Friday, December 30, 2005

Mae Bio: Me-Oh-My-Oh

From a new biography of Mae West, here's an excerpt:
Liberty belle feels the heat
by Simon Louvish
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • MAE WEST ran out of takers for her exploration of society's rejects at a time when more and more people were falling over the edge to join their ranks. And there were fewer and fewer theatres available in the straitened circumstances that now had a new name: the Depression.
• • Opportunities on the New York stage were sinking fast. Even on the other side of the continent, economic woes were mounting, unemployment rising, movie attendances dropping. Hollywood studios were looking for new ideas, novelties, sensations that could revive sagging fortunes.
• • Now that the movies could talk, sing and babble, new voices were wanted, and the sassier the better.
• • Mae took time to adjust to the pace of Hollywood in 1932. Settling down at the Rossmore Apartments, Mae claimed that she found doing nothing for $5,000 a week somewhat unnerving, and the part written for her in the script she was (eventually) sent by Paramount appeared banal and unrewarding — — at least until she could rewrite the lines.
• • We now know that Mae was never doing nothing, her spare time being spent in continuous production of her notes, gag folders, and quips. But as she was to write in her autobiography: "It was a new medium, a technique I had to learn, bend to my will and forget in order to give a natural performance." The studios, Mae soon discovered, were "giant factories turning out the same length of scented tripe, dressed up with the same rubber-stamp features of large cow-like heads, mammary glands, and 10-foot-high close-ups of nostrils you could drive a Cadillac into."
• • Mae could well have been worried by these great close-ups disclosing the fact that, as some shrewd journalists had surmised, she was about to breast the 40-years-old tape rather than the official 33 marker, wondering how she could re-enact the trick that the distance of the stage and theatrical make-up enabled her to carry off.
• • She need not have worried. In 1934 Mae became the highest paid performer in the US, bar none, with an annual income, according to the press, of $399,166.
• • While her Belle of the Nineties was not as big a hit as She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel, these were to remain on the books as Paramount's highest grossing pictures for the early years of the 1930s.
• • But comedy was moving on, with Frank Capra's It Happened One Night, made for Columbia in 1934 with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, winning five Oscars and establishing a new romantic but socially more realist format.
• • And time was taking its toll on Mae, despite all her endeavours to ignore the incoming tide.
• • In 1935 when Paramount sought to re-release She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel, censor Joseph Breen wrote to his colleague Will Hays that "it is our judgment that no successful effort can be made to cause them to be entirely unobjectionable to the production code."
• • Just a month before, the US Customs Service had banned Mae's 1932 novel of Diamond Lil as obscene. The two movies were classified by the Production Board as class one: "Pictures which should be withdrawn immediately and not again released."
• • It was in this atmosphere that Mae laboured to produce the rest of her '30s movies, from Klondike Annie through to My Little Chickadee. The gates were shut, and all but padlocked, on Mae. World War II itself and the great shaking that it gave American life did not move Breen one inch. The code's provision that foreign nations should not be offended constrained the making of movies that would be overtly critical of Nazi Germany, or fascism in general, until the US entered the war.
• • In 1949, Breen was again writing to Paramount, this time to executive Luigi Luraschi: "With further reference to the question of the reissue of the Mae West 1933 production I'm No Angel ... no good will accrue to the industry among right-thinking people with a release of a Mae West picture. On the contrary, it would appear to me that we would expose ourselves to the charge that we were 'letting down the bars'; that we were again making 'filthy pictures', as was the charge levelled against the industry, from a thousand sources back in 1933-34."
• • And for those who still dreamed of movies that nevertheless challenged the status quo, the era of senator Joseph McCarthy and the Hollywood Ten would soon provide further deterrence. Without Breen's zealous witch-hunting in the '30s, McCarthyism might not have had so potent a precedent to root out transgression in American cultural life.
• • Mae was to make one wartime comeback movie, The Heat's On, in 1943. But at the beginning of the '40s her creative energies were focused on her return to the stage. . . .
• • Edited extract from a new biography — — Mae West: It Ain't No Sin by Simon Louvish [UK: Faber & Faber]
Condensed by the editorial staff of The Australian:

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• • Photo: Mae West (born 1893 in Brooklyn, NY)

Mae West.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mae & Men in Uniform

It was 1917 and Congress had just declared war in the United States.

• • During 1917-18, many entertainers performed shows for soldiers and sailors gratis. In her autobiography, Mae West recalled an audience comprised of "the French in crayon blue, the British in khaki and swagger sticks." Until the Armistice was signed, Mae did free shows on Sundays for military men at the Casino Theatre.
• • Situated on Broadway and West 39th Street, the fanciful pseudo-Moorish playhouse was built in 1882 and demolished in 1930.
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• • Photo: 1918 Mae West (born 1893 in Brooklyn, NY)

Mae West.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mae & The Great Debaters

Melvin B. Tolson was a fascinating Black man with a compelling story, in the opinion of Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington.
• • Washington plans to direct The Great Debaters, a movie about Tolson’s Wiley College debate team. On April 1, 1935, the team from Wiley, a black college in Marshall, Texas, upended the debate arena by beating the defending national champion University of Southern California.
• • Joy Flasch, who penned a biography on Melvin B. Tolson, included this anecdote:
• • “When Mae West heard about the amazing record of the little Texas team, she asked to meet it, and for years Tolson proudly displayed the autographed picture she gave him.”
• • Intellectual talent and titles, though, did not shield the team from the overt and sometimes violent racism of the time and region. . . .
• • Text condensed from: "Star to play Tolson" By James S. Tyree
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• • Photo: 1935 Mae West (born 1893 in Brooklyn, NY)

Mae West.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mae West: You've Got Male

The year was 1916. Matilda West urged her daughters to put together a sister act.
"Mae West and Sister" appeared at Keith and Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre [27-31 West 28th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway]. On the same bill was a Fatty Arbuckle film, a Keystone comedy.
• • Mae and Beverly's vaudeville turn included popular Black songs that Mae had previously found success with: "They Call It Dixieland" and "Walkin' the Dog," their finale, for which Mae appeared in a man's tuxedo and top hat and Beverly wore feminine frills.
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• • Photo: 1916 Mae West (born 1893 in Brooklyn, NY)

Mae West.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Mae West: She's Game

Approaching Christmas Eve - - and still stuck for a good idea? Consider getting a copy of EVE's Quest and, yes, Mae West knowledge will help you score points.

• • WHO: Two Montreal moms Joanna Broadhurst and Odette McCarthy conceived the game. Artist Gina Raposo mid-wifed the concept, and graphic designers Angelica Hardy and Lydia Moscato nursed along the playful packaging.
• • WHAT: About 1,000 questions focus on facts about female accomplishment in the arts, sports, politics, onscreen, pop culture, etc. From Mother Teresa to Mother Goose, Mae West to Marilyn Monroe, Barbie to Body Shop, PMS to Title IX, Queen Latifah to Queen Victoria, the EVE's Quest board game will keep you laughing while teaching you amazing details about women. Up to six players use trivia, charades (try acting out a placenta!), songs, sketch pads, and intuition to move along the board and collect letters to spell out five winning titles including Diva, Goddess, Mother, Sister, and Woman.
• • WHAT ELSE: While EVE’s Quest celebrates women in all their diversity, the game is designed for everyone from ages 14 to 114. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation benefits by receiving $2 from each game sold.
• • WHY: Joanna Broadhurst: “We noticed that women’s issues and accomplishments were missing from many of the popular trivia or charades-type games available on the market. Such a small, almost invisible percentage of questions or activities ever relate to women’s lives. We decided to change that by making women the focus.” Can one game help correct the imbalance of predominating male role models populating our collective conscience? Who knows? But it sounds like this might be a fun one to spend an evening.
• • WIT: If you think you know everything about women, answer these:
• • What year did Kotex introduce sanitary napkins?
• • True or false? From 1964 to 1983, the Playboy Foundation donated over $2-million, or more than 25 per cent of its budget, to American organizations defending women's rights. [True!]
• • Which much-imitated 1930s actress (Mae West, Ava Gardner, or Marlene Dietrich) said the famous line: "It's not the man in your life but the life in your man"? [Mae West wrote this quip and others for her film I'm No Angel.]
• • AND HOW: Mae West called life a man's game and added, "I just happen to be smart enough to play it their way."
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• • Photo: Mae West (born in Brooklyn, NY in 1893)

Mae West.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mae West: Homeward, Angel

What a world it would be if every convicted felon could turn her courtroom conviction and incarceration into a million-dollar script. And what sweet victory it would be to recreate a real trial [in 1927 at Jefferson Market Court in New York] as a humorous Hollywood replay during which the accused turns victrix.

• • Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we present Mae West, re-doing the 1927 Jeff effort as a 1933 box office triumph in "I'm No Angel" [premiered 14 October 1933, Paramount Theatre].
• • Actor Gregory Ratoff plays the Prosecutor; Walter Walker plays the Judge; Cary Grant plays Jack Clayton.
• • Mae West, adorable avenging angel, is Tira the lion tamer.
• • Because at Jefferson Market today we need a little Christmas angel. . . .
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• • Photo: Mae West on trial in 1927 & on screen in 1933 No Soy Ningún Angel

Mae West.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Mae West in 1912

Still in her teens, still slim, and still a brunette, Mae West was very busy in 1912. At Poli's Palace Theatre in Connecticut, the energetic entertainer appeared in vaudeville with the "Girard Brothers" [-- two dancers named Bobby O'Neil and Harry Laughlin]. During their act, Mae did a sultry rendition of "Cuddle Up and Cling to Me" as she danced provocatively.
• • After the third performance, the trio was fired. "Her Wriggles Cost Mae West Her Job," read one newspaper headline.
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• • Photo: a brunette Mae West with the Girard Brothers on sheet music
Mae West.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Mae's Sister Beverly

Mae's kid sister never liked her birthname "Mildred West" [December 1898 - March 1982] and so, upon launching a professional career, she became "Beverly Osborne." When this picture was taken, she was 36 years old. She is being remembered on her birthday.
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• • Photo: Mae West with Jim Timony [her manager], her father, and her two siblings, September 1934 in Hollywood. Mae's father and 34-year-old brother each hold a hat.
Mae West.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mae West's Protégé Steve Rossi

Mae West's protégé Steve Rossi was in the news this month.

• • A recent article in The Desert Sun [7 December 2005] announced that TV writer Allan Blye is taking his old singing act on the road to generate interest in the second season of his revised musical "Senior Class: Celebrating the Golden Years" (starting thia month at the Cinemas Palme d' Or in Palm Desert). Personable Gary Collins has replaced the more operatic Julius LaRosa, bringing new interpretations to his role as Frank. But all other cast members return, including Ronnie Schell, Steve Rossi, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Ruta Lee, and Marcia Rodd.
• • In his cast bio, Steve Rossi [who plays "Gus"] hits the highlights:
Appeared in "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby at age 6. Toured with Mae West in 1954. Became part of the Allen & Rossi comedy team in 1957, appearing on more than 700 TV shows, including an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" right after The Beatles. Films: "The Jolson Story" and "The Last of the Secret Agents." Sold 2 million copies of "More," nominated for an Oscar. Currently: Rossi is celebrating his 55th year in show business.
• • Here's what he omitted: Mae West told him that his birthname Joseph Charles Tafarella was not marquee-friendly. Mae West re-christened the singer STEVE ROSSI during their 1950s Las Vegas tour, which ended when the Army drafted him.
• • [Extracted from a Desert Sun article by Bruce Fessier; email: - Tel: 760-778-4622.]
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• • Photo: Steve Rossi [circa 1957]
Mae West.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mae West: Famous Lies?

President Bush lied and led the country into war: okay, Bush finally admits it.
Though the lies of actors or actresses have far less serious consequences than a statesman's deceitfulness, what DID Mae West lie about? Lots of things.
• • Here's an example.
When she got to Hollywood in 1932, 39-year-old Mae was often kidded by columnists, who constantly drew attention to her weight. Ruse: Mae started telling people that her dimensions were the same as the Venus de Milo, which meant that her measurements were "perfect." And George Raft - - not Mae - - was the star of the film
Night After Night. Thanks to her former lover Raft, Mae was cast as his old girlfriend Maudie Triplett, a featured part -- her first screen role.

