Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mae West: Self-Reliance

In March 2000, an article on MAE WEST was printed in The New Criterion. Canadian essayist Mark Steyn discussed Mae as author in his piece "Mae Days." This is a brief excerpt from his enjoyable piece. Mae West was the embodiment of Emersonian self-reliance - - unlike "bigtime NEA trough-feeders" [such as Karen Finley].
• • ... The defining attribute of Mae West is not that she’s against censorship but that, in every respect, she stands for self-reliance. She’s a trouper in the truest sense: She climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong, as she later said, but, by God, she climbed it herself. She began writing material because the lame lines the pros wrote for her vaudeville skits didn’t work. She became a playwright because the star vehicle she needed never turned up. She became a producer because the Main Stem boys ran scared. If you were to construct the exact negative of today’s bigtime NEA trough-feeders, it would look exactly like Mae West.
• • The point is reinforced by the play itself. Sex, the first of West’s plays to make it to the stage, is a crude, raucous, vulgar melo-comedy about Margy LaMont, a Montreal hooker who climbs her way up to a Connecticut mansion. As The New Criterion’s resident Quebecker, I confess I’m not entirely persuaded by the idea that Montreal-to-Connecticut represents upward mobility, but let that pass: all Montreal hookers (about 68 percent of the population, I’d estimate) will take a quiet pride in West’s characterization of Margy. For one reason, all the other characters are forgettable cutouts. But that doesn’t matter because West made Margy one of those chippy, brash, tough-as-nails purpose gals whose lines crackle across the footlights. As she tells the snooty socialite Clara, “the only difference between us is that you could afford to give it away.”
• • The only contemporary relevance to all this is its irrelevance: the difference between Margy and Karen Finley is that Karen expects the taxpayer to give it away to her. Indeed, Margy shares with every Mae West character an overwhelming revulsion against dependence. A few years later, when Paramount attempted to change the title of She Done Him Wrong to He Done Her Wrong, West put her foot down, disdaining the clich├ęs of victim drama....
• • Source: "Mae Days" by Mark Steyn [published in The New Criterion, March 2000]
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Lyons Wickland • • 1927 • •

Mae West.

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