Friday, March 31, 2006

Mae West: April Foolin'

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• • Photo • Mae West •

Mae West.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mae: Boxing Rings

The daughter of a former boxer, MAE WEST was taken to the gym and boxing ring by her father from when she was four years old. She developed a love for prize fights and champions often came to her stage shows - - such as Jack Dempsey, Heavyweight Champ, who attended the premiere of "The Mimic World 1921" and went backstage to meet Mae. All her life, Mae could be found at ringside as well as at racetracks. This article recalls the days when Mae West and other celebrities enjoyed matches in California.

• • • This city was full of fight • • •
Before football came and went, before the Dodgers and Lakers, boxing was the center of the Los Angeles sporting world.
By Steve Springer, Times Staff Writer

• • FOR America's big-league sports, L.A. was a distant outpost for the first half of the 20th century, impressive for an off-season vacation, impractical as a home base. Before jet travel, any team moving to the West Coast would have presented a scheduling nightmare. . . .
• • But boxing was different. Unencumbered by the need to regularly transport a full team a thousand miles or more, boxing found its way here even before the start of the last century. . . .
• • Since the Olympic Auditorium and the Forum went dark in the last decade, in terms of regularly scheduled matches, there has been no major venue for a promising fighter to polish his skills as he moved from club fighter to headliner.
• • It was far different a century ago. . . .
• • By 1914, the state had put strict regulations on the sport. Fights were limited to four rounds, purses to $25. ...
• • On Aug. 4, 1925, L.A.'s boxing mecca, the Olympic Auditorium, opened on the corner of 18th and Grand.
• • "The Auditorium blazed with glory on its opening night," according to an article the next day in The Times, "the light of many electric lights surpassed only by the sparkling jewels that adorned the persons of several of our well-known citizens and citizenesses. Hollywood and the moving picture colony slipped into their tuxedos and formal apparel and blessed the ringside by their presence."
• • In the early days of the Olympic, Mae West, Lupe Velez, Ruby Keeler, Al Jolson and later Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck could be found in the good seats.
• • By the middle of the last century, a fight fan could be entertained all week without leaving the area. Ocean Park Arena in Santa Monica had fights on Tuesdays, the Olympic on Thursdays and Hollywood Legion Stadium on Saturdays.
• • And the famous and the infamous tagged along, especially at Hollywood Legion Stadium, where entertainers Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and George Raft rubbed elbows with mobsters such as Mickey Cohen....
printed: 30 March 2006
- - excerpt from - -
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• • Photo • Mae West • wrestler Vincent Lopez in 1955

Mae West.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mae: Jefferson Market 1927

It was March 1927 and the trial at Jefferson Market Court House on Sixth Avenue was drawing bigger crowds than Broadway shows. Each day the dailies reported on the dramatic trial. By late March it was getting to be obvious that the outlook would be dark for actress MAE WEST and her co-star BARRY O'NEILL, who were being tried for presenting an obscene play "Sex" at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre. [This play had been seen by the public for the past 10 1/2 months before the raid on 9 February 1927.]

• • Though this play had been approved by TWO play juries and had a license from the police department, it was coming up to be an election year and Mayor Jimmy Walker was being pressured by The Society for the Suppression of Vice to "clean up" the stage.
• • What were the dirtiest words on the Rialto? Looks like they were MAE WEST.
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• • Photo • Mae West • in March 1927
• • Illustration • Mae West • by Michael DiMotta

Mae West.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Mae Redux: 12 December 1937

Applause for Patrick Horne, a 27-year-old filmmaker from North Carolina who may not yet know how to spell "Chase & Sanborn," but who revived the famous 1937 radio skit from Edgar Bergen's program in a new 18-minute film. And a Christian actress Patrick Horne cast viewed ONE — — yes, just one Mae West film to prepare for her role as the temptress Eve in Arch Obler's "Garden of Eden" parody that got the Brooklyn Bombshell banned from the airwaves. Author Arch Obler was neither fined nor banned, however. Perhaps thinking of her hometown, Mae West tells the serpent, "I feel like doin' a Big Apple." Mae's suggestive adlibbing with ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy also outraged the advertisers, who began firing up phonecalls before the 60-minute segment ended. Is this section included in the 18-minute adaptation? Stay tuned.
• • • Film recreates scandalous '37 radio show • • •
By Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane, Staff Writer
GREENSBORO -- The scene: Dec. 12, 1937, in a Hollywood radio studio.
• • Stars Mae West and Don Ameche perform a comic takeoff on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden during the live radio broadcast of "The Chase and Sanbourn [sic] Hour."
• • Ameche has been told that West will play Eve straight, without her signature suggestive nuances. She doesn't. Her burlesque, ad-libbed delivery brings a nationwide uproar, an FCC condemnation and the end of West's radio appearances.
• • The scene: Saturday at The Scene on South Elm, a downtown performance space [in North Caolina], 68-plus years later.
• • Filmmaker Patrick Horne has turned the interior into a tiny Garden of Eden. His cast and crew film a movie re-enacting that infamous radio broadcast.
• • When complete, Horne plans to submit his 18-minute movie to film festivals and to the Sundance Channel, a cable network that airs independent films.
• • Horne, 27, and his company, "Speak-It!" Pictures, are part of the Triad's growing community of young filmmakers.
• • He envisioned this film after hearing a recording of the 1937 radio show and researching the controversy.
• • "I don't think 1930s America was ready for this script," Horne says.
• • "All of this anger was directed at a woman who was just having fun with the script. I think we are putting right what was once wrong, and giving the broadcast a new dimension for audiences that can now accept it."
• • He selected actor Leanne Bernard of Cary to play Mae West, and Elon University sophomore John Say to portray Don Ameche.
• • Adding a campy twist, he asked female impersonator James Rainey to play actor Dorothy Lamour, who sings in the broadcast before the skit.
• • Kevin Chamberlain came from Ohio to play Wendell Niles, the radio announcer. While students together at Ohio University, Chamberlain and Horne worked on a short film that won Horne a regional Emmy in 2002.
• • Horne himself played the snake in the Garden of Eden.
• • Actors dressed and acted their parts, but lip-synched their lines to the original broadcast.
• • To prepare, they had listened to the original show repeatedly to get their timing just right.
• • Bernard wanted to capture West's mannerisms - - hands on hips, eyes frequently casting left, her pauses, her suggestive smile. So she watched her 1940 film, "My Little Chickadee."
• • "I just thought it was so intriguing to play such a glamorous icon in movie history," Bernard said as makeup artist Kenzie Clark curled Bernard's hair, West-style.
• • Say said he was attracted to participate by Horne's unique concept, and to add a movie role to his acting credits.
• • "I think this will get noticed for its originality," Say said.
• • To re-create West, Bernard donned a red sequined and feather-trimmed gown. Say wore a suit to introduce West and Niles at the start, then switched to a costume of fake fig leaves.
• • In the skit, Eve is bored in the Garden of Eden. But Adam won't leave the good life. Adam tells her that they'll be evicted if they eat fruit from the appletree. So Eve recruits a snake to squeeze through a picket fence to steal an apple.
• • "I'm, I'm stuck!" the snake says in one suggestive exchange.
• • "Oh, shake your hips," Eve says. "There there, now you're through!"
• • Before she auditioned for the Mae West role, Bernard said, she heard that the radio broadcast had been controversial.
• • "Being a Christian, I was a little intimidated," she said.
• • "But once I read the script, I realized it had been judged by standards back then," she said.
• • "By today's standards, it's not scandalous at all."
BY: Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane [T. 373-5204; E.]
Published: Sunday 26 March 2006
© 2006 News & Record 200 East Market Street, Greensboro, NC 27401
336-373-7000 or 800-553-6880
• • • •
• • Speak It! Pictures, LLP • Tel: 336.253.1644
Production Office Address: 1006 Walker Avenue, Suite 8; Greensboro, NC 27403
• • Patrick Horne -

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• • Photo • Mae West • in 1937

Mae West.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mae: "And Then" 1913

In 1913, as MAE WEST headed towards her 20th birthday, she was mastering the trick of taking a word or a phrase and inflecting it with something "sextra." Here are lyrics written by Alfred Bryan:
• • • And Then • • •
• • First we had a talk — — and then,
• • We sat by the fire — — and then,
• • It was getting warm and so,
• • We drew our chairs away from the fireglow.
• • Mother said: "Good night" — — and then,
• • We turned down the light — — and then,
• • We cuddled closer together,
• • And then we talked about the weather,
• • Yes we did (Yes we did!) — — not then.

• • Mae West performed the song in 1913 at Hammerstein's Victoria — — in their Roof theatre [Broadway and 42nd Street]. The top vaudeville house on the East Coast, it had 950 seats and was designed by J. B. McElfatrick & Sons. Hammerstein's Victoria was demolished in 1915.
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• • Photo • Mae West • in 1913

Mae West.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mae: Royale Theatre 1928

Opened 11 January 1927, this is how the Royale Theatre [242 West 45th Street] looked when new. Designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp and built by the Chanin brothers, who ran it from 1927 - 1930, this playhouse has about 1100 seats.

In March 1928, when MAE WEST began preparing the space to look like McGurk's Suicide Hall on the Bowery, theatre critics and audience had no idea of the outstanding triumph that was to come.
• • MAE, a gal ahead of her time, marked a new phase of forward momentum in her career when she took a step backwards to recreate the turn-of-the-century "Lillian Russell look" onstage that she would, in fact, preserve throughout her silver screen career. Her father Jack gave his wife Matilda the nickname "Champagne Til" and MAE toyed with the idea of titling her play "Champagne Til" instead of "Diamond Lil."
• • To the end of her day, MAE's image was "Diamond Lil" - - "the finest woman who ever walked the streets" - - as much as her signature song became "Frankie and Johnnie," performed in this drama along with other numbers.
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• • Photo • Mae West • in 1928

Mae West.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mae West: Casino Theatre 1918

In 1918 MAE WEST gave several free performances on Sunday nights to cheer up military men who were in New York on leave during the final months of the first World War. As the Armistice approached, soldiers and sailors wanted a good time, which meant (among other things) taking in a show.
• • Clad in a jaunty sailor hat and middy blouse, Mae looked younger than 25 years old during these shows at the Casino Theatre. It's so rare to see Mae West without a smile, isn't it?

• • Built in 1882, the Casino Theatre was a top-ranked venue for musicals, especially operettas. Its distinctive Moorish design elements added style to the corner of Broadway and West 39th Street. There aren't too many photos of this playhouse, which was demolished in 1930.
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• • Photo • Mae West • in 1918 free performances to cheer up the military

Mae West.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mae West: 1947 UK Tour

In Great Britain, an historic seaside hotel visited by Hollywood film stars - - and personally re-christened by Mae West in 1947 after a major renovation - - has been demolished despite campaigners attempts to save it. An article in the Liverpool Echo pictured Mae West during her 1947 British tour, and made no mention of any other notables associated with this landmark except for our beloved American actress. Nice to see such respect for Mae, still one of a kind. The article is excerpted below.
• • New Brighton's Grand Hotel was built in the 1850s, and when it was revamped in the 20th century it was given a glitzy reopening by film icon Mae West.
• • In its heydey the Grand was just that. It was one of the most popular and glamorous hotels in the area attracting visitors from all over the country. At cocktail hour a pianist would serenade guests from a revolving turntable, while later there was a Spanish restaurant where dinner dances were held nightly. In 1953 an advert for the hotel read: "Boldly situated on the broad seafront and commanding magnificent views of the ever changing panorama of river and sea... an hotel of infinite charm, supreme comfort and personality." But with the decline in popularity of New Brighton, the hotel became a nightclub and then, for the last 15 years, had been derelict and an eyesore. ...
• • • When Mae came to Merseyside • • •
• • HOLLYWOOD siren Mae West is not someone you would expect to see on a wet weekend in Merseyside. But the star was in Liverpool in 1947 to perform the play she wrote herself, Diamond Lil, at the Liverpool Empire. Billed as a "World-famous comedy melodrama of the gay Nineties" it played in the city for two weeks in November, and was revived three times on Broadway. ...
• • excerpt from: "Life of grand old building is brought to a sorry end"
• • By Homa Khaleeli, Liverpool Echo, 15 March 2006
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• • Photo • Mae West • 1947 UK tour

Mae West.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mae West: Exhibition in NYC

