Starr Faithfull in New York

Although Starr Faithfull lived for only 25 years, she inspired several authors to write about her. Born January 26, 1906 in Evanston, IL, Starr died in June 1931 after a Long Island boat party.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why the Media's Been Faithful to Starr Faithfull

The Press: Five Starr Faithfull
June 29, 1931 - Time Magazine

Jun. 29, 1931
If the bruised body of a pretty girl with veronal in the liver were washed ashore on the sands of Long Beach, N. Y.; if she were found to be of respectable but somewhat eccentric family; if her diary revealed her as a neurotic and alluded to childhood misadventures with an unnamed, elderly and prominent man; if the girl's name were Sadie Schmitz and she lived, say, on West 17th Street, New York; if such a case occurred in cool weather with an abundance of other news breaking concurrently — then how would the newspapers treat it? Probable answer: as a good local five-day sex mystery, to be slipped off the front pages of conservative papers if no solution was forthcoming.

But if the dead girl's name were Starr Faithfull; if she had had an eventful sex life on two continents; if her address were No. 12 St. Luke's Place, three doors from Mayor James J. Walker; if her sister, Tucker Faithfull, were a secretive girl whose full lips and slim legs photographed well; and if the story broke during a heat wave and a scarcity of big news — then, as happened last fortnight, the august New York Times might consider it fit to print front-page for nearly two weeks. Cyrus H. K. Curtis' polite New York Evening Post might feature on its front page a three-column drawing of the girl's family and dog in their home. The Chicago Tribune might feel called upon to print an 8-column banner: SCAN SLAIN GIRL'S LOVE DIARY. The Atlanta Constitution, San Francisco Examiner, Milwaukee Sentinel, Cincinnati Enquirer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Indianapolis News might go for the story, as go for it they did. So did the newspapers of Boston, so energetically that Andrew J. Peters, one-time Boston Mayor, whose wife was a distant cousin of Starr Faithfull's mother, found occasion to issue a formal denial that he had ever been improperly involved with the girl.

The potentialities of the strange story as hot-weather reading were in nowise chilled by Nassau County's publicity-wise District Attorney Elvin Newton Edwards, who had just finished the noisy business of sending hare-brained Francis ("Two-Gun") Crowley to the electric chair (TIME, June 15). Soon after Starr Faithfull's body was found, the district attorney announced she had been killed by two men [one prominent in politics], her body taken out in a boat and thrown overboard. Next day he declared that the girl was knocked unconscious aboard a boat, then thrown into the water. By then the prominent politician had been "practically eliminated." Ultimately Prosecutor Edwards was weighing suicide against the murder theory.

But the paucity of essential facts was more than made up for to the Press by Starr Faithfull's background and home life. The family, occupying one floor of a brownstone house, consisted of Starr, her sister, her mother and stepfather, Stanley Faithfull, a not prosperous chemist and salesman for a pneumatic mattress concern. Lean, gimlet-eyed, red-whiskered, bewildered, he talked & talked to the thronging newshawks who came away with many conflicting stories and white lies. For some reason his daughter was made an "heiress" by the first sensational stories, a description soon dropped by all but the tabloids. But other newspapers kept the family endowed with an air of gentility, apparently as an excuse to give the story special attention.

Officials of the United Press, impressed by the national demand for the story, set out to get all they could of it. Believing that reporters on the case were using the wrong strategy, they simply asked for, and with the help of the parents obtained, a diary. They won private Faithfull's interview confidence, persuaded him that a full explanation of Starr's makeup would mitigate the impression of promiscuity which had gone forth. The result, an "exclusive" for the U. P., was the full details of how the girl had been induced to unnatural sexual antics at the age of eleven by the elderly man, a trusted friend of the family; how he had repeatedly over a period of years taken her on automobile trips, stopping at hotels, with knowledge and consent of the parents who never dreamed that his interest was other than fatherly: how Starr, who was emotionally unbalanced as a result, finally made known the facts to her parents; how they obtained a $20,000 settlement from the despoiler to pay for treatment of Starr by psychiatrists and neurologists. For all their effort, they said, Starr never fully recovered normality. With their full knowledge [if not their consent] she had run around with (and after) all kinds of men in all kinds of places "looking for happiness." In return for the story, Faithfull insisted only on a letter which would prove that no payment was being made for it to him or his family.

The New York World-Telegram and other United Press subscribers embellished Father Faithfull's sad story with facsimiles of erotic pages from Starr's memory book, letters, telegrams. Star writers were put on the lurid story to treat it as an epic of injured innocence, a cause celebre of the decade. Fresh interest, fresh front-page stories (again including the Times) were supplied by the arrival from England of a Cunard Line doctor who revealed that Heroine Faithfull had come to see him on shipboard just before she disappeared from home, that he had sent her away because she was drunk, that she had written him she was going to commit suicide. The doctor's picture now made display material as the epic passed into its third week. Observers marveled at what the great U. S. Press could do with the conjunction of a perfect front-page name, a sexy death mystery and a spell of hot weather.
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Press: Faithfull Sequel [1935]

Most newsreaders remember Starr Faithfull [1906-1931], if they bother to remember her at all, as a pretty young girl whose bruised body, with veronal in the liver, was washed ashore at Long Beach, N. Y. one day in June four years ago (TIME, June 29, 1931). Partly because of her incredible name, partly because of her spectacular sex life, the Press quickly picked up all that was left of Starr Faithfull and gave it to the nation as a hot weather sensation. With the mystery of the girl's death still unsolved, the story eventually collapsed. But newspaper publishers had not heard the last of Starr Faithfull. Her...
[printed in Time Magazine on Monday, March 11, 1935]
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