Friday, May 30, 2008

Mae West: Mandolin Dave

Few people made MAE WEST laugh louder than vaudevillian Dave Apollon.
• • Born in Kiev, Russia on 23 February 1897, Dave's heavy "sour cream accent" was so hilarious that Mae West knew exactly how to increase his comic capital when they worked together during 1922 in the ill-fated "Ginger Box Revue" [slated to open at the Greenwich Village Theatre in Sheridan Square].
• • When a shady producer short-changed the cast by not producing the expected costumes and scenery, Mae pushed Dave Apollon onstage to deliver a prologue. Apologizing for the third-rate production the audience was about to see, Apollon muttered under his breath, "Ach! It was better under the czar with the lousy pogroms!"
• • Though Dave Apollon also worked as a mandolin player, it was not his musicianship that brought him the enormous popularity and success he was to achieve in vaudeville. Instead it was his Russian accent. Always on the lookout for entertainers with unique charms, Mae West first noticed his built in assets.
• • In "Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It," Mae described her first encounter with Dave during the Ginger Box Review debacle.
• • Mae West wrote: "At a rehearsal of this show I first met Dave Apollon. He had just arrived in this country, after some hardships, and was in the show. He was a fine mandolin player and Russian dancer. I first saw him dressed in a very tight-fitting green tweed suit that looked as if it had been made for a smaller brother, high button shoes, and a high Hoover collar. He was short but slender, with a round elf's face, and a turned-up nose over a mocking mouth. He had a sour-cream heavy Russian accent, and a very amusing way of expressing himself in a fractured English almost like double-talk. Dave was very funny, I thought, but in the show he just played the mandolin and did a short dance. I couldn't help being amused by him and I would have him come to me so that I could ask him questions just to hear him mangle the language. I would try not to laugh out loud, just inwardly, and somehow everything became funnier that way. When Dave Apollon would start talking it would break me up inside. He'd ask, 'Whut suz funnik I'm saying please to tell me?'"
• • I said to him, "Dave, with your mannerisms, voice, and puzzled expression that seems to struggle to understand what is said, you make me scream with laughter. What would you be able to do to an audience?"
• • "But no thenk you — — I serious minded fella, this mandolin and dancing very serious for me is enough."
• • Mae West persisted and soon had Dave reading lines in a skit about Circe and her lovers. When the show opened in South Norwalk, Connecticut, it was discovered that the scenery was too small for the theater. The producer was about to write a formal apology for the theater manager to read to the opening-night audience, when Mae came up with an idea.
• • "Get Dave Apollon to go out before the curtain, in a spotlight, in his own tight little green street suit, and with that borscht dialect he should really be, funny telling them about the scenery." They captured Dave, fed him hot tea, patted his back, told him he could do it. Finally, Dave did go out on the stage to make the announcement. The more he got tangled up in the English language, the more scared and bewildered he looked, the more the audience howled. He became so screamingly funny the audience doubled up in the seats. They applauded madly, thinking it was all a part of the original show. He came off pop-eyed. "I sweating like a hoss," he said.
• • Dave Apollon died in Las Vegas at age 75 during the month of May: 30 May 1972.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo:
• • Mae West • •
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Mae West.

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