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Russell Thaw

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Russell Thaw
Russell Thaw with Granville Gee Bee Model R-2 Super Sportster NR2101.jpg
Born(1910-10-25)October 25, 1910
DiedMay 6, 1984(1984-05-06) (aged 73)
Katherine Emily Roberts
(m. 1936; div. 1941)
Parent(s)Harry Kendall Thaw
Evelyn Nesbit

Russell William Thaw (October 25, 1910 – May 6, 1984) was an American airplane pilot. While working as the chief pilot for the Guggenheim family, he was sponsored for air races and excursions. He served during World War II in the United States Army Air Force,[citation needed] and later became a test pilot for the Douglas Aircraft Company in California. In 1948 he was the first person to fly the Douglas XF3D-1.

Thaw was also known as the only child of American model and actress Evelyn Nesbit and, according to her, her husband Harry Kendall Thaw. Their lives had received sensational attention after his biological father fatally shot architect Stanford White in 1906 in front of a large crowd. Harry Thaw spent the next several years in mental institutions, before eventually being released. The Thaw family did not accept Nesbit's claims about Russell's paternity. He grew up in California, where his mother remarried after divorcing his father, and she had a prominent and lucrative acting career, with his mother being widely regarded as a contemporary standard for beauty in the western world. Thaw also worked as a child actor, appearing with his mother in six films of the silent film era, all of which are now lost.

Early years

Thaw with his mother, aged 3
Thaw with his mother, aged 3

Born in Berlin, Germany in 1910, Thaw was the only known child of Evelyn Nesbit, a famous American model and actress, and, legally, her first husband Harry Kendall Thaw. The senior Thaw was wealthy, the son of a tycoon, with a long history of mental instability. In 1906, he shot and killed architect Stanford White, a former lover of Nesbit, at Madison Square Garden in front of hundreds of witnesses. In 1908 Harry Thaw was acquitted of murder based on reason of insanity, but he spent years in mental institutions, where Nesbit visited him.

Russell Thaw was treated indifferently by Harry Thaw and his family, who never accepted the boy as his biological son. Russell was born four years into a period of about seven years, following his father's killing of White, when Harry Kendall Thaw was largely confined to jails and mental institutions. Nesbit had testified that Russell had been conceived by Harry Thaw during her conjugal visits to her husband at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. There Harry Thaw had been given extensive visitation privileges, freedom of movement, and privacy. Nesbit said that those who saw the boy believed that Harry Thaw was his father by the resemblance between them. But, she eventually gave up trying to prove Thaw's paternity in an era when before it could be definitively established. Nesbit said of the matter, "A working girl could not fight the Thaw millions."[1]

Nesbit and Harry Kendall Thaw divorced in 1915, after she had moved to California with Russell. She married again in 1916, to Jack Clifford. His father was eventually released, though a kidnapping and sexual assault charge saw him briefly confined again, before being released due to his family connections.

As a child, Thaw appeared with his mother in at least six films of the silent film era: Threads of Destiny (1914), Redemption (1917), Her Mistake (1918), The Woman Who Gave (1918), I Want to Forget (1918), and The Hidden Woman (1922). However, all copies of these films have since been lost.

Career as a pilot

As a young man Thaw was attracted to flying and became certified as a pilot. He worked as the chief pilot for the Guggenheim family and participated in air races and adventure excursions under their sponsorship.[2][3][4]

Thaw participated in two cross-country Bendix trophy races. These were instituted in 1931 and held annually to promote and encourage the achievements of U.S. aviation. Flying the Gee Bee Model R-2 with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine, he withdrew from the 1933 race.[5] Flying a Northrop Gamma with a Wright Cyclone engine, he came in third in the 1935 race from Los Angeles to Cleveland, ahead of Amelia Earhart in fifth place.[citation needed]

On December 10, 1935, Thaw crashed in Atlanta, Georgia, after leaving from Caldwell, New Jersey, during a planned flight to rescue the polar explorer Lincoln Ellsworth.[6]

He also served as a pilot in the US Army Air Force during World War II.[citation needed]

Thaw worked as a test pilot for the Douglas Aircraft Company. He flew the Douglas F3D Skyknight, the Douglas XB-43 Jetmaster, and the XF4D-1 Skyray. He was the first person to fly the Douglas XF3D-1 (on March 23, 1948, at Douglas's El Segundo facility in California).[7]

Personal life

On July 17, 1936, Thaw married Katherine Emily Roberts, a Beverly Hills debutante who was graduate of Radcliffe College.[8] They settled in White Plains, New York. They separated on March 15, 1939. Katherine Thaw sued her husband for cruelty and "refusal to live with her".[9] They divorced effective July 8, 1941. Katherine Thaw said that her husband had left her because he said he could not support them both.[10][11]

Thaw married again in 1943. He had three children with his second wife: sons Michael William and Russell Hall Thaw, and a daughter, Theresa Nesbit Thaw.[citation needed] Thaw died in Santa Barbara, California, on May 6, 1984.


  1. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (December 11, 2005). "Girl in Red Velvet Swing Longed to Flee Her Past". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  2. ^ Shupek, John, ed. (2012). "Northrop Gamma 2H". Whittier, California.
  3. ^ "Welcome to the Website of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register".
  4. ^ Don Hollway. "DOOLITTLE TAMES THE GEE BEE: The Story of the 1932 National Air Races".
  5. ^ "Russell Thaw Flies in Race". New York Times. July 2, 1933. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  6. ^ "Thaw Crashes at Atlanta". New York Times. December 10, 1935. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
  7. ^ "Russell William Thaw, 1910–1984.", Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers. Retrieved: 3 August 2013.
  8. ^ "Married". 27 July 1936. Archived from the original on December 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
  9. ^ "Wife Sues Son of Thaw". New York Times. December 13, 1939. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
  10. ^ "Divorce Won by Mrs. Thaw. Son of Pittsburgh Millionaire Refused to Live With Her, She Says". Los Angeles Times. July 9, 1941. Archived from the original on 2012-11-04. Retrieved 2010-10-09.
  11. ^ "Mrs. Russell Thaw Wins Divorce". United Press in The New York Times. July 9, 1941. Retrieved 2010-10-09.

Further reading

  • Burnett, Claudine (2009). Murderous Intent?: Long Beach, CA: 1880s–1920. AuthorHouse. p. 149. ISBN 978-1-438-94044-1.
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Russell Thaw
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