Critics continue to weigh in on MAE WEST.
• • Cleveland journalist Tricia Springstubb did a column for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. According to her, 'She Always Knew How' by Charlotte Chandler [Simon & Schuster, 317 pages, 2009] is a sexy, smart biography of Mae West, who ruled the screen and her own career.
• • Tricia Springstubb writes: The sofa is gilt, covered in eggshell satin, and the extended hand is baby soft, dripping with diamonds. But look out. Those diamonds are "old-cut" and sharp enough to scratch your palm. According to Mae West, that's the best kind, and what better authority than Diamond Lil herself?
• • "She Always Knew How," a biography from Charlotte Chandler, reads like an extended conversation with this witty, provocative, surprisingly sweet woman, and it's hard to imagine better entertainment than the musings of a "girl who climbed the ladder of success, wrong by wrong."
• • Born in Brooklyn in 1893 as Mary Jane West, the adored daughter of a beautiful corset model and a "bare knuckles fighter," she was never guilty of false modesty. Her father's offer to build her a dollhouse baffled her — — what she wanted, and got, was a toy stage. Baby May (she later changed it to Mae because it looked more cheerful) began her career at age 5 on the stage of Brooklyn's Royal Theater, where she took first prize in the amateur hour and never looked back.
• • Her formal education ended at third grade. "School kind of got in my way, you might say. . . . They told my mother, 'Mae's an average student.' Can you imagine?"
• • Her career was everything to her, and she insisted on complete control of it. She turned down an offer from the famous New York producer Florenz Ziegfeld because the theater where his "Follies" played wasn't intimate enough for her.
• • With titles like "Sex" and "The Wicked Age," her plays were never the darlings of critics or censors, ("Imagine censors that wouldn't let you sit in a man's lap! I've been in more laps than a napkin!"), but the public idolized her.
• • Throughout her career onstage and in film, she wrote her own lines, including that invitation to come up and see her sometime, and Diamond Lil's reply to the innocent coat-check girl who cries "Goodness!" at the sight of all those gems. "Goodness," Lil purrs, "had nothin' to do with it, dearie. "
• • In 1934, West was the highest paid female performer in the world. "Sex and work have been the only two things in my life, but if I ever had to choose . . . it was always my work." Yet the distance between the real West and her stage persona seems approximately the width of an emery board.
• • With the exception of her beloved mother, she preferred the company of men. "Women spend too much of their lives saying no."
• • West scripted parts for drag queens, championed black actors and musicians, and donated her used Cadillacs, still in pristine condition, to convents because "I just can't stand seeing a nun waiting for a bus."
• • She discovered George Raft and Carey [sic] Grant, and counted Elvis Presley and Marlene Dietrich among her confidantes. At the end of this book-length conversation, carried on with Chandler when West was in her 80s, the star leans forward with a confession.
• • "You know, my diamonds I told you all those men gave me? I wanted you to know — — I bought some of them myself." As she'd be first to point out, no one deserved them more.
— — Source: — —
• • Book Review by: Tricia Springstubb
• • Published in: The Cleveland Plain Dealer — — www.cleveland.com
• • Published on: 15 February 2009
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• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •