Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mae West: Mrs. Astor's Horse

Stanley Walker's book Mrs. Astor's Horse has an amusing section on MAE WEST — — a personal glimpse that also touches on the criminal acts of Edward Friedman, that brazen thief who stole diamonds from our own Diamond Lil herself.
• • Stanley Walker writes: Before the rise of the lush Mae West, sex in the United States was treated either with extreme seriousness, even to the point of dolor, or it was laughed at and razzed. Mae West — — by adding a slightly burlesque overtone to the by-play between the sexes — — made everybody feel more comfortable except the censors, who felt rather vaguely that there was something wrong in her technique, though for the life of them they never made it clear whether it was because they took her acting seriously or as something amusing. Miss West can invest the simple phrase, "How do you do?" with a sexy quality which is the distilled essence of all the bordellos of all time.
• • One of her best tricks is the way she eyes a man, beginning by staring at his shoes and gradually allowing her gaze to wander up to his neck and face. With her small-waisted figure, her undulating hippy strut, her nasal whine, and her meaty lips, she has made sex a thing gorgeously panoplied — — as it was in the brave and bawdy days of that old minstrel of the boudoir, King Solomon.
• • There are more stories about her, most of them off-color, than ever were told about Pat and Mike. She has taken what is known as woman's priceless possession, added a few circus touches, and put a laugh in the libido.
• • Notwithstanding the impression one gets from her pictures and stage get-up, Miss West is a rather small woman. She is about 5 feet tall and weighs about120 pounds. The most she ever weighed was 136 when she went on a cream and pastry diet to build up for the part of Diamond Lil.
• • She eats almost anything: chopped raw steak, kippered herring, and home-made pie. She is full of vitality and practically immune to fatigue. She does exercises and rides a stationary bicycle in her Hollywood apartment, but doesn't go in for sports. Broadway knew her hair as a brassy gold, but now it is platinum white and very fluffy.
• • Her Hollywood apartment is typical of her character. Her specially constructed front door is of the speakeasy type; visitors are carefully squinted at through a grilled slit by a butler. The color scheme of the apartment is white and gold. All the furniture, including a large grand piano, is white. The drawing-room contains several white sofas upholstered in cloth of gold. Thick bearskin rugs cover the floors. Numerous ash trays in the form of golden swans are scattered about on little tables. Dozens of mirrors are used as wall decorations. She has a gold dinner set from which she and her brother Jack, who lives with her, dine often, served by a Negro butler and maid. The other occupants of the apartment are a monkey named Junior and a small Chihuahua dog.
• • An oversized bed dominates the bedroom. It is white and frilly, with a regal canopy, and stands on a dais carpeted with another white bearskin. A huge mirror is embedded inside the canopy so she can survey her famous figure as she lies outstretched in one of her favorite black lace nightgowns.
• • During her "Sex" and "Diamond Lil" days in New York, her bed was of carved wood with a velveteen canopy of green and gold attached to a six-pointed coronet. A tall pier glass stood opposite the foot of the bed and was adorned with a crest designed by Mae, which bore the legend, "Mae West, Sex, Diamond Lil."
• • She passes most of her spare time in bed and composes most of her dramatic masterpieces there. She used to write scenarios in longhand. But now she calls in a stenographer and dictates. She is said to have a keen appreciation of her body, and likes to stretch out full length in a warm, rose-scented tub and soak.
• • She is particular about her clothes; the skirts must be instep length to bring out the curve of her hips. Her dresses must be tight in the right places, and low-necked. Because of an eccentricity in dressing (she combs her hair and puts on her hat before her dress), her street clothes are made with slits and buttons on the shoulders and down the back. She likes heavy-scented Oriental perfumes, high-heeled satin pumps, and wide-brimmed hats.
• • Miss West is known as an exceptionally shrewd business woman. Her contract calls for two pictures a year, and contains a provision that she must approve all her scenarios. Thus she approves the scenarios written by herself, which she sells for high prices. She never takes a vacation; as soon as one picture is finished, she starts on another.
• • Like the character "Diamond Lil," Miss West is fond of jewelry. For years she delighted In displaying her glittering collection. Her pet piece was a large pendant in the form of a champagne bottle covered with blue-white diamonds.
• • One night in September 1934, three men with guns stopped her automobile and robbed her of her diamonds, worth $17,000 — — including the champagne bottle, and $4,400 in cash.
• • Criminal Edward Friedman
• • One of the robbers, Edward Friedman, was caught, convicted, and sentenced to twelve years in San Quentin prison. Edward Friedman's uncaught pals have threatened to throw acid in her face, so she is guarded wherever she goes. The guards even follow her to the Catholic church near her home — — where she goes almost every morning. The religious touch in her nature is illustrated also by a vigil light in her apartment which is never extinguished.
• • Miss West likes to go to prize-fights, and follows the work of the pugilists with the eye of an expert. Her father was Battling Jack West, a Brooklyn middle-weight. Between fights in the summer, he worked as a bouncer in a Coney Island dance hall, and in the winter he threw out the rowdy ones at Fox's Folly in Brooklyn.
• • Miss West's mother was Matilda Dilker West, a French actress reputedly of Jewish blood, who died in 1930. Battling Jack, who became a chiropractor, died in Hollywood in 1934. Miss West is fond of fighters, and tries to give as many of them as possible parts in her productions. At the prize-fights Miss West is usually accompanied by James Timony, a large red-faced man who has been associated with her since 1926. From time to time somebody starts the rumor that Timony and Miss West are married, but there has never been any proof of a wedding.
• • Timony, a Broadway lawyer with theatrical interests, organized the Morals Production Company, which produced the play "Sex." It was pretty well known at the time that the principal financial backer was Owen Madden, New York's veteran racketeer, but he naturally remained in the background. Owney was a great admirer of Miss West's playwriting ability, and with his friends regarded her as an authentic artist. In 1927 Miss West, Timony, and Charles W. Morganstern, associated with the production, were indicted for staging an indecent performance, "Sex." At the trial, Jim Timony took a rosary from his pocket and fingered the beads in prayer. It was no use. With Miss West and Charles W. Morganstern, Timony was fined $500 and sentenced to ten days in jail.
• • The private life of Miss West has been the subject of many legends and conflicting rumors.
• • In the spring of 1935 a boondoggler in the Middle West, going through some old records, found that she had been married in 1911 to a fellow actor, Frank Wallace. Now, there was a Frank Wallace who played with Miss West as a singing waiter in "
Diamond Lil," but he died in 1933. Another Frank Wallace, who said he was the original bridegroom, turned up on Broadway. He was a vaudeville actor and broke. For a few weeks he tried to cash in on the glamorous fact that he had once been the husband of Mae West, and then he dropped back into obscurity. Miss West, although confronted with the evidence, steadfastly denied that she had ever been married to Wallace.
• • When pressed about her private life, she takes one of Jimmy Walker's phrases and says, "I will match my private life with any woman's."
• • She is known for flip remarks. It is said that once, when refusing an Invitation to attend a luncheon given by the Los Angeles Minute Men, she said . . . .
— — Source: — —
• • With a Foreword by NUNNALLY JOHNSON
• • With fifteen reproductions of photographs and an Index

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •
Mae West.

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