Monday, October 01, 2007

Mae West: Beefcake Booster

Continuing to mourn the passing of Richard DuBois [1933 2007] last week in southern California, the MAE WEST BLOG is offering an excerpt from Chapter Four of this book by Brad Harris, which discusses "The Mae West Revue" that DuBois starred in during 1954, and also Mae's immense contribution to the growth of muscle mania in publications and in foreign films:
IMMENSE AND IMMORTAL: The Wild World of Italian Peplum Films
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Steve Reeves and Hercules owe at least some degree of their success to a growing interest in the sport of bodybuilding. It had long been little more than a fringe sport, hardly more than a step or two above carnival sideshows. In the1950's that started changing. More and more bodybuilding magazines were showing up on the newsstand, and people were starting to get curious. They were looking at those ads in the back of comic books for that Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension system, and they were thinking to themselves, "Yeah, I am tired of getting sand kicked in my face!" 90-pound weaklings all over the country were dreaming of the day bikini-clad beauties would be chanting "Hero of the beach!" to them.
• • Reeves and countless other men became the centerpieces for bodybuilding magazines, which were often a blend of profiles, fitness articles, and photos of the men in various states of undress.
• • No self respecting peplum film would be caught dead without a buff beefcake actor in the lead role. The names, faces, and hairstyle might change, but the bodybuilding origins of the hero remained a constant. After all, no one wants to pay good money to see some weakling in the role of Hercules, getting sand kicked in his face by all the other gods down on Muscle Beach.
• • Steve Reeves went on to star in several sword and sandal films . . . .
• • Dozens of men would step up to the peplum plate looking to be the next Steve Reeves. There were some decent guys in the lot, a couple exceptional stars that shone nearly as brightly as Reeves, and a lot of serviceable if unremarkable workhorses. Most of them came from America, not so much in imitation of Steve Reeves as it was a reflection of bodybuilding's greater popularity abroad than at home in Italy.
• • Of the handful of memorable stars, many had one thing in common, a certain unifying thread of terror: they'd all been part of Mae West's traveling revue.
• • In her heyday, Mae West was something of a bombshell, but by the 1960s the bomb had exploded and all that was left was the shell. Gloriously unable to act her age, Mae West decided to launch a traveling burlesque revue with her own ancient body as the star attraction. While this may have worked had it toured under the title of "Sideshow by the Seashore," The Ripley's Believe it or Not set was not Mae West's intended audience.
• • In order to offset the fact that, well, she was really old [age 61] and not wearing many clothes [sic], she surrounded herself with a cast of hunky bodybuilders who would perform the standard issue tasks of carting her about on a palanquin, posing, and just standing around looking buff.
• • West's strange little carnival show was a success for all the wrong reasons. Her men were chosen purely for their physical attributes, which resulted in constant mistakes, missed cues, flubbed lines, and a variety of other screw-ups. Audiences didn't seem to mind however, as the whole affair was all too weird to care about something so trivial.
• • Performing in Mae West's revue was a sort of rite of passage into the world of peplum filmmaking, and several of her company of bodybuilders escaped her out-of-date shenanigans and headed to Europe to hurl boulders at rubber monsters. Mickey Hargitay, Brad Harris, Reg Lewis, Dan Vadis, Richard DuBois, and Gordon Mitchell all served time as part of Mae's show before impressing the gods with their tenacity and winning roles in films. . . .
— — excerpt — —
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1954 • •
Mae West.

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