Monday, December 31, 2007

Mae West: A Man in Mansfield

MAE WEST, a formidable woman, preferred to remain the spunky heroine of her own dramas. She was a no-holds-barred affront to feminine passivity.
• • Nonetheless, recall that Eve was not passive
and yet a viper invaded her garden.
• • Likewise for Mae West (who played Eve in December 1937, remember?), whose vacuum-packed perceptions about her sultry hold on the bodybuilders who comprised "The Mae West Revue" were shattered when a blonde vixen slithered into the nightclub. The serpent's stage name was Jayne Mansfield [1933-1967].
• • Like the light in summer, the starlet was young and wholly unsupervised. When she espied Mickey Hargitay, he was done for.
• • These edenic moments from the 1950s were recently recounted by sports journalist Mr. Flip. In his Baltimore Sun column "The Flip Side" [31 December 2007], he revisits the calamitous evening.
• • He writes: And let Mr. Flip veer off a bit more by passing along this perhaps apocryphal anecdote: Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay supposedly met when the actress spotted him as part of Mae West's revue at a nightclub. His job was to pose and show off his impressive physique. When Mansfield's dinner partner asked her what she wanted, she replied, "I'll have a steak and the man on the left."
• • Well, presumably Mansfield got her steak along with her stake in Hargitay's happiness. We all know how it ended, of course, but for one moment there in a New York City nightspot, Mae was forced to share the spotlight. Ignis aurum probat!

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •

Mae West.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mae West: New Mexico

MAE WEST who often toured slept in almost every state, and tourists continue to find her footsteps from coast to coast. One Englishman was delighted to discover Mae had touched down in New Mexico.
• • "Route 66," rhapsodizes the British journalist Owen Adams [in the UK's Sunday Mirror on 30 December 2007], "just like the song says, winds from Chicago to LA, more than 2,000 miles all the way. And you can still find classic rock ’n’ roll blasting from Wurlitzer jukeboxes in neon-lit diners, drive-ins and roadhouses."
• • Shortly after reaching Route 66’s mid-point, his tour bus crossed from Texas to New Mexico and encountered a double dose of WEST.
• • According to Owen Adams, "Soon we reached Gallup, location for countless old Western movies. The Hotel El Rancho is where everyone from MAE WEST and Doris Day to Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster stayed, and it has been lovingly restored with signed photographs of the stars lining the walls. The Cosmos tour makes an irresistible diversion from the old Route 66 to take in the Grand Canyon in Arizona just as spectacular as it appears in all the photographs and films. ..."
• • The Hotel El Rancho is located here: 1000 E Highway 66, Gallup, NM 87301. They claim to remember which room was Mae's so ask the front desk clerk.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •

Mae West.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mae West: Connie Immerman

MAE WEST's motion picture "Every Day's a Holiday" [released on 18 December 1937] won no box-office bouquets. Hollywood's Hitler Joe Breen, that stern hemorrhoidal functionary, squeezed every red-blooded bit of umph out of Mae West's sassy dialogue and other felicities. In Breen's withering hands, the one-liners became as flat as fritters and if there was any sauciness the Hays Office did not bleach out the public clamor after Mae's appearance on "The Chase and Sanborn Hour" drove the final stake through the blossoming promotional campaign.
• • However, Mae West did get her way in that Louis Armstrong [1901-1971] was patched into the plot. The movie's musical numbers include "Jubilee" (written by Stanley Adams and Hoagy Carmichael and sung by Louis Armstrong). Seen very briefly as a street cleaner, Louis Armstrong introduces the song "Jubilee" while jauntily parading down the avenue along with other street sweepers during an election rally.
• • The way that Mae got acquainted with Satchmo might have made a better movie.
• • Connie's Inn
• • They met often at Connie's Inn (which had opened in 1921) on Seventh Avenue and 131st Street in the section of Harlem known as "Jungle Alley."
• • Two brothers Conrad (Connie) and George Immerman had emigrated from Germany and they were running a delicatessen in Harlem; Fats Waller was their delivery boy. Eventually, they purchased the club that came to be known as Connie's Inn. Connie had one of the best revues and, in 1929, trumpeter Louis Armstrong was first featured there with an orchestra.
• • Between the terrific music, the splendid stage shows, and the new acts, Mae easily became a fan. Cementing her bond to the extraordinarily good-looking lady-killer Connie Immerman was perhaps the fact that both shared a German connection. Matilda, Mae's mother, had been born and raised in Bavaria.
• • Picture Mae West, during the 1920s, tapping her feet to the seductive swing rhythms
the blues beating in the steamy heat of a Harlem nocturne, curling the wallpaper.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1931 • •

Mae West.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mae West: Seduction

"I wrote the story myself," Mae West was fond of saying. "It's about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it."
• • It seems there's not much Mae West missed in life. Being in the driver's seat, however, Mae usually offered a narrow, well-paved road trip that very carefully circled her career and preoccupations during media interviews.
• • Charlotte Chandler was used to Hollywood's high-strung fillies. Talking as softly as a groom, Chandler stroked the massive flank of Mae's past, touching the cloudy mysteries that drifted across its hidebound version, and then (with a deft horsefly's touch) she set a shudder running. Chandler made no sudden moves that would startle that splendid order nor loosen the physics. But the mare mellowed during the journey, and Mae revealed a few new things.
• • Let's eavesdrop.
• • Here's an edited version of Charlotte Chandler's interview with Mae West [1893-1980] in the Ravenswood Apartments (Los Angeles, California) in 1979.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • CC: Do you think sex is better with love?
• • Mae: Honey, sex with love is the greatest thing in life. But sex without love that's not so bad either. Sex is the best exercise for developing everything. It's very good for the complexion and the circulation. I've always had the skin of a little girl. Go ahead touch it. [I touch her skin.] That's all real. I didn't ever have to lift anything.
• • CC: Do you remember when you first thought about sex?
• • Mae: I can't remember when I didn't. I always played with boys. They used to gather round me. I liked to see how each one kissed. A man's kiss is his signature. I always liked having a lot of men around. On a rainy night, it's like having more than one book to choose from, only better. I never could understand women who would almost die over one man. When you get rid of one, you don't want to sit around moping. When you mope, your mouth turns down; it puts lines in your face. There isn't any man in the world worth getting lines over. Too many women wait around depending on men to bring them happiness. I didn't depend on men for mine. I knew how to handle men. I have a code though: No drinking, no smoking, and no married men. There are enough men to go around.
My best lover was a Frenchman who would pick me up after Diamond Lil [in 1928] and take me to the other theatre to rehearse Pleasure Man. One Saturday night we were at it till four the next afternoon. Like I always said, "It's not the men in my life, it's the life in my men."
• • CC: What kind of "life" do you look for in a man?
• • Mae: Fire. A man can be short and dumpy, but if he has fire, women will like him.
• • CC: Who were some of the men who had that fire?
• • Mae: John Barrymore wasn't so bad. I wouldn't have minded playing with him. In a movie, that is.
• • CC: You mean you'd rather have had him as a leading man in a film than as a lover?
• • Mae: If I'd had to make the choice, yeah. Because movies are forever, and sex doesn't last.
• • CC: I gather that most of the men with whom you've had affairs were not performers.
• • Mae: You weren't in the bedroom with us, honey. With me, they were all good performers.
• • CC: Do you think being a lady means something different now from what it did? One thing that's changed is talking about it as a value. You were a good girl or a bad girl.
• • Mae: I was a bad girl with a good heart. I don't think things have changed so much. It's still a man's world, with men making the rules that suit them best.
• • CC: Which time was better for women?
• • Mae: I think it was better then. Now a woman's expected to do it, and the man doesn't even have to court her. The woman used to be a bigger prize. You've gotta have plenty of self-esteem, nerve, and be bold in life. I've been liberated all my life. I always did what I wanted to do. I was an original. I didn't understand then what films meant, every new generation rediscovering you. When I first came out here, I didn't understand how important Hollywood was going to be.
• • CC: Do you find Hollywood greatly changed now?
• • Mae: The star system's gone. I was a real star.
• • CC: Are there any ways you feel you're different from the public image of Mae West?
• • Mae: I'm glad you asked that. When people think you're funny, they start to laugh at everything you say. There was a lot of serious reflection in what I said. And I was always writing.
• • CC: I know you're especially proud of your writing.
• • Mae: The secret of it is to keep everything moving. Don't let the audience think of the dishes. You need to have some lines they can take away, like songs they go away humming. Do you type or write longhand?
• • CC: I write longhand.
• • Mae: That's the only way I could do it. They offered to teach me to type when I was in prison. Did you know I was in prison?
• • CC: Yes. But you weren't an ordinary prisoner.
• • Mae: I was never an ordinary anything. I had to stand trial because of my show, Sex. They said I could pay the fine, but I decided it would be more interesting to go to prison. They told me I had to wear prison clothes, but I said I was bringing my own underwear. I wore my silk underwear the whole time.
• • CC: How do you feel about censorship?
• • Mae: I believe in censorship! If a picture of mine didn't get an X rating, I'd be insulted. Don't forget, dear I invented censorship. Imagine censors that wouldn't let you sit in a man's lap. I've been in more laps than a napkin! They'd get all bothered by a line like "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?" You might say I created the Hays Office. I'm a kind of godmother to the Motion Picture Code. Now they use nudity and talking dirty to take the place of a good story. I didn't have to take off my clothes. Men imagined what was under them.
• • CC: A man's imagination is a woman's best friend.
• • Mae: Do you know what question I'm asked most? About the mirrors on my bedroom ceiling. I say, "I like to see how I'm doin'." You can go look at my bedroom.
• • CC: [As in the living room, everything in the bedroom was white. The perfectly made bed was covered with a white satin spread.]
• • CC: Did you like what you saw?
• • Mae: I did. It's one of the most famous bedrooms in the world. The most famous. What did you think of my bed?
• • CC: I thought what an interview it might give!
• • Mae: I wish I could've shown you my beach house. But I sold it. I never lost any money in art or real estate. Money is sexy for men, but people don't find it feminine for a woman to talk about it. So, you don't have to talk about it, just have it. The real security is yourself.
• • CC: Do you think money buys happiness?
• • Mae: No, but money is a great love potion for an affair. It buys a good bed with clean linens and time to enjoy it all. If you have money, you don't have to worry about it, and worrying spoils your looks. (pause) What are you calling your book?
• • CC: Do you have a suggestion?
• • Mae: [After thinking for a moment] You could call the book "Mae West and others" that's "others" with a small "o" and I want to be first. Being first is important in life.
• • CC: For you, what's the most important thing in life?
• • Mae: My career is everything. Always was. I never changed. Inside, I feel like the same little girl I was. But it was the way I grew up outside that men liked.
• • CC: What do you think men like in a woman besides physical beauty?
• • Mae: That's what men care about, except in their wives. Men admire devotion in their wives, beauty in other women. It seems to me that, for the world, a woman is the way she looks, and a man is what he does. A man should take as good care of his body as a woman does. I liked physically strong men who could fight over me. I didn't incite them. They just did it. What have you got there?
• • CC: A camera. I was hoping ...
• • Mae: I don't have my picture taken with other women. I never like to see myself in a picture, except surrounded by men. You should always keep the best picture of yourself in your own head. If you don't think you're wonderful, why should anyone else? I don't usually go on talking so much. You know, honey, I see something men must like about you: You're a brilliant listener!
• • CC: It's easy. I've had a wonderful time.
• • Mae: Do you know my idea of a wonderful time? Sex and chop suey.
• • CC: Together?
• • Mae: No. The chop suey tastes better after. Chop suey, sex, and my career. My work was the most fun. Sex was second best. You've gotta conserve your sex energy in order to do your work. The sex drive is behind everything creative we do. The stronger the sex drive, the stronger the desire to create. People who want one thing more want everything more. But there are moments to slow down. I don't like a man that's in a hurry. "I like a guy what takes his time."
• • CC: [I gather up my things to leave.]
• • Mae: Don't forget your baby oil. But remember what I told you: It's gotta be warm, and you've gotta have a man put it on all over.
• • CC: [Just as I was leaving, she called me back.]
• • Mae: Honey, there's something I want to tell you before you go. You know, my diamonds I told you all those men gave me? I wanted you to know I bought some of them myself.
• • Source: The Ultimate Seduction by Charlotte Chandler [NY: Doubleday, 1984]
• • Copyright Charlotte Chandler
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •

Mae West.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mae West: December 1914

Folks who picked up a copy of the December 25th, 1914 issue of Variety saw MAE WEST on page 73.
• • Variety contained a half-page advertisement for Guido "The Master of the Piano Accordion, The Incomparable in His Line," and Mae " The Original Brinkley Girl, A Style All Her Own," who were "Engaged Jointly as Headline Features."
• • Despite this public nod to their union, by December 1958 when Mae West was at work on her memoir, she could not bring herself to use Guido Deiro's name in the manuscript, referring to her former mate cryptically as "Mr. D."
• • Though their marriage was supposed to be a secret probably because in 1914 Mae West was still legally wed to Frank Wallace in fact, Variety printed an announcement about "Mr. and Mrs. Deiro" [that is, Guido Deiro and Mae West together, as a vaudeville act] who were playing at Shea's in Toronto, Canada, for the week beginning 29 November 1913.
• • Mae filed for divorce from Guido Deiro on the grounds of adultery on 14 July 1920. The divorce was granted by the Supreme Court of the State of New York on 9 November 1920. Guido almost immediately re-married for the third time. Mae later said, "Marriage is a great institution. I'm not ready for an institution."
• • Fast forward to 1958. Why was Mae still hiding the truth?
• • By the late 1950s, Guido Deiro [1886-1950] was safely silent in his grave.
• • Mae West's disapproving parents were also dead by then.
• • And even Frank Wallace had been divorced and dispatched by this time.
• • Perhaps the powerful feelings that had attracted her to this Latin lover when she was 20 years old were so overwhelming, it was better to leave that bewitchment without a proper name.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •

Mae West.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mae West: Oedipus Rector

In 1937, Paramount Pictures spent a record one million dollars on its MAE WEST vehicle "Every Day's a Holiday" [released in the USA as holiday fare on 18 December 1937].
• • Mae West portrays Peaches O'Day, a turn-of-century con artist who poses as a famous French chanteuse to avoid arrest. In this guise, she manages to expose crooked police chief Lloyd Nolan and smooths the path for reform mayoral candidate Edmund Lowe. A strong cast of supporting comedians, including Charles Winninger, Charles Butterworth, and Walter Catlett, match Mae quip for quip. Set in the Naughty Nineties, the motion picture features the gayest New Year's Eve party ever held at Rector's on 31 December 1899.
• • Elaborately produced on a set that matched the interior of Rector's on Broadway and snappily directed by Eddie Sutherland, "Every Day's a Holiday" should have been the hit that Mae West needed to save her flagging film career. Sad to say, thanks to the scrub brush Joe Breen used on her manuscripts, Mae's saucy screenplay became a pepless stew.
• • And unfortunately Mae was also under fire from America's bluenoses because of her previous "racy" vehicles and her recent "lewd and lascivious" appearance on Edgar Bergen's radio show in mid-December 1937, just before Christmas. (Heard today, Mae West's "Adam and Eve" sketch seems harmless enough.)
• • Result: "Every Day's a Holiday" lost every penny it cost and then some and effectively ended Mae West's relationship with Paramount.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • In January 1938, Time Magazine published a review of Mae's film "Every Day's A Holiday" (Paramount Pictures, 1938).
• • Time's critic had this to say:
• • In the peculiar idiom of show business, Mae West's art comes under the head of umph.
• • This quality is expressed by sinuous gyrating and prurient murmurings. That this sort of thing will make money is well established. Actress West's last recorded cinema earnings (1936) were $323,000, about as much salary as Bethlehem Steel's president, Eugene G. Grace, and the chairman of its board, Charles M. Schwab, draw down together. That umph sometimes shocks the public is established too.
• • For "Every Day's A Holiday" Paramount made a determined effort to de-umph Mae West by vacuum-cleaning the script, disguising Mae in a fantastic black French periwig. But, like trying to purify the water by white-washing the village pump, it did not work. To situations with considerably less potential than the story of Adam & Eve, actress Mae West imparts a meaning all her own; despite all directorial and script-writing efforts to make her steer a straight course, she still writhes as she pleases. As sexless a game as selling a sucker the Brooklyn Bridge resembles, in the West vernacular, a bargain sale of great temptations.
• • Other impressions of "Every Day's A Holiday": snowy-haired Charles Winninger in typical foxy grandpa mood, Negro Swing-Trumpeter Louis Armstrong leading a torchlight procession, the plushy mustiness of the turn of the century, and a few gags, all mothered and murmured by Miss West.
• • Typical examples:
Q. "You mean he made love to you?''
A. "Well, he went through all the emotions. . . ."
"Keep a diary and some day it'll keep you. . . ."
"She's not as strait-laced as she's laced up to be. . . ."
• • With the release of "Every Day's A Holiday," Paramount and Mae West parted company. She is under contract to Producer Emanuel Cohen, whose production Paramount has sponsored. Last week Producer Cohen and Adolph Zukor, Paramount head, climaxed a four-year feud by calling off their deal. What bothered Paramount more than Mae West's loss was that on Producer Cohen's personal payroll is Crooner Bing Crosby.
• • Source: Time Magazine
• • Published: Monday, 24 January 1938
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1937 • •

Mae West.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mae West: Yuletide

As if it weren't hot enough in the sunshine-drenched Lone State State, MAE WEST steamed up the residents with editorial coverage in a Texas tabloid on 24 December 1934.
• • Sultry blonde actress Mae West is keeping in character on her Christmas cards, a Texan reporter wrote, while examining the promotional holiday card that Paramount Pictures had designed for their screen queen. She has a drawing of herself sitting on Santa´s lap with this jingle: “If Santa fails to reach your house, just bear it with a grin. I wrote and said, Come up some time, and the dear old guy moved in.”
• • Source: 24 December 1934 The Plainview Daily Herald [Texas]
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • On 25 December 1884 Evelyn Nesbit was born. Mae West opened for the headliner at Hammerstein's Victoria in New York City.
• • On 25 December 1946 W.C. Fields died from a stomach hemorrhage at age 66. Mae West co-starred with the old vaudevillian in the Western comedy "My Little Chickadee" [1940].
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1934 • •

Mae West.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Mae West: A Star Factory

MAE WEST is discussed in a new book about old Hollywood: The Star Machine.
• • Book Reviewer Tracey O'Shaughnessy discusses the new release and the author in this interview for The Republican-American. Author Jeanine Basinger heads Wesleyan University's film studies program, and often writes about classic cinema.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Wesleyan film historian's book reveals the cogs that kept Hollywood a well-oiled machine
• • BY TRACEY O'SHAUGHNESSY, Republican-American

• • There's a story told about MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer discovering that Greer Garson, one of his pet leading ladies, had married her "Mrs. Miniver" co-star Richard Ney. Ney, 12 years Garson's junior, had played her son in the Oscar-winning 1942 movie that defined Garson as the decorous iron butterfly whose steely grace could smite Nazis and aphids.
• • "What will people think," the bellicose Mayer roared. "You've married your own son!"
• • But, as Garson reminded Mayer, that was only in the movies. In real-life, she wanted to marry Ney before he went off to war. "Well," Mayer allegedly sighed, "maybe he'll be killed and our problem will be solved."
• • Like most stories told about Mayer, this story is likely apocryphal. But it is revealing, not only for what it says about Mayer, but for the light it sheds on the old studio system, the subject of "The Star Machine," by Wesleyan University's Jeanine Basinger.
• • Basinger, 71, is one of the country's top film historians and a certified film groupie. Basinger is less Waldo Lydecker, the vituperative critic of "Laura," who writes "with a quill pen dipped in venom," than Hedda Hopper. "My fondest dream is that I will go to my mailbox and the mailman will give me a letter and I will see 'France,' on the return address," Basinger confides. "And Deanna Durbin would have said, 'Thanks for the nice write up.'"
• • Basinger laughs heartily. An earthy South Dakota native who mixes academic precision with charming Midwestern patois, something like her Deanna Durbin fantasy happened to her 40 years ago when she wrote The New York Times to protest its snarky profile of Joan Crawford. The Times printed her letter as a column and ran it in its Sunday pages. Joan Crawford, about whom Basinger was devising a class, woke her up at 7:30 that morning.
• • "Jeanine?" the distinctive Crawford intoned, "You are a great lady." Within weeks, Crawford appeared in Basinger's class at Wesleyan to answer questions — the only time the star ever did so.
• • As chair of Wesleyan's venerable film studies program and its new cinema archives, Basinger is frequently called on to narrate re-released classic film DVDs, like the 1942 Bette Davis melodrama "In This Our Life."
• • "They cannot say it. They cannot show it. They cannot even go near it," Basinger said recently, over a roast-beef wrap at Middletown's Luce. "But they manage it: there's a subplot about incest."
• • That, Basinger says, is what replenishes her, after seeing these movies dozens of times. "They knew how to be suggestive," says Basinger. "They were so skillful and they were so finely crafted and they were lean. These movies knew how to imply, suggest and move on."
• • The idea for "The Star Machine" has been percolating around Basinger for a long time. Most of her writings, from "Silent Stars" to "A Woman's View," touches on the old studio system, which has become in recent years some sort of oligarchic archenemy, a multi-tentacled beast that spewed fantasy and falsehood, simultaneously spawning and strangling its progeny. "The Star Machine" seeks to unravel the factory system that produced iconic stars like Clark Gable, Irene Dunne, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn.
• • But even the studio executives themselves could not define the product they were manufacturing.
The studio system was, as David Denby has written, "the industrialization of the ineffable."
• • And it was industrialization. "Hollywood was a factory," Basinger writes. "It operated on the principle that if it dropped a lot of nubile young blondes into the star-making machine, at least one of them might come out looking like a heartbreaker."
• • The entrepreneurs who ran the system, like Mayer, operated under a clinical pragmatism. "The idea of a star being born is bushway," he said in 1958. "A star is created, carefully and coldbloodedly, built up from nothing, from nobody. … Age, beauty, talent — least of all talent — has nothing to do with it. … We could make silk purses out of sow's ears every day in the week."
• • What makes "The Star Machine" absorbing is the number of people who should have made it, but never did. These were people like Barbara Lawrence and Peggy Dow, Alexis Smith and Ana Sten. They went through the same hackneyed hoops, physical transformation and publicity machinations as the Barbara Stanwycks and Loretta Youngs, but they didn't catch fire.

• • Mae West, who made less than a dozen films, understood the game.
• • "It isn't what I do," she said, "but how I do it. It isn't what I say, but how I say it. And how I look when I do it and say it."

• • The book's best — and to Basinger's mind — most heartbreaking example is Rosemary Clooney.
• • "I love Rosemary Clooney," says Basinger. "She's one of my all-time favorite singers. She's a warm and charming personality. She's easygoing and she can really sing. Why the heck didn't she become a real movie star?"
• • Part of it, Basinger writes, was that Clooney was with a studio (Paramount) not known for developing musicals. Part of it was that Clooney's easygoing persona looked flat on screen, and part of it was that she lacked the indescribable pizzazz that another band singer — Doris Day — had in spades.
• • "Doris Day really has punch on screen," says Basinger. "She's unique. She can do it all and Warners knew what to do with her. There's so many accidents involved."
• • Yet Basinger is an impenitent devotee of the old studio system for one reason. "I love movies," she says. In its heyday, the studio system turned out 400 to 500 movies annually. "I'm a good moviegoer," Basinger says. "Give me the system that gives me the best stuff. The studio system was an efficient system that produced a great product."
• • It's now become cant to think of the studio executive as a fast-talking, cigar-chomping tyrant, based on a few juicy tidbits of hyperbolic anecdotes spun by embittered stars. While Basinger concedes that moguls were "colorful men with uneducated backgrounds," she reminds readers no studio could compete with the malfeasance of Enron and that "no Hollywood mogul … ever crashed quite the way Martha Stewart or Leona Helmsley crashed."
• • Maybe not, but working at a movie studio was grueling. Actors worked a six-day week, beginning at 7 a.m. and finishing between 6 to 8 p.m. Actual shooting began at 9 a.m., and somewhere in between, actors were expected to learn their lines.
• • The ambitious and dedicated, like Crawford, were generally up before 5 a.m., learning lines, getting to the hairdresser and exercising. Betty Hutton talked about getting to the studio at 6 a.m. and staying until 9 or 10 p.m. She worked through lunches, learning lyrics, and on Sundays on dance routines.
• • "I began to crack and if anyone looked at me, I cried," she said.
• • And but for a few flukes — Garson in her incandescent debut "Goodbye Mr. Chips," Vivien Leigh, a virtual unknown, nailing Scarlet O'Hara — actual stardom came after a lot of years of hard work. "They were grinding it out," Basinger says. "It was a factory. You got left at the post if you dropped off."
• • Between 1932 and 1936, Basinger notes, Cary Grant made 24 movies at Paramount. Clark Gable made 17 films in his first three years at MGM (1931-34) Humphrey Bogart spent nearly 20 years trying to find his feet, filming dozens of memorable duds, including "The Return of Dr. X," in which he plays a mad scientist with a skunk-like stripe through the center of his hair. Had George Raft not turned down the role of Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon," it's unclear whether Bogart would have ever emerged as the existentialist man of integrity for which he's remembered.
• • The idea of a star crafting his own aesthetic, a la Robert DeNiro or Meryl Streep, was unheard of during the studio's heyday, the Depression.
• • "The luxury to think of your work as a 'career' is a product of our time," says Basinger. "It's not the product of people born in poverty, trying to put food on the table. They were hustling a living." Many stars, like Crawford and her arch-nemesis Norma Shearer, were supporting parents or extended families.
• • Still, Hollywood's exacting schedule, combined with the studios' manipulation of stars' personal lives was too much to bear for many.
• • "We were really like slaves," Ann Rutherford said. "You were chattels of the studios. They could buy and sell you." As Ava Gardner famously quipped, "Stardom gave me everything I never wanted."
• • The omnipresent studio chose everything for stars, from their homes, to their hairstyles, to their dates. It also eliminated the necessity to think. Elizabeth Taylor admitted after she left MGM that she had no idea how to write a check. After Lana Turner was let go from her contract, she said she waited outside for the studio car to drive her home.
• • And yet, of course, they don't make 'em like that anymore. As Joan Collins said, "Glamour is on life support and is not expected to live."
• • Basinger says only a few stars — Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and perhaps Julia Roberts, come close to the level of their predecessors. Sharon Stone had it, and lost it, the result, Basinger believes, of not finding suitable roles. That, of course, is part of the problem.
• • Once the studio system collapsed in the early 1950s, stars could and did make their own decisions — often with disastrous results. Without a studio publicity department to gloss over their peccadilloes and misdemeanors, stars broke the "fourth wall" with their audience. They devolved from impeccably crafted phantoms into pajama-wearing, latte-toting slobs like us.
• • "The studio made some mistakes, but they didn't make as many as individual stars make today," Basinger says. "It's harder to be a star today." Individual stars have to create and finance their own mini-studios of publicists, lawyers, business managers and personal assistants. "It's a tough, unforgiving business. This is why the business hated Marilyn Monroe. The business just didn't have time for that and, you know what? Most businesses don't. They don't have time for people who are late, for people who are sickly, or people, sadly, who are mentally ill."
• • Publication: The Republican American
• • Byline: Tracey O'Shaughnessy
• • Published on: 23 December 2007
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •

Mae West.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mae West: Leaves the Building

"MAE WEST's work as a dramatist will never be confused with that of, say, Thornton Wilder," observed staff writer Pat Craig [12 November 2007] in the Contra Costa Times.
• • To that we say, while Mae West was willing to be thrilling, it's a good bet that Thornton Wilder couldn't shimmy if his freakin' life depended on it.
• • Anyway, in a year's end round-up that assesses Bay Area Theatre in 2007, Pat Craig ranks the Berkeley, California revival of "Sex" by Mae West at the Aurora Theatre in the top ten.
• • Even though it's a shame Pat Craig does not remember that the Brooklyn bombshell wrote her play in 1926 not 1923 let's do the old QUOTE/ UNQUOTE thing now.
• • In the somewhat misinformed West Coast words of Pat Craig:
• • "Sex," Aurora Theatre Company Mae West wasn't just another come-hither face. The '20s prototype sex-bomb was also a playwright and an expert at highlighting and exploiting her particular charms. She wrote this show in 1923 [sic], the vice squad closed it on Broadway, and Berkeley's Aurora Theatre revived it hilariously.
• • Bay Area News Group Contra Costa Times
• • Byline: Pat Craig
• • Published on: 23 December 2007
• • Tonight's performance of "Sex" at the Aurora Theatre is the final show. Get some "Sex" before Christmas! See it tonight 23 December 2007!
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1926 • •

Mae West.

Mae West

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mae West: Nut-Cracked

It takes a tough man to play a tender MAE WEST, evidently.
• • Let's tip-toe into the ballet world for a sec. The creatures in Tchaikovsky’s "Nutcracker" are virtually their own solar system, obeying their own laws of gravity and orchestrating musical mischance and comeuppance.
• • "Playing with tradition is a bold move, and one Rodney Gustafson, artistic director of State Street Ballet, is not afraid to try," writes Ellen O'Connell, dance critic for the Santa Barbara Independent.
• • She adds, "Last weekend, the company presented its annual holiday production a 1930s Hollywood twist on The Nutcracker. There are quite a few versions of the Christmas classic dancing through Santa Barbara this time of year, and it can be hard to keep them all straight, but State Street Ballet’s variation is unmistakable; Gustafson reinterprets the traditional story using gangster rats in zoot suits and Ethel Merman-style synchronized swimmers as snowflakes."
• • Ooooh, what's the a-MAE-zing new angle over at the Lobero Theatre in California? Several innovations, it turns out.
• • According to O'Connell, one of the highlights of State Street Ballet’s NutCracker was the replacement of the traditional Mother Ginger with Mae West. The hysterically over-the-top Sergei Domrachev played the starlet, who appeared with a swarm of children, all students from the Gustafson School. This typically gender-bending performance was a clear crowd pleaser, and Sergei Domrachev flirted with the audience in a way that would have made even Mae West blush. ... [excerpt].
• • Publication: Santa Barbara Independent
• • Byline: Ellen O'Connell
• • Published on: 20 December 2007
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1935 • •

Mae West.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mae West: SEX 'til Dec. 23rd

How many remember MAE WEST in the Columbia film "The Heat's On"? Portraying an actress Fay Lawrence, Mae opens the film singing “I’m Just a Stranger in Town.” When Hubert Bainbridge a pathethic would-be lothario [actor Victor Moore] comes to pitch some woo with his bad toupee unhinged, Fay says, “Don’t look now, honey, but your hair’s skiddin’!” ["The Heat's On" was released 9 February 1944.]
• • Why mention an ill-conceived movie from the 1940s? Wait, there's a tie-in!
• • Don't look now, honey, but your chance to spend an evening with "Sex" is skiddin'!
• • The Aurora Theatre (Berkeley, California) extended your pleasure by keeping "Sex" onstage until 23 December 2007.
• • Don't be a stranger in town. Beauteous Delia McDougall portrays Margy LaMont the role Mae West scripted for herself. Come up and enjoy "Sex" before it goes skiddin' away down memory lane.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •

Mae West.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mae West: Ken Russell

British filmmaker Ken Russell had some nice words for MAE WEST.
• • His article for The Times "From robot to Romy: Ken Russell's top ten characters" cobbles together his impressions of screen queens and scene-stealers from his stream-of-consciousness meditation on the late and the great.
• • "Certain characters magnify their own peculiarities to become larger than life," he writes. "They are eccentrically mythic no matter how ill-fitting the part or plot may be to your life, the characters as written and acted insist on leaving the screen and following you home, like the Moon over your shoulder. ..."
• • And then he adds, "Before we leave the ladies, I must mention Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1933), in which she plays Lady Lou, that saucy vamp of the Gay Nineties. The wiggle, the hourglass figure, the double entendres, the sideways look she remains one of the screen’s most enduring characters. ..."
• • The Times [UK] News International Limited
• • Published on: 20 December 2007
• • Byline: Ken Russell

• • Born on 3 July 1927 in Southampton, Hampshire, England, Ken Russell showed his skill with many a screenplay, especially his lush cinematic prose poems made from the novels of D.H. Lawrence, films that beautifully captured perception just before it yielded to analysis. Bravo! Thank you, Ken Russell.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1933 • •

Mae West.