Monday, March 16, 2009

Mae West: Earl H. Emmons

In 1928, the original Broadway production of "Diamond Lil," written by and starring MAE WEST, inspired a number of men to take pen in hand. [What else they took in hand, we leave to your imagination.]
• • Pencil chewing backstage was a special habit of Samuel Marx — — a frequent visitor to the Royale Theatre.
• • Here is Samuel Marx describing Mae West as the Bowery Queen for a little book printed in 1929:
• • • • Prominent among those who have written their names in fire on Broadway is that of Mae West. ... She is both an actress of peculiar merit, and an authoress of ability, although her talent has been directed into unpleasant fields. ...
• • • • Although her weight now is well around 200 lbs., she can still do a passable tap-dance. A blonde, short woman, she possessed a slow, fascinating drawl. Her reputation as an entertainer has grown rapidly in the past decade. ...
• • • • Her favorite expression is "Doncha know?" which she appends to almost every sentence she speaks. ...
• • • • She is a frank woman about her love affairs. Each night after the performance her dressing room would be swamped by society folk from Fifth Avenue's swanky 400, eager to meet this "creature." Miss West entertained backstage impartially, for blue-bloods and lesser admirers. It was not at all unusual for her to make her guests comfortable in her dressing room, and then proceed to remove her outer garments in their astonished presence. A stout woman, she found the tight-laced corsets of the period she acted [1890s] almost unbearable, and after stripping herself down to black underwear would sit down to chat. It was nothing if not unconventional. . . . [to be continued]
• • • • Source: Wild Women of Broadway by Samuel Marx [1929]
• • Actor John Huston, mesmerized by Mae West's gutsy rendition of "Frankie and Johnny" in her Broadway hit of 1928, spent a year traveling the USA, collecting versions of the folksong. Huston partnered with Covarrubias on his 1930 book "Frankie and Johnny"; Covarrubias drew the mulatto prostitute Frankie Baker as a Caucasian woman who looked like Mae West. The Manhattan publisher Boni released "Frankie and Johnny" in January 1930.
• • Word comes from Mae-maven and researcher Mark Desjardins that a third publication inspired by Mae's successful Broadway blockbuster is an exquisitely hand bound 21 page booklet, privately printed in an edition of 100 copies on premium weight ivory stock. Light verse was the specialty of Earl H. Emmons, who owned and operated Maverick Press in The Big Apple.
• • About this project — — "Reward of Virtue: a versified version of the great bed and bar-room epic, Diamond Lil, written and played by Mae West" — — Mr. Desjardins has assembled this intriguing back story:
• • • • Written by Earl H. Emmons, and published in 1938 by Maverick Press in New York, it clearly is a labor of love.
• • • • In the forward, Emmons stated that in the spring of 1928, he went to see Diamond Lil, and it occurred to him that the plot had amusing possibilties for some versified foolery. Over the next few weeks, he saw the play a number of times, made notes and learned the lines. After writing his opus to West, he typed one copy, made it into a little book, and sent it to Mae West, who "expressed enthusiastic apreciation and suggested I come up and see her some time in the near future so that she might thank me personally."
• • • • Emmons called on West the very next evening after the performance and "collected her personal thanks, the nature of which is no one's business." However, he did state for the record that West told him she had received the booklet just as she was preparing for her performance, and without even completing her makeup, went onto the stage, assembled the entire cast in whatever stages of undress they happened to be and proceeded to read it to the company, delaying the evening performance by twelve minutes. Emmons then goes on to apologize to anyone being annoyed by the delay that evening, and asks them to "stop blaming Miss West and turn their venom on me."
• • • • A year later, in 1939, a book of poetry entitled "An Uncensored Anthology," published by the Peter Pauper Press of New York, reprinted Emmon's "Reward Of Virtue," along with other poems by him entitled, "Mae West's Bust," and "Ballad of the Twin Buttes." Another poem suggestive of West entitled "Frankie and Johnnie" was included in this collection attribued to "Anonymous."
• • • • I was thrilled to discover a mint copy of Earl H. Emmons's original booklet recently, and recommend anyone trying to search out the later published copy in the Anthology for sheer reading enjoyment. A classic early appreciation of Mae West — — and one she clearly took pleasure in.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • The amusing lines that Emmons titled "Mae West's Bust" also appeared in a book called "Rowdy Rhymes."
Henry R. Martin drew the illustration you see here.
• • Rowdy Rhymes. Gathered from Many Gay Minstrels [Publisher: Mount Vernon, NY — — Peter Pauper Press, 1952] Illustrated by Henry R. Martin; 61 pages
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • artwork printed in 1952 • •
Mae West.

1 comment:

  1. It was just by happen stance that I landed in this place today, New Year's Eve 2009. A time to reminisce and seek out places for new adventures. Rereading my copies of Ballad of Mae West's Bust, Ballad of Twin Buttes and Reward of Virtue by Earl Emmons at his Maverick Press, while not PC in today's world, still brings forth a smile and light chuckle. Glad to have "stumbled" into this space.