Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mae West & the Jazz Age in The Big Apple

On August 15, 1921, Mae West opened in New York at the New Century Roof, as a solo star act. On the opening night, Jack Dempsey, then World Heavyweight Champion, and his manager, Jack Kearns, attended the performance and visited Mae backstage afterwards.
Mae West did a screen test with Dempsey that week with Pathe Studios on 168th Street; it was called "Daredevil Jack." It never made it as a picture.
If you'd like to learn more about The Big Apple during the 1920s-1930s, pick up this book:
Gangsters and Gold Diggers: Old New York, the Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway by Jerome Charyn [Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows]
From Publishers Weekly
Charyn's paean to Jazz Age New York stars the multifarious characters who graced the stages, speakeasies, and diners around Broadway in the 1920s and '30s. Never, he says, was New York "New Yorkier" than in this "lawless, unbridled mecca where everybody could meet - hoodlums, heiresses, jazz singers, funny girls, dentists from Des Moines (so long as they had a little money) ...." Around Broadway, Al Jolson rubbed shoulders with Ellin Mackay, "the richest girl in America," and George Gershwin would run into Mae West.
In the words of nightclub owner Texas Guinan, "Better a square foot of New York than all the rest of the world in a lump."
The author, who has written more than 30 books of fiction, memoir and cultural studies, presents a huge array of characters . . . . ., Those who already know the major and minor stars of this era will glean some colorful anecdotes, taken from disparate sources. Al Capone, for example, "liked to drink whisky out of a teacup" and Zelda Fitzgerald, before her breakdowns, was prone to dive into the fountain at Union Square. The force of the running prose, reminiscent of the high-kicking Follies girls, might carry interested readers through the disorganized narrative. . . .
One reader gave this off-the-cuff opinion: Author Jerome Charyn provides the reader with a cast of colorful characters such as Arnold Rothstein who used to enjoy wasting his time in Lindy's Restaurant, Al Jolson who was very difficult to live with and a self promoter, Legs Diamond [detective Johnny Broderick once stuffed this gangster into a garbage can], Flo Ziegfeld, who glamorized the American girl, former singing waiter Irving Berlin who sang at Nigger Mike's and then went on to become the writer of over one thousand songs. Author Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and wife Zelda, gangster Owney Madden, Fannie Brice and her husband Billy Rose who was 5' 3 1/2" in his elevator shoes "who walked with the bounce of an over-wound toy." Bert Gordon, W.C. Fields, Ruby Keeler, boxers Jack Dempsey and Johnson, and, of course, The Bambino himself, George Herman Ruth.
The book is filled with anecdotes of these and other famous and infamous characters who made The Great White Way the historic place it is today. If you like social history you will enjoy this book. . . .

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Mae West Cocktail & Celebrities on Ice

Mae West reigned on Broadway during Prohibition.
• • Though never a serious drinker, Mae West was often associated with champagne.
It seems that one brandy distiller was hoping that a MAE WEST cocktail would catch on.
Did it?
• • Mae West Cocktail • •
Yolk of 1 egg
1 tsp. Powdered Sugar
1 ounce Brandy
Shake well and strain into a medium sized glass. Top with a dash of cayenne pepper.
Cocktail named for the star of "Blue Angel" herself:
• • Marlene Dietrich Cocktail
3/4 wineglass Rye or Canadian Whisky
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
2 Dashes Curacao
Shake well and strain into a wineglass. Squeeze orange. Add lemon peel on top.
Cocktail named for "America's Sweetheart"
— — and wife of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.:
• • Mary Pickford Cocktail
1/2 Bacardi Rum
1/2 Pineapple Juice
1 tsp. Grenadine
6 Drops Maraschino
Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.
Vincent Sardi's establishment is a Broadway hang-out:
• • Sardi's Delight Cocktail
1/4 ounce Passionfruit Syrup
1/8 ounce Lime Juice
Dash of Grenadine & Absinthe
1 shotglass of Gin
Shake well.
A non-alcoholic favorite:
• • Shirley Temple
Ginger Ale
Dash of Grenadine
• • A Jimmy Durante delight:
Schnozzla Durante Cocktail
(6 People)
In a shaker filled with cracked ice, place a spoonful of Curacao, 2 glasses of Gin, 2 glasses of Sherry, 2 glasses of French Vermout. Stir thoroughly with a spoon, shake strain and serve. Add an olive and two dashes of Absinthe to each glass.
Positively Presidential:
• • President Roosevelt Cocktail
2 Dashes Grenadine
1 shotglass of Bacardi Rum
Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.
• • What's YOUR pleasure . . .?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Mae West Slept Here

The Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills
9400 W Olympic Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Phone: (310) 277-5221

Claim to fame: Marilyn Monroe and Mae West lived here in the '50s when it was the Beverly Carlton. The glamour parade subsequently slowed, but it started up again in the late '90s when interior design "it girl" Kelly Wearstler transformed the space into the sublime Avalon Hotel. Designer Randolph Duke has stayed during Oscar season, as have Rupert Everett and model Shalom Harlow.

