Just this weekend I was thinking of this picture:
I remembered it in a Life book of pictures my grandmother had in a spare room. Lazy and precious summer days drifting by and looking through the Life photo book this image of a beautiful woman was indelibly etched into my psyche. Along with a bunny in a classroom on its hind legs, a black cat and mouse snuggling and a kitten in a ladle of spaghetti.
It was published in 1947 with this caption:
On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. ‘He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,’ … Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb. Across the street photography student Robert Wiles heard an explosive crash. Just four minutes after Evelyn McHale’s death Wiles got this picture of death’s violence and its composure.
I don’t know if the photo book, most likely printed up in the seventies as a free gift with a subscription, had all this information. I didn’t remember her name in any event but randomly last night I clicked on a video on youtube titled Evelyn McHale. Not knowing what to expect the coincidence was a little spooky and I wonder what it means if anything at all. I hadn’t thought of this picture for a very long time and to have all the dots connecting and an identity as well was a sort of unimportant bit of psychic energy. The chances of finding the video on all of youtube may be near lottery odds. I better play. I wasn’t familiar with the Warhol of Evelyn McHale and really unless you like him terribly and completely it’s not worth bothering with.
Years after this picture I saw Kahlo’s The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. It was one of the first of Kahlo I saw in person and it changed my life. It was painted in 1939 and commissioned by Claire Luce Booth who was horrified at the depiction of her unfortunate friend. Booth had one of Dorothy’s former lovers paint over at least Claire Luce Booth part of the inscription and crated it up to be forgotten for decades. Evelyn McHale must have never seen it and yet the beauty of both seem intertwined to me. A beauty that should have lived on in their work and children or wherever life was leading them.
Dorothy Hale had little luck after the death husband. She had a string of failed romances and a hopeless career as an actress as well. Renowned for her beauty she was told by a former lover that she was too old for an acting career and given 1000 dollars to get a dress to catch a husband. Living off the kindness of friends and a dwindling number of suitors she decided to wear her Madame X femme-fatale black velvet dress with a corsage of small yellow roses and jumped to her death.
She had a bit part in The Rise of Catherine the Great:
Not exactly promising but the script was no firecracker either. There is a another Dorothy that comes to mind in all of this too. Dorothy Millet but that is another story all together and probably not really a suicide.