Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mae West: Beverly

When MAE WEST was living in Middle Village, New York, and working for her father's detective agency, she got mixed up in an expensive breach-of-promise case. The handsome heartthrob who was being sued was a Mr. Osborne. No doubt the complications of this tangled tale afforded amusement many times in the West household. The incident prompted Mae's sister to change her stage name to "Beverly Osborne" and also inspired the breach-of-promise suit used in Mae's script for "I'm No Angel."
• • How many of our faithful readers knew that one?
• • Let us devote some time to a vaudevillian who died at age 83 twenty-seven years ago on 12 March 1982, an entertainer whose gold-dusted dreams never quite came true.
• • On 8 December 1898, five-year-old Mae West and her parents welcomed a new addition to the household — — sweet Mildreth Katharina, who later changed her name to Beverly.
• • Also an aspiring actress, kid sister Beverly performed at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1916 in an act billed as "Mae West and Sister."
• • One song-and-dance number featured Mae clad in male drag opposite a very feminine Beverly (who actually got better reviews than the tough-talking Mae).
• • Few Mae-mavens realize that Beverly understudied her sister in three Broadway shows: "Sex," "Diamond Lil," and "The Constant Sinner."
• • Negative anecdotes about Beverly — — her drinking, her failed marriages, and her mental deterioration — — have popped up in every biography of her more famous sibling.
• • But every now and then a journalist would interview Beverly about her career. In 1933, Edward Sammis spoke to her and then wrote this rather rosy-tinged puff piece:
• • Picture Beverly's dilemma. As Mae's double, she could never hope for a break for herself unless misfortune befell her beloved sister — — and that was the last thing in the world she wanted to happen. It never did happen. Beverly was on hand, waiting in Mae's dressing room with her make-up on, night after night, ready for the emergency that never came. Mae, in all those months, never missed a single performance.
• • Beverly didn't mind. She was happy enough to see her sister get ahead. The patter of applause coming to her out through the wings night after night was music to her ears.
• • Then Mae got her chance to go to Hollywood. And Beverly was out of a job. Beverly went along, of course. They lived together in a bungalow during Mae's first months in Hollywood. But there is no place for an understudy in pictures. When the star is indisposed, production waits.
• • Money didn't matter. Mae was making money enough for both of them, and to spare. But for the first time since her girlhood days, Beverly found herself with nothing to do. She began to get restless. She thought of picking up the threads of her own career again. But great changes had come to the vaudeville business since she was a headline attraction. "Beverly West and Company" was a hazy memory to those in the game now. In those long anonymous years which she had spent backstage as Mae's understudy, living entirely in the roles of Mae's creating without benefit of audience, waiting for the emergency that never came, she had lost most of her own identity. . . .
• • Excerpt: The Strange Career of Mae West's Kid Sister
• • Byline: Edwards R. Sammis, Broadway Correspondent
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• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Beverly and family • •
Mae West.

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