• • Originally published: 20 June 1932 IDN
• • Newspaper: Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News
• • IDN-Columnist: Eleanor Barnes
Mae West - - big and buxom - - no indeed, svelte and blonde, blew in on the Chief from New York, tired, not cranky, but peeved at the Great American desert for providing her with weather that was too torrid for even Mae to work in. "Diamond Lil" has yet to see a movie studio first-hand. She has never even seen a talkie made - - even in Gotham. But this oversight will be a thing of the past today when Mae gets over to Paramount studios where she is to play the
leading role in Night After Night.
• • RARE TRIO • •
Mae West, Helen Morgan, and Texas Guinan - - three night club queens only come West occasionally, and Mae said she put over the fastest deal she ever closed with Paramount. She signed up Wednesday, left the same night and - - as she had negotiations to put on "Constant Sinner" in Chicago, and had to stop off in the Windy City - - had to turn down staging this play in order to make a screen debut.
• • "Boy, have you
reduced!" the reporters commented.
• • "
Reduced - - whatcha mean, reduced?
— Don’t get me wrong - - I’m not that large and never was - - when I played ‘Diamond Lil,’ the role called for over-stuffing and I was fixed up like one of those comfy chairs you have in your swell movie drawing rooms. "I’m weighing 120 pounds and even your slim movie stars don’t strip down that small - me if I’m wrong."
Here’s what "Diamond Lil" has on her mind: First of all, she closed "Constant Sinner" when it was going swell, so that she could come to Hollywood. [Truth: the show was not selling tickets - - it bombed - - so it closed.]
• • WORK TO DO • •
She’s got to finish two novels which she contracted to deliver to the publisher in August and September.
— They are "Love For Sale" and "Diamond Lil."
She’s got to acclimate herself to her grand apartment, the Ravenswood.
She may produce "Frisco Kate" on Los Angeles’ rialto in the fall, for she thinks this is a great theatrical town.
— Her last appearance was at the Biltmore, where "The Green Pastures" is now playing to capacity houses.
"What’s wrong with the road?" she was asked about traveling theatrical troupes.
"Bum shows," said Mae, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street," and "The Green Pastures," are not worrying, are they?
— Well, if you’ve got the goods, and you know how to deliver them, you don’t have to cry about the show business."
Sartorially Mae was rigged up to meet Adrian or Banton or Howard Greer.
— She wore a black chiffon traveling dress -- well, it was hot and Mae felt the heat - - and she wore a black turban, trimmed with black and white.
— Being a blonde, this was effective. However, Mae’s most spectacular garment was a white brocaded jacket that depended upon novel sleeves to keep it from being a vest. These sleeves were trimmed with black fox bands.
— Mae also wore black satin slippers and sheer hose.
— She said she guessed she brought the heat with her, as it has been this way since she left the Big Town. . . .
Primary Source: IDN — Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News
• • Reprinted -
• • Author G.D. Hamann has published more than 170 books on movies and movie actors and actresses from the 1930's and 1940's.

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• • Photo: Mae West as "Maudie Triplett" 1932
Mae West.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mae West on Sixth Avenue

Former City Council member Carol Greitzer remembered a Greenwich Village preservation battle during the early 1960s and referenced Mae West's legal woes there during the 1920s. Opening her opinion piece for The Villager, Greitzer said:
• • I was walking up Sixth Avenue, approaching the Jefferson Market Courthouse from the south. I looked upward, and even though I pass the site nearly every day, I was surprised anew both by the number of turrets and towers, and the variety of their sizes and shapes. I tried to put myself in the shoes of a tourist emerging from the subway or the PATH station. What a startling, but pleasant, experience it must be for them, expecting to see funky, trendy Greenwich Village, but instead encountering this apparently medieval castle incongruously set down inthe heart of the city.
• • This building is not only a unique landmark, but it’s one that has a special meaning for Villagers, because we saved it from demolition. What’s more significant — we did it before there was a Landmarks Preservation Law, five years before the existence of a Landmarks Preservation Commission!
• • The community reacted en masse and unanimously to the news that the New York Public Library wanted to tear down the empty, run-down building and construct a modern brick box that would provide the Village with a bigger library as a replacement for the small Jackson Square branch. ...
• • At any rate, we saved the [Jefferson Market Court House] building, which was magnificently restored by architect Giorgio Cavaglieri. I remember the tours of the premises with pigeons flying overhead in the big courtroom known famously as the scene of Mae West’s appearance for “obscenity.” . . . .
• • from "We saved the library once before; here we go again"
• • by Carol Greitzer
- - - excerpt from The Villager - - -
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Photo: Mae West 2 October 1928 after being arrested
Mae West.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mae West & Bert Williams

According to a book review in The New York Times, actor Lincoln Perry - - stagename Stepin Fetchit - - "caroused with Mae West . . .".
• • At the height of his career, from the late 1920's into the mid-30's, Lincoln Perry soared as Hollywood's first black superstar. His "Laziest Man in the World" shtick, so exquisitely honed that the New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that it was" as stylized as James Joyce," made him an icon everywhere in the world. He effortlessly stole scenes from the finest actors in Hollywood,earning the respect of greats like Charlie Chaplin, Lionel Barrymore and Will Rogers. He owned a dozen chauffeur-driven limousines, served watermelon to white guests at his lavish soirées and caroused with Mae West and Jack Johnson [].
• • Lionel Perry [born in Key West, Florida in 1902] seems to have modeled his act on Mae West's favorite: the great black minstrel and vaudevillian Bert Williams [1875-1922].

• • In an interview with Charlotte Chandler, Mae described meeting Bert Williams when she was a child. Little Mae was so enchanted by him that she had learnt his theme song "Nobody" along with copying the superb timing and gestures Williams used to dramatize the sad words. This was unusual for Mae, who never liked anything downbeat. Knowing how much his daughter idolized the star, Mae's father made his acquaintance and invited him home in 1903. Unfortunately, Mae did not recognize the mocha-skinned West Indian entertainer without his blackface make-up and ran into her room crying, "It's not him!" To convince her, Bert Williams started to sing, whereupon Mae emerged from her bedroom and happily sat down to supper with Bert Williams and her family.
• • Bert Williams went on to star on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies and In Dahomey. Mae West remained a lifelong admirer of his comedic talents.
• • [Source: Charlotte Chandler, The Ultimate Seduction, Doubleday, 1984.]
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Photo: Bert Williams; Son of Laughter: A Symposium of Tribute to the Man and to His Work, by His Friends and Associates with a Preface by David Belasco; Mabel Rowland, editor [NY: The English Crafters, 1923]. An appreciation gathered from reviews, memoirs, and correspondence of the legendary performer, much-admired on- and off-stage, who bridged the period between minstrel performers and vaudeville. Remembrances by Ring Lardner, W.C. Fields, George M. Cohan, Jessie Fauset, W.E.B. Du Bois, Nat Wills, Leon Errol, etc.
Mae West.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Mae West: 1978 Ringo Starred

In the 1978 film Sextette, musician Ringo co-starred with Mae West. The plot is centered on Marlo Manners, whose ex-husbands are trying to get a tape that contains information about their relationships with her. Ringo Starr portrays Mae's former husband, the European director Laslo Karozny — — the fourth man that "Marlo Manners" has married and divorced.
Ringo Starr revisited the "raunchy shoot" with the 85-year-old West during an interview with WENN [World Entertainment News Network]:
• • Former Beatle Ringo Starr was the target of screen siren Mae West's advances while they worked together on 1978 comedy
• • The iconic drummer, who played one of West's husbands in the film, was amazed by the cheeky sex symbol's advances - especially as she was in her 80s at the time.
• • "Mae was a terrible flirt. She tried it on me twice. I didn't mind really." He laughed. "She said she was 85, her maid said she was 87, and George Raft, who appeared with us in the film, said she was more likely to be 94."
• • "I'd like to know what she was on because I tell you she looked bloody fantastic." [Born in 1893, actress Mae West was 85 when Ringo met her.]
— — Source: WENN Friday December 2, 2005 — —

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Photo: "Sextette" poster
Mae West.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Mae West's Dirty Little Secret

Book Review, The Sunday Times

Sex, movies, and a dirty little secret
MAE WEST: It Ain’t No Sin [Faber £20 pp 491]
by Simon Louvish

• • Mae West’s reputation will never be the same again. There we were, thinking of her as the goddess of gyrating libidinousness, snacking on men like peanuts, and all the while her truly shocking secret lay simpering in the back of her bedroom. Make your way past the alabaster nudes and sepia prints of West in better days; step over the polar bear shagpile rug, and into the salmon-pink inner sanctum of her boudoir, and what would you find? West hard at work over a typewriter. This was “Mae West’s great secret”, writes Simon Louvish, in his splendid biography: “that she went home to her apartment or hotel room at night and wrote”. Come up and see her sometime, and you would discover nothing more x-rated than West polishing her adverbs. In all, she wrote 12 plays, and three novels, not to mention the 20,000-plus bon mots in her joke-book, honed assiduously over four decades, and that she sprinkled over every film she was in, like confetti. Give a part in a movie to West and you also had to find supporting roles for West’s one-liners, crisp with sex-war sagacity: “A hard man is good to find”, “It isn’t the men in my life, it’s the life in my men” and so on. Hollywood’s first sex symbol (or “sex personality” as the Boston Herald quaintly put it) caused riots wherever she went.
• • In Hartford, in 1938, “Mae West Safe Driving Week” was disrupted when 30,000 fans flooded the streets, although it was really in the bedroom that DeMillean skills of crowd control were called for. Louvish keeps track of West’s conquests like a man racing mice: an accordionist, a xylophone player, a Frenchman named Dinjo with with whom she coupled 26 times in one night: “the results were like a high-speed film, blurred but exciting”. None of these men, he notes, was permitted to stay the night. Only her pet monkey Boogie got to share West’s breakfast table and, despite one short-lived marriage, she died childless, having put sex to every possible purpose except the one for which it was intended.
• • The closest West came to procreation was, it seems, the medical textbook she pored over with a friend, aged seven, when growing up in Brooklyn: “I had a funny feeling about my parents,” she remembered. “A peculiar feeling — disgust you might say. It took me a long time to get over it. They suddenly weren’t gods anymore.” A long time, indeed. That godlike tumble from grace is one she would replay again and again in her career, flushing society’s dirty little secret out into the open, and using sex as the great leveller. “I’m going to dig under your supposed respectability and show you who you are,” says a docklands prostitute to a society dame in West’s play Sex (1925), with which she kick-started her career. The play was shut down for indecency, and landed West in the slammer for eight days — the first of her energetic bouts of fisticuffs with the guardians of American decency. “I enjoyed the courtroom as any other stage,” she quipped.
• • Her first film, She Done Him Wrong, had the Hays Office crawling all over it; the film regulators cut 100ft of film out of her song I Like a Guy What Takes His Time — a considerable blow to the man’s prowess, one would have thought — and hacked away at most of West’s lines, but the result was to concentrate her oozing licentiousness even more: denied its obvious berths, it simply took up residence in the body language between her and Cary Grant, in the languid glances and pauses of their conversation, and in such seemingly innocuous phrases as “Why doncha come up and see me?”, “Do you get me?” and “You can be had.” These days, of course, the true purpose of the Hays Office is known to all. At the time, they saw it as their God-given duty to keep America’s morals intact and save the nation from mortal sin. Now, it is clear that their real function was to provide comic relief for Hollywood biographies in the many decades to come. One of their best gags here involves a series of ever-more earnest communiqués about the song Pom Tiddley Om Pom, in Belle of the Nineties, whose acceptability “will depend almost entirely upon the manner in which the song is sung and the action accompanying the music”.
• • In a sense, they were quite right: they could hack away at one-liners all they wanted, but the most suggestive thing about West was the way she moved: undulating across the screen as if she were being poured into the room, or sashaying back and forth when she was supposed to be standing still, like an idling motor.
• • “In order to play this shady character and keep the sympathy of the audience there’s one thing I must have — dignity,” said West. Louvish’s biography allows her to keep that dignity at all times, even when she seems most in danger of losing it. There is certainly room for horror when contemplating West’s later career, which was as tawdry as it gets: an appearance opposite Ed the Talking Horse, a film with Ringo Starr, an inevitable Vegas Comeback Tour, featuring gyrating “athletes” in loincloths and hosted by Liberace. But Louvish ploughs through it all, refusing the temptations of camp-critical reclamation, and rather paying tribute to the sheer steamship momentum of this woman. You have to hand it to someone who can step from a limo wearing a diamond-studded dress, two lavender orchids on her lapel, draped in “a white cape of close-clipped fur, as if an albino calf had made the ultimate sacrifice”. West was turning up for a court deposition.
• • BIG BUCKS • •
In her heyday, 1934, Mae West was America’s highest-paid performer, earning over twice as much as Marlene Dietrich, and ten times as much as Cary Grant, her co-star in She Done Him Wrong.
- - from The Sunday Times 6 November 2005 - -