(I-Newswire) - New York, NY: An exhibition of rarely seen photographs, theatre memorabilia, and colorful illustrations will be on view in midtown Manhattan this year during the month of August. "Diamond Life: MAE WEST and TEXAS GUINAN in New York during the Jazz Era" will focus on vintage views of Gotham's fanciest playhouses - - most of them now demolished - - along with unusual archival illustrations that showcase the theatrical side of these two actresses who often performed on the same stages.
• • Though TEXAS GUINAN [1884-1933] is remembered as a speakeasy hostess, in fact, she starred in over two dozen films and had leading roles in musicals at the Manhattan Opera House, Keith and Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre, the Hippodrome, the Winter Garden, and the Shubert Theatre. And though MAE WEST [1893-1980] is immortalized as an icon of the silver screen, she performed live at Keith and Proctor's Fifth Avenue Theatre, the Winter Garden, the Shubert Theatre, Hammerstein's Victoria, the Folies Bergere, the Century Roof, the Casino, the Royale, the Polo Grounds, and other venues that too often met the wrecker's ball.
• • And when they performed or played, MAE WEST and TEXAS GUINAN piled on the glitter. MAE WEST loved gems even before she brought her play "DIAMOND LIL" to Broadway, sharing this taste in finery with her financially successful friend TEXAS GUINAN, whose bracelets contained 550+ diamonds each.
• • A sampling of MAE WEST's jewelry is online - - - - and it is dazzling.
• • In honor of MAE WEST's August 17th birthday, "Diamond Life" will have its official press opening at a gala cocktail party on that Thursday evening.
• • The installation will be on view to the public from Friday August 18th, 2006 until the end of the month at a popular location in midtown Manhattan.
• • Sponsorship and media inquiries are welcome.
• • • • COURTING MAE WEST, LLC, based in Manhattan, is an off-Broadway producing outfit whose mission is to increase visibility and opportunity for women and women-driven stories in the theatre.
• • Sponsorship Coordinator:
• • Conrad Bradford
• • 917-403-0890
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• • Photo • Mae West • more details to come

Mae West.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mae: Union Sq Theatre 1912

Over a century ago, when Union Square offered the best theatres, hotels, and opera house - - the Academy of Music - - B.F. Keith renovated a 14th Street playhouse between Fourth Avenue and Broadway.

Expensively refurbished for $20,000 and reopened in September 1893, the Union Square Theatre beckoned ticket-buyers to its expansive 100-feet-wide cream and gold frontage with colored lights, stained glass, intriguing placards, and a new concept: continuous performance. Variety artists entertained for a 3-hour stretch, then the show started all over again.

• • During 1912-13, when MAE WEST was being billed as "The Nell Brinkley Girl," she was a fresh-faced brunette teenager with a reputation for fast tap dancing and acrobatic feats onstage combined with "character" [novelty] songs. Unlike others who had one act to offer the public, Mae was always trying out new approaches and buying new material.
• • In December 1912, B.F. Keith offered "Dinkelspiel's Christmas" along with "MAY WEST - singing comedienne" [see the 1912 ad]. The 14th Street theatre is long gone but here's a glimpse of what you missed if you didn't dial STuyvesant 3400 to reserve your ticket.
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• • Photo • Mae West in 1908 • Union Square Theatre

Mae West.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mae: Polo Grounds 1926

In June 1926 Ned Wayburn staged a "$100 Show for $2" at an enormous amphitheatre, the Polo Grounds [8th Avenue + 155th Street] for the Benefit of the United Jewish Campaign.

MAE WEST and other prominent stars of Broadway were on this program including George M. Cohan, Fanny Brice, Hazel Dawn, Eddie Foy, the Marx Brothers, Houdini, Al Jolson, etc.
• • Inducement: "Be in the pictures. Movies will be taken of everybody present!"
• • The Polo Grounds: seated 45,000, opened 1911, closed 1963, and (alas) demolished 1964. Ugly apartment towers replaced this stadium, where Willie Mays won the famous 1954 World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers - - Mae's hometown team.
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• • Photo • Mae West in 1926 • Polo Grounds

Mae West.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mae's "Frankie & Johnny" Era

It was an ordinary American standard about a heartbreaker called Johnny with a sweetheart named Frankie, whose betrayal finds its finale in the business end of a .44 - - a ballad written well before the Civil War and in the public domain.
• • Frankie and Johnny • •
Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts
O Lordy how they did love!
Swore to be true to each other
Just as true as the stars above
He was her man
He wouldn't do her no wrong.

Frankie went down to the corner
Just to get a bucket of beer
She said to the old bartender,
"Say, has my lovin' Johnny been here?
He's my man. He wouldn't do me no wrong."

