In 2005, an exhibition on vaudevillians — — featuring MAE WEST — — opened in Doheny Memorial Library’s Treasure Room exhibition gallery, USC campus. The colorful show was called “Setting the Stage: The Rise of American Popular Theater” and it drew from the enormous collection and research of Armond Fields, whose relatives included the legendary stage comedian Lew Fields [half of Weber and Fields].
• • In middle age, when Armond Fields decided to explore his family tree, he discovered showbiz razz-matazz all over the branches. His initial research became a 552-page study “From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theatre,” [NY: Oxford University Press, 1993].
• • Since then Armond Fields has written more than half a dozen biographical works about vaudevillians. His subjects included Lillian Russell, Eddie Foy, Sophie Tucker, Maude Adams, etc. These stage stars entertained millions coast to coast but peaked too soon for screen stardom.
• • Naturally, the vaudevillians who did make it into the Hollywood hit factory — — Mae West, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields — — inherited posterity. Others, no matter their talents and popularity, are known only to scholars and theater-history buffs.
• • “Lillian Russell was the Madonna of her day, the Mae West, the Marilyn Monroe," said Armond Fields. "Lillian Russell [1861—1922] was married four times, she was her own manager, and she was outrageous in everything she did. Who knows Lillian Russell today, except a few people interested in early theater? Who knows Eddie Foy? They have vanished, and celebrity is fleeting.”
• • Since the California exhibition, Armond Fields was in possession of his next book, “Women Vaudeville Stars: Eighty Biographical Profiles,” which he had sent to McFarland & Co., his North Carolina-based publisher. He announced that his next project would be a biography of Tony Pastor, the impresario who launched vaudeville. “I am doing it because these people were so important in their era and because of the contributions they made.”
• • The term vaudeville, according to Armond Fields, likely derives from an old French term for pastoral plays. Look for his books.
• • On Sunday 17 August 2008, during the "Mae West's Walk on the Wild Side" walking tour, the group will visit Lillian Russell's former home and her trademark song "Come Down Ma Evenin' Star" will be sung live by Marlena de la Mora, who has performed with the NYC Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, etc.
• • Born in Iowa was the high-profile beauty and stage star Lillian Russell [4 December 1860 — 6 June 1922]. Mae West was inspired by her.
• • Lillian Russell's mother was a feminist Cynthia Leonard, the first woman to run for mayor of New York City.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •