Monday, August 04, 2008

Mae West: 4 August 1913

It was a hot summer attraction on 4 August 1913 and the crowds may (or may not) have recalled that in 1912 and 1913 Hammerstein had booked the vivacious teenager MAE WEST for eleven week-long engagements at his vaudeville playhouse situated in Longacre [later Times] Square. The location was popularly known by New Yorkers as "the corner."
• • On 4 August 1913, however, Mae West was there to open for a world-famous star: Evelyn Nesbit [1884 1967]. Despite a low-cut gown and provocative songs, Mae failed to fire up the audience.
• • The critic from The New York Tribune [whose coverage ran on 5 August 1912] commented that even Mae's low neckline and raunchy bumps and grinds were not enough to sway the hoi polloi.
• • Though most of the reporters ignored the 19-year-old's attempts to woo the crowd and did not even mention her name in their reviews, at least Variety's columnist Joshua Lowe [whose critique was published on 8 August 1913] noticed how hard she was working. "Mae West sang loud enough to be distinctly heard in the rear," wrote Lowe.
• • Clearly, Hammerstein's ticket-holders had come to worship Evelyn, the showgirl who had shied away from the spotlight for several years after the infamous Sanford White trial. "Anything's a good act that will make 'em talk," insisted Willie Hammerstein, who was a magician when it came to commandeering media interest and a big box office.
• • Evelyn's appearance was quite the ticket. Willie Hammerstein was so pleased at his box office bonanza that he had his sign painters create this come-on in four-foot-high letters
"Modern Ballroom Dancing," screamed the marquee,
"Performed by EVELYN NESBIT THAW!"

• • Readers of The New York Times saw these headlines Tuesday morning on 5 August 1913:
• • Evelyn Thaw Appears; Then Thanks Audience that Applauds Dancing at Hammerstein's.
• • According to the Times: Although it was reported at the time that Evelyn Nesbit arrived on the Olympic that she had said she would not dance unless the name of Thaw was eliminated from the signboard in front of Hammerstein's, she did appear yesterday afternoon, and the sign remained unchanged until after the performance, when "Thaw" was thinly covered with white paint.
• • A packed house tested her and applauded so persistently that she was forced forward finally by her dancing, . . . and expressed her thanks briefly for the reception. The sight of her face peeping through the mauve curtains masking the back of the stage started the applause. Then she and Mr. Clifford did three "trotting" turns, with evolutions that have been made familiar in the cabarets and public dancing places. She wore an ecru gown of light fluffy material bound in at the waistline with a broad black sash, and, with her hair loose about her neck and shoulders and a smile lighting her features, created an agreeable impression. Her dancing was of an average qualIty neither remarkably good nor the reverse. . . .
• • In 1899, Oscar Hammerstein built his fifth showplace the Victoria Theatre at the corner of West 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue. Stars like MAE WEST, Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Ethel Barrymore, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Buster Keaton, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, and Eva Tanguay were among the thousands of performers who made Hammerstein's Victoria the vaudeville "nut house" of Times Square.
• • Mainly, it was Oscar's son Willie Hammerstein who deserves credit for the playhouse's 17-year successful run. Willie had the knack for booking crowd-pleasing stagebills along with a peacock's genius for public relations.
• • In 1906, Evelyn's millionaire husband Harry Thaw shot architect Sanford White. The "trial of the century" was held at Jefferson Market Court the same celebrated Sixth Avenue courthouse where Mae West would wind up in 1927. Mae's censorship trial is dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West."
• • The 19th century Greenwich Village landmark designed by Withers and Vaux is one stop on the annual Mae West walking tour that will take place on her birthday, specifically, on Sunday 17 August 2008: "Mae West's Walk on the Wild Side."
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo:
• • Mae West • • Hammerstein's Victoria
circa 1901 • •

Mae West.

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