Photo: none
Mae West.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Mae & Copyright Fair Use: Current

According to Current [21 November 2005 issue], another producer gave up plans for longer Mae West segments in a documentary film, which would have required buying footage. . . . WGBH notably relied on fair use in the 1999 series Culture Shock, including montages of short clips that qualified as commentary, says attorney Jay Fialkov. This fit into the concept of fair use because the series itself commented on trends in the popular arts. Even so, when producers found that extensive footage of Mae West was not available on acceptable terms, they switched the focus of an episode so they could use more material on screen.

Doc-makers get specific about copyright fair use
Originally published in Current, Nov. 21, 2005
By Steve Behrens

Friday afternoon, things changed for producers who need to use somebody else’s footage and music in their documentaries. Clearing rights may still cost a lot and take too much time, as in the past, but Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi believe producers now have a solid rationale for not paying excessive and confounding fees for copyrighted materials in certain cases. On Nov. 18 [2005], the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, the Independent Documentary Association, public TV’s Independent Television Service and the series P.O.V., and other media groups endorsed a Statement of Best Practices defining four kinds of situations when a producer, under the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, need not pay for a film clip, a shot of a painting or a snatch of music. . . .
Jay Fialkov [is] deputy general counsel at WGBH in Boston . . .
Read it online:
- - excerpt from article published in Current, Nov. 21, 2005 - -

Photo: Mae West as an interactive game
Mae West.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Mae West: The Mimic World of 1921

With The Mimic World of 1921, the Shuberts had hoped for a big hit; this revue also inaugurated their new roof theatre that featured a restaurant and promenade overlooking Central Park. However, the show opened to mixed reviews from a number of top critics. Mae West wore a daring black velvet dress onstage, "cut at either side to display her bare hips," wrote Women's Wear [24 August 1921] in shock. Jack Dempsey must have liked what he saw because he went to Mae's dressing room on opening night - - and they hit it off big-time.
Note that 28-year-old Mae is still a brunette in 1921.

Photo: a new roof theatre, the Century [21-29 Central Park West, demolished in 1930].
Mae West.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Mae West: Wishbone

An ex-vaudevillian described Hammerstein's Victoria, where MAE WEST was booked eleven times, as "a big, tinkling pearl box — — all in white and gold with the opals of electricity studding it in profusion."
• • In 1899 this Victorian-style show palace was built by J. B. McElfatrick & Son for Oscar Hammerstein I. Its "Venetian Terrace Roof Garden" (originally a café and petting zoo) was converted to a theatre in 1901. "
The Corner" was the TOP place to be billed.

• • In 1912, Mae West got her first major vaudeville break: a spot on the bill at Hammerstein's Victoria. Though
Billboard gave her performance mixed reviews [12 May 1912], for Mae Thanksgiving arrived early. At last she was in a league with top-ranked headliners such as Eva Tanguay, Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, and Nora Bayes.

Photo: the Roof at Hammerstein's Victoria [1473-1481 Broadway / 201-205 West 42nd Street] closed in 1915 and was demolished shortly after.
Mae West.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mae West: 22 November 1980

Mae West died on 22 November 1980 - - 25 years ago today - - and she is forever in our hearts.