~ O Q ~ O Q ~ O Q ~ CoMe Up & See Mae ~ O Q ~ O Q ~ O Q ~

Knickerbocker Hotel

1714 North Ivar Avenue,
Hollywood, CA. / (323) 962-8898 (All-StarCafe)

Just looking at this aging, unassuming hotel on Ivar Avenue, you probably wouldn't guess that it had much of a Hollywood history. But you'd be dead wrong.

Today it may be just an apartment house for senior citizens, but back in the 1920's, the Knickerbocker Hotel was at the heart of Hollywood - and it played a key role in Tinseltown history for decades. The Renaissance Revival/ Beaux Arts style structure began life as a luxury apartment building, before becoming a hotel later in its history.
Rudolph Valentino hung out at the hotel bar, and reportedly liked to tango dance here. Other stars who lived at the Knickerbocker include Mae West, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, and Cecil B. DeMille.
The hotel lobby features a large crystal chandelier, which cost $120,000 in the 1920's - which would be over $1 million today's dollars. It is under this very chandelier that epic film director D.W. Griffith ("Birth of a Nation," "Intolerance") died of a stroke on July 21, 1948.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Mae Plays

Three Plays By Mae West
Lillian Schlissel, editor

This volume brings an underexplored part of Mae West's career to the fore by offering, for the first time in book form, three of the plays West wrote in the 1920s: Sex, set in a Montreal brothel; The Drag, which used the theatricality of the drag "queens" who had become her friends; and Pleasure Man, a revenge fantasy. 8 illustrations.
About the Author
Lillian Schlissel is Director of the American Studies Program, Brooklyn College.
Book Description
Mae West, wise-cracking vaudeville performer, was one of the most controversial figures of her era. Rarely, however, do people think of Mae West as a writer. In Three Plays By Mae West, Lillian Schlissel brings this under explored part of West's career to the fore by offering for the first time in book form, three of the plays West wrote in the1920s -- Sex (1926), The Drag (1927) and Pleasure Man (1928). With an insightful introduction by Schlissel, this book offers a unique look into to the life and early career of this legendary stage and screen actress.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Book about Mae West's "come-hither" appeal

Becoming Mae West is a great read.

Editorial Reviews

A dazzling biography of one of our most flamboyant stars and "a truly mighty woman"
- Boston Globe
Emily Wortis Leider combines newly uncovered archival material, fine writing, and a rich appreciation of Mae West's unique blend of comedy and "come-hither" appeal to shape this enormously engrossing biography and portrait of an era. She gives us not just Mae West the bawdy icon, but also the driven performer who honed her act on the vaudeville circuit, wrote her own material to get a decent part, and never stopped battling the censors -- who provided some of her best publicity but who eventually struck a blow for prudery from which her career would never recover.
She was the Madonna of her time, parlaying a modest talent into international celebrity with a carefully cultivated, outsized personality and an unerring instinct for just how outrageous to be without alienating her audience. Mae West (1893-1980) crafted the persona that made her the biggest movie star of the early 1930s during her vaudeville and Broadway apprenticeship. Those formative years are the subject of this absorbing cultural biography, which closes in 1938 when Paramount dropped her contract. A generous sampling of West one-liners adds sparkle to the text.
"Emily Wortis Leider meticulously re-creates the world that created Mae West, a world she bent to her own ambitions.... Mae's sashay across the screen will henceforth seem as much an achievement as it has always seemed a delicious inevitability."
- Steven Bach, author of Marlene Dietrich

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Mae West's German ancestry leads to P.J. Clarke's