Well, I ain't gonna tell you no story
I ain't gonna tell you no lie
Johnny left here 'bout an hour ago
With a gal named Nellie Bly
If he's your man, he's doin' you wrong . . .

• • Mae West, who resisted downbeat "torch" songs, was drawn to this old favorite perhaps by the can-do spirit of Frankie who, obviously, is not the type to suffer in silence. And let's not forget another appeal: public domain usage of material was free. In 1928, when Mae performed this song in her Broadway blockbuster "Diamond Lil" [set during the 1890s at a Bowery saloon known as Suicide Hall], the homespun song acquired glamour.

• • "Frankie and Johnny" became Mae West's signature song. When the movie version of Mae's play "Diamond Lil" reached the silver screen, the Paramount Pictures title reflected the lyrics: "She Done Him Wrong." Dressed in a gorgeous belle-epoque-era gown, Mae stops the action to take the stage at Gus's to do her number.
• • Immortalized by Mae West, "Frankie and Johnny" attracted the attention of hundreds of well-known entertainers. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Lena Horne, Sam Cooke, and many others all recorded a version of it.
• • Through the years, Mae West sang and recorded several versions of it herself.
• • Mae West sang "Frankie and Johnny" when the Masquers honored her. Listen to Mae sing it! Click a link at the BOTTOM of Electric Earl's page to hear "Frankie and Johnny" performed by Mae -
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• • Photo • Mae West sang "Frankie & Johnny" + other songs on this cassette •

Mae West.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mae & the Birth of Sex

Where was Mae West performing during 1923 -1925? Was she in burlesque revues?

• • In the 1920s, New York had two major circuits for a certain type of variety artist: the MUTUAL (which booked acts at the Star Theatre in Brooklyn) and the COLUMBIA (which played the Columbia Theatre in midtown Manhattan). They staged elaborate burlesque shows - - such as Lena Daley's "Miss Tabasco" sexy productions.
• • Citing the BILLBOARD INDEX, Jon Tuska said Mae appeared in "Playmates" on the Mutual Circuit [week of 2 October 1922].
• • TUSKA noted her appearance in burlesque shows such as "Girls from the Follies" [week of 5 March 1923]; "Round the Town" [December 1923]; "French Models" [February 1924]; "Miss Tabasco" [November 1924]; "Snap It Up" [March 1925]; etc.
• • TUSKA, referring to Mae's novel THE CONSTANT SINNER, said the author was undeniably familiar with life in the dives, prostitutes, jooks [brothels for Blacks], and carnal pleasures.
• • Jon Tuska published his comments in 1973, when Mae was alive, seems to have had Mae's cooperation, and he dedicated his book to her - - and yet the truthfulness of his statements was not challenged.
• • If Mae wasn't on the burlesque stump, then where WAS she? She seems to have vanished until Edward Elsner began rehearsals at Day's 63rd Street Theatre for "SEX" in 1926! The New York Herald Tribune described Mae's play as filled with "stark naked lust."
• • Maybe Mae was busy falling in love. On 22 March 1924, R.A. Bud Burmester, a 34-year-old resident of Harris County, Texas, took out a marriage license in Texas for a forthcoming marriage to the actress.
• • So where WAS Mae from 1923-25?
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• • Photo • Mae West • 1925

Mae West.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mae West: Folies Bergere 1911

Eighteen-year-old brunette Mae West got her first big break when she was cast in the legitimate show "A la Broadway" at New York's Folies Bergere Theatre. Ned Wayburn (Mae's former dancing teacher), who was staging this, pulled her in. The revue premiered 22 September 1911 and lasted eight performances.
• • The New York Times applauded Mae's debut, however, the theatre's limited seating capacity made it financially foolish to mount such an expensive entertainment there.
• • Why didn't they consider that while planning it, eh?

• • Vaudeville mogul Jesse L. Lasky had built his Parisian-style cafe and cabaret on a Louis XIII scale. Located at 206-14 West 46th Street [opened 27 April 1911], it was in a prime position within kissing distance of two well-known Broadway theatres: the Globe and the Gaiety. The prices were equally grand, leading to the impression that this place was meant for the wealthy thus, unfortunately, the general public shied away.
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• • Photo • Mae West • 1911 • Folies Bergere

Mae West.