Evelyn that he knows he has treated his family and friends and Evelyn herself badly.  He looks penitent and Evelyn feels sorry for him.  She says to him:  "If only you'd ever let me see you like this before, Harry ... things might have been different for us."  This encourages Thaw and Evelyn kisses him. 

A headline in one of the New York papers reads:  "Chorus Girl to Wed Multi-Millionaire.  Evelyn Nesbit to Marry Pittsburgh Playboy."  White has seen the headline and is very upset. At the theater, his wife notices that he is very sullen.  Stanford excuses himself to go outside.  There he bumps into the dentist that worked on Evelyn's chipped tooth.  The dentists tells White that Thaw has made a special Sunday morning appointment for Evelyn.  It seems Thaw doesn't want anyone in New York to see Evelyn.

Evelyn shows up for her dental appointment.  She tells the dentist that the wedding will be in Pittsburgh.  White shows up at the office and asks to speak with Evelyn alone.  Evelyn immediately tells him that he must go away, because if Harry ever found out, she doesn't know what he will do.  White tells her not to marry Thaw and says, just as he suspected, Evelyn is afraid of the man.  Stanford says he will do everything he can to prevent the wedding, but Evelyn tells him that she wants to marry Harry.   She can't return to being White's "little girl" always waiting for him for a little affection.  Evelyn admits she loves Stanny, but insists that this is her way out.  White leaves. 

So Evelyn marries Harry in Pittsburgh.  On her wedding night she sees the true Mr. Hyde side of her husband.  He grills her over and over about what she and White did together, looking for something incriminating.  The incessant questioning leads Evelyn  to tell Harry that he must stop this.  She cries. 

The next morning it's very clear that Evelyn already feels stifled by her bullying husband.  Perhaps to stress his dominance of her, he takes out one of the wedding gifts, a fancy pistol, and fires it three times through an open window.  And again Harry starts grilling Evelyn, accusing her of wanting to arrange an assignation with White.  He knows that she met White in the dentist's office.  Thaw demands that if Evelyn ever runs into White, that she will come to him and tell him:  "I've seen him.  I've seen the beast."  Evelyn refuses to say this, but agree to refer to White as capital B.  Evelyn tells Harry that her relationship with White is over, over, over. 

White and the Thaws are at the same restaurant.  Evelyn informs Harry that she just saw B.  Harry says he knows and seems happy that his wife informed him about White.  They are leaving and going to the open-air theater on the top of Madison Square Garden (designed by Stanford White).  At the Garden, White shows up.  Evelyn sees him but doesn't say anything.  Soon after, Harry sees White.  White sees the couple, but says nothing.  To his wife, Harry accuses White of showing contempt for Evelyn.  Evelyn demands that they go and Harry agrees, but then starts thinking about White.  He goes over to where White is sittings her:  "I'm building our case on the unwritten law.  Those 12 men in the panel must be convinced that Harry K. Thaw was the defender of American womanhood.."    Harry has told the lawyer that Stanford White ruined his wife, but Evelyn says:  "I wasn't forced into anything.  I wasn't drugged."  She says she won't testify because:  "I won't blacken the name of someone I loved."

The trial begins.  At three o'clock in the morning, Harry's mother awakens Evelyn to plead with her to get on the witness stand and save her boy from the death penalty for Evelyn is the only one who can save Harry. 

Just before Evelyn is to testify, a man whispers to her not to testify -- to faint or collapse, but don't testify.  But Evelyn doesn't faint.  A man holds up a sign saying:  "Evelyn wins jury's sympathy for Harry."  The prosecutor calls Evelyn the "paid mistress" of Stanford White.  He shows her the many receipt of checks made out by White to pay for her schooling and for expensive gifts.  He also sent her a letter of credit for $1,000 dollars to Switzerland for Evelyn. 

The jury finds Thaw "not guilty because of insanity".   

Evelyn tells Mrs. White that what she said on the stand was the way in which Harry's sick mind imagined how it was.  "He twisted it back and forth un-until his questions became my answers."  Then she takes all the blame for the relationship between herself and Stanford for she was the one who loved him.  Mrs.  White says:  "Love can be a great fault" and goes into her townhouse. 

Mr. Thaw is going up to the Mattewan asylum for a couple of years.  He speaks with his mother and sister, but not to Evelyn.  Evelyn asks him what he wants her to do.  Harry says that Evelyn, as usual, is thinking only of herself. The other inmates cheer Harry as he leaves.  He lavished money on the inmates and his jailers and got the best of everything in prison.  Now Evelyn is a famous person.  A theater owner from Atlantic City named Huntzbacher gets her away from the press that hounds her outside the jail.  He says she will work for him.  Evelyn gets out of that cab as fast as possible. 

Evelyn gets the cold shoulder from her mother- and sister-in-law.  Harry's mother accuses her of being a gold digger.  Evelyn takes the check her mother-in-law has signed for her in order that Evelyn might just simply go away.  Evelyn crumples up the check, throws it on the table  and leaves. 

Evelyn takes that job in Atlantic City.  When the curtain opens, Evelyn swings out over the audience on a red velvet swing. 

 

There are not many films about the very wealthy.  As one way to stay wealthy, the wealthy do not widely publicize their wealth.  They want to remain under the radar as far as the common folk are concerned.  But this is one story that really caught Society with its pant's down so to speak.  The film goes too easy on Stanford White who did take advantage of the very young Evelyn Nesbit.  He was no angel.  And Evelyn was darker that what was portrayed on film.  As Britney Spears might say for Evelyn:  "I'm not that innocent."  They went the hardest on Harry K. Thaw and he does deserve the criticism.  But he was actually worse than what was shown on film.  He was a sexual sadist and you can't too much worse than that.  In the 1950's it was a conservative period and the producers had to  the film clean in order to get the film seen.  I would like to see the film redone, but this time with as  faithful a portrayal of all involved as can be achieved.   The movie would show a list of problems and abuses of the Age of the Robber Barons.  Here wealthy, powerful and famous men misuse their privileged positions for their own egos and sex drives.  And you have a young girl from Pittsburgh being completely swept off her feat by power, fame and wealth.  For instance, the rich Society men used to throw very private parties that could be very risqué and very restricted as to who could attend.  And no one was to talk about these parties with anyone other than fellow members of Society.   Yes, I would love to see a truthful version of this story. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

This story is based on a true story.  The rich, but perverted, Pittsburgh man Harry K. Thaw is obsessed with his wife's earlier affair with the great American architect Stamford White.  Evelyn Nesbit, the wife, was supposed to be one of the most beautiful women in the United States and Stanford White had sex with her when she was still very young and impressionable.

White was somewhat of a lady's man.  He was famed for having a red velvet swing on which great beauties of the day would swing for him.  

Thaw, a sexual sadist, was probably projecting his own fears and desires onto Stamford White.  He pictured White as the despoiler of young women who did not deserve to live. Thaw shot and murdered White at an open air restaurant/theater on top of Madison Square Gardens. He was tried and sentenced to prison for a short period, during which he used his great monetary resources to get the best treatment money can buy in a prison.  He was released from prison and later committed other sexual assaults on various women.

 

Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)