Monday, April 21, 2008

Mae West: A la russe

MAE WEST had been waiting to step into the fast-moving shoes of Catherine II of Russia, who was born in Stettin (which became Szczecin in Poland). "After years of surviving studio politics and handling vice-presidents, I saw Catherine was really a portrait of myself," Mae told the Los Angeles Times.
• • For years she had tried to promote a film about Catherine the Great
— — and, naturally, Mae West would offer a warmer and more sensual alternative to what she described as Dietrich's "hollow-cheeked doll." But when the regal Marlene Dietrich had a royal flop on her hands with "The Scarlet Empress" [1934], the studio bosses felt that the bawdy Brooklynite would hardly be credible in this role.
• • Finally, Mae brought her dream to her hometown. "Catherine Was Great" had its live mainstage premiere on 2 August 1944. The show closed on the Gay White Way on 13 January 1945.
• • As this nation was at war, Mae West was ruling over her New York City ticket-holders. Her cast wore Russian military uniforms. Their ammunition: laughter.
• • After trying to convince Hollywood to do this project, she finally found an energetic and extravagant theatrical backer, Michael Todd, who helped the Shuberts stage this version of "Catherine Was Great" in grand style. The play co-starred Mae West and her leading man, actor Gene Barry.
• • The play ran on the rialto for a total of 191 performances. While taking her curtain calls, Mae would make a little speech about Catherine having hundreds of lovers. "I do the best I can in two hours," Mae told her adoring audience.
• • Larger than life in many ways, the empress has two birthdates in 1729; depending on the calendar you use, Catherine came into this world either on 21 April or 2 May.
• • The headstrong czarina reigned as Empress of Russia for 34 years — — from 28 June 1762 until her death in 1796. Not unlike Mae West, she did the best she could.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo:
• • Mae West • •
1944 • •

Mae West.

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