The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955) is a sanitized look at the true story of artists’ model Evelyn Nesbit, her affair with famed architect Stanford White, and his June 1906 murder at the hands of Nesbit’s husband, rail and coal tycoon Harry Kendall Thaw.
Joan Collins plays Nesbit, who started modeling for photographers, painters, and illustrators in New York City around age 15. She soon became the most popular face for the covers of magazines including Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, The Delineator, Women’s Home Companion, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan.
She began an affair with the married White that centered on the pivotal “Red Velvet Swing” that hung in White’s apartment. According to her own memoirs, White drugged and raped her; in the movie, the sex is VERY consensual, with Nesbit in love with and pursuing White, who attempts to resist. Their consummation is implied through a HILARIOUS scene in which White pushes Collins as Nesbit in the swing higher and higher. Collins plays Nesbit as sickly sweet and incredibly naive, despite her grumpy mother essentially shaking her head constantly.
Eventually, things fade with White, and she ends up marrying the insanely jealous Thaw, to whom she confessed her previous relationship. In the film, he couldn’t be more controlling or angry — he’s the literal poster child for an abusive husband — and just like in real life, ends up shooting and killing White during a performance at the rooftop Madison Square Garden theater (famously stating,”I did it because he ruined my wife!”). A sensational trial followed, and the film ends with Nesbit unhappily portraying herself in the red velvet swing in vaudeville. [Editor’s Note: This historical incident is also part of the 1981 film ‘Ragtime,’ starring Elizabeth McGovern!]
The costumes were designed by Charles Le Maire, who was wardrobe director for about a million films, and designed a smaller number, including Napoléon love story Désirée from 1954.
Have you seen The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing?