Beautiful Miss Audrey
Guest Essay. By John Sarkis 2015 ©
Few today are familiar with the name Audrey Munson, but depending on your age and location, it’s likely you’ve seen her image hundreds, if not thousands of times.
In today’s terminology, Audrey would be considered a supermodel, and quite possibly, the first in America. Born in upstate New York, her divorced mother moved the two of them to New York City when Audrey was fifteen. After a chance encounter with a local photographer, she soon found herself modeling for the top civic artists in the country. And as a result, her likeness can be found in museums and municipal buildings around the country, on canvas and in sculpture. But it was Adolph Weinman who immortalized her. A sculptor by trade, Weinman produced two of the most iconic coin designs in U.S. history, using Audrey Munson as his model.
The Walking Liberty half dollar, minted from 1916-1947, shows Lady Liberty, draped in the American flag, striding toward the rising sun and a bright future. His other coin, which many mistakenly called the Mercury Dime because of its wings, was actually a Winged Liberty, with Lady Liberty wearing a hat with wings, symbolizing one of our basic rights, freedom of thought.
Utilizing her fame, Audrey went to Hollywood, where she starred in four silent films . This was before the industry adopted the Motion Picture Code, and many films of the day, including Audrey’s, featured nudity. Which finally leads us to the local [St Louis] connection of this story.
October 1, 1921 — 94 years-ago this month, Audrey Munson was appearing at the Royal Theater, 210 N. Sixth Street, St Louis, Missouri, where her movie, “Innocence” was being shown. The movie began by showing many of the statues for which she had posed nude, including some which had been exhibited at our 1904 St Louis World’s Fair.  Following each statue, were scenes of Miss Munson dancing, fully clothed. But in her personal appearance, she wore a gauzy drapery, posed on a platform under spotlight, in front of the screen. She remained fully covered until the last pose.
Seated, with her back to the audience, she lowered her drapery, exposing her back. She and the theater owner were arrested; the film confiscated. They were charged with conspiracy to commit acts injurious to public morals. Unbelievably fast by today’s standards, the trial was held later that week. After viewing the film, and hearing testimony, the Jury was only out five minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty. Afterward, Munson said, “Clothes we began to wear only when guile and evil thoughts entered our heads. They do harm to our bodies and worse to our souls.”
Sadly, Audrey’s life unraveled when she could no longer find modeling work, and the following year she attempted suicide. Spiraling into depression, she was committed to a psychiatric facility at the age of 39, where she remained for the last 65 years of her life. She passed away in 1996, at the age of 104.
John Sarkis posts regularly at the Facebook page for “St. Louis Missouri. History, Landmarks & Vintage photos”
John is a native Saint Louisan, is retired, and now lives in Kirkwook, Missouri, a suburb of Saint Louis.
 IMDB lists only three movies for Miss Munson, failing to include Heedless Moths, a sort of autobiography of Miss Munson herself (although she doesn’t play herself) and in which she appears in several scenes in various stages of undress.
The movie cited here (Innocence) does not show up on IMDB or her biography. But surely it was filmed and presented, for here is an advertisement I found from a 1922 Duluth, Minnesota newspaper, the Duluth Herald.
So, perhaps she was in at least five movies.
 Also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
Audrey Munson could not have posed for the actual statues seen at the 1904 Fair; she was only 12 or so as the sculptures were being made, and hadn’t yet been “discovered.” As most statues were made of temporary materials, including staff, she had likely posed for re-sculpturing of many of them.
Munson did model for statues at the 1915 San Francisco world’s Fair, the Pan Pacific Exposition.