Some think MAE WEST has a connection to P.J. Clarke's. But it is a fantasy, at best.
• •
A recently renovated, 19th-century tavern, P.J. Clarke's is on East 55th Street and Third Avenue (915 Third Avenue, at 55th Street 212-759-1650) , where Frank Sinatra reigns on the juke box.
• •
Joseph Doelger had a brewery across the street from Clarke's. (Doelger, a Bavarian immigrant, made a towering family contributions to New York — — he and his sons made one of the first, true New York lager beers, making the family extremely wealthy. Also he had a sister Matilda, whose wedding was covered in the society pages.)
• • Jacob Delker's daughter Matilda • •
• • Except this is definitely not the same Matilda Delker who married "Battling" Jack West and gave birth to Mae West in August 1893. Matilda Delker came from a family without wealth or prominence. Her father Jacob Delker was a Bavarian immigrant, however, he became a sugar and coffee broker, not a brewmaster. Jacob Delker's family was so poor when Matilda was growing up that they used to rent rooms located directly behind a Brooklyn oven.
• • P.J. Clarke's is a hold out: a squat, brick building that dates from 1868 now on a block of skyscrapers. Clarke's was a neighborhood staple in the days when Third Avenue was packed with tenements and elevated trains rumbled at interval overhead.
• •
Louis Armstrong, who worked with Mae, once played the trumpet in Clarke's back room. Jackie O was a visitor. Johnny Mercer supposedly wrote the song "One for My Baby" on a napkin at Clarke's long, wooden bar. Sinatra also used to frequent Clarke's. Sinatra admired the massive men's room urinals (that still exist), proclaiming that you could stand New York City Mayor Abe Beame inside one of them.
• • If you visit Clarke's today you will benefit from a significantly quieted scene and some excellent decor, menu and service improvements that have come from a re-building of the area. Across the street, for instance, is the massive FDR Post Office, put up in 1967 during a surge of construction activity.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
Add to Google
• • Photo: • • Mae West none • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.

Mae West: Biographical Challenge

How much of Mae West's life did you know about already?
Actress, writer. Born Mary Jane West on August 17, 1893, in Brooklyn, New York.
Her father, John Patrick West, held various jobs as a livery stableman, a detective, a salesman, and a prizefighter. Her mother, Matilda, was a model and dressmaker.
By the age of seven, West was singing and dancing in amateur performances and winning local talent shows. She soon left behind formal education and joined a professional stock company headed by Hal Clarendon, where she played the character of "Little Nell" in a long-running melodrama. In her early teens, West joined a vaudeville company, where she met Frank Wallace, who soon became her song-and-dance partner. Unknown to the public for more than 30 years, she and Wallace married in 1911 when West was only 16. Both the relationship and the stage partnership soon ended, but West and Wallace did not divorce until 1942.
While still a teen-ager, West became a star on the vaudeville stage. Her first Broadway appearances were in 1911, in the revues A la Broadway and Hello Paris. The following year she appeared in A Winsome Widow, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. In 1918, West took a role in the musical comedy Sometime, in which she introduced a dance known as the "Shining Shawabble." She soon became a hit on the New York vaudeville stage, becoming known for her flashy and tight-fitting clothing as well as her provocative comments, delivered in dialects or a throaty voice. Her costumes would typically include an assortment of rhinestones, leopard skins, and huge plumed hats, all worn on her five-foot-tall body.
West was unique in being one of the few women who performed solo in vaudeville, and even at her young age, she commanded a salary of several hundred dollars per week. In 1926, West wrote a play that was co-produced on Broadway by Jim Timony, a lawyer who was reportedly also her lover.
The aptly named Sex became both a popular success and the target of censorship groups such as the Society for the Suppression of Vice.
As described in Becoming Mae West, the play included "prostitutes caught in arousing embraces, guns, knock-out drinks, a jewelry heist, cops, an offstage suicide, bribery, and the threat of a shootout." In the 41st week of its run, police arrested the cast and West was found guilty of corrupting the morals of youth. She was sentenced to ten days in a New York City prison but was released two days early for good behavior.
West's second play, The Drag in 1926, sympathetically tackled a subject that was not discussed onstage at the time --- homosexuality. After a two-week run in New Jersey, West was persuaded not to bring it to Broadway. Her third play . . . .
Mae West biography is continued here . . .

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Quotable Mae West -- and other wits

On Wednesday February 9, 1927, Broadway actress Mae West was a victim of false arrest and false imprisonment in New York, the city where she was born and where Mae West launched her career in vaudeville when she was a child (6 years old) in 1899.
These quotations show the viewpoints of some notable personalities about JUSTICE and the LAW in the United States.
JUDGE: Are you trying to show contempt for this court?

MAE WEST: I was doin' my best to hide it.

A jury consists
of twelve persons
chosen to decide
who has the better lawyer.

Criminal lawyer.
Or is that redundant?

Under a government which
imprisons any unjustly,
the true place for a just man
is also a prison . . .
the only house in a slave State
in which a free man
can abide with honor.


Government is like fire.
If it is kept within bounds and
under the control of the people,
it contributes to the welfare of all.
But if it gets out of place,
if it gets too big and out of control,
it destroys the happiness
and even the lives of the people.

They call it
the Halls of Justice
because the only place
you get justice is
in the halls.

Mae West: Fans in Australia [Law Institute of Victoria]

Law Institute Journal Index

Contempt of court: Mae West has the last word

Source : LIJ (1984) 58 , April, page 411-412 [list articles in this issue]
Author : Lewis, Gordon
Subject(s) : Contempt of Court

Monday, September 13, 2004

Dolly Tree: Mae West's costume designer in 1928

Dolly Tree: costumer for "Diamond Lil" and "The Pleasure Man"

According to author Gary Chapman, Dolly Tree arrived in New York on board the Leviathan in the Autumn of 1926 on an exploratory trip to investigate the likelihood of obtaining work.
"Go to America, that's where the money is," Major E.O. Leadlay, the manager at the Piccadilly Hotel in London told her. She had regularly met, socialised and worked with a host of American performers. who must have also urged her to at least visit New York and see if she could utilise her talents on Broadway. Shortly after her arrival,
Billboard announced: "Dolly Tree well known as a freelance designer abroad and who has made sketches for many of the big musical shows in London and Paris is paying her first visit to New York and is considering several offers if she decides to remain in this country."
"England's leading stage designer" - -

Dolly Tree quickly learned that the costume designing scene in New York was not an easy one for an outsider to infiltrate being monopolised by such names as Charles LeMaire, Mabel Johnson, Kiviette, Ernest Schrapps, William Henry Mathews, John Harkrider and James Reynolds. Yet despite the dominance of these designers and a worsening economic situation she swiftly obtained some interesting contracts and then manoeuvred herself into a secure position of relative prominence and success by working with Charles LeMaire, at Brooks the most prestigious costume house on the East Coast. . . .
Despite the fact that Dolly Tree worked for the most prestigious costume house in New York she received few printed confirmations of credit although there are numerous tantalising indications that she worked on a vast array of projects for which for some unknown reason she was denied credit.
By far the most interesting productions that Dolly Tree worked on in New York from a historical perspective were the two Mae West shows staged in 1928: Diamond Lil and
The Pleasure Man.
A shrewd and opportunistic performer Mae West settled on the nostalgic allure of the "gay 90's" look made famous in the stage show
Diamond Lil as her enduring persona. The carefully designed gowns by Dolly Tree, based on fashion ideas derived from the 1890's cleverly balanced Mae West's naturally sleazy style with a glamorous and nostalgic image making her more palatable to a middle class audience. The gowns which featured the hour glass waist, revealing decolletage, frills and flounces, feather boas and corsets have become firmly entrenched in our mind as part of the icon that has become Mae West. Dolly Tree should be given the full credit for creating this image which was later immortalised on the screen by Paramount. Mae West's The Pleasure Man featured a range of exotic gowns designed by Dolly Tree for the cast which included several female impersonators. The play itself illustrated West's continued preoccupation with New York's gay subculture and generated as much controversy as her earlier production The Drag.
One of the consistent credits that Dolly Tree is known to have enjoyed in New York was creating the costumes for many of the weekly stage presentation shows or units as they were called, that played on the Publix/ Loew theatre circuits . . . .
Alas, when the 1920s were up, Hollywood beckoned as the next best thing.
- - this excerpt was written by
Gary Chapman - -

Gary Chapman's book,
A Dream of Beauty, Dolly Tree and the Golden Age of Stage and Screen, is currently being considered for publication with a UK publisher. The book does not just focus on the work of Dolly Tree. Its scope is much broader, and describes the environment in which this designer had worked. As a result, it provides an overview of the role of the costume designer, specifically for the stage in the pivotal cities of entertainment culture - - namely, London, Paris, and New York.
Gary Chapman has a degree in Prehistory and Archaeology. He wanted to be an Egyptologist but instead worked for a variety of book publishing companies in marketing and PR for many years. Besides Dolly Tree, his other passion [and latest career] is creating elaborate cakes.
Learn more about Dolly Tree:

- - this excerpt was written by Gary Chapman - -

"Courting Mae West" - a New MAE Play in NYC

"Courting Mae West" is a new play about Mae West.
WHERE: C.U.N.Y. Graduate Center (365 Fifth Avenue, NYC 10016)
WHEN: Wednesday February 9, 1927 at 8:00 PM