Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mae West: Punchy

It's quite tempting to memorialize one or two of the famous palookas whose good looks and midnight maneuvers (temporarily) knocked out MAE WEST.
• • There are enough boxing bio-pics onscreen during the flag-draped weekend of May 30th — 31st that, inevitably, thoughts turn to the handsome (former) heavyweight champion of the world Jack "Manassa Mauler" Dempsey [24 June 1895 — 31 May 1983], who died at the end of May and wooed the actress during 1921 when she was performing in "The Mimic World of 1921."
• • However, the blog is in arrears when it comes to posting reviews on books written about Mae West. And so we make way for these jottings from the British critic Phil Bloomfield.
• • Phil Bloomfield writes: Mae West famously invited people to “come up and see me some time.” Well, the author [Charlotte Chandler] of this book did just that — — and took with her a tape recorder to capture the reminiscences of Mae West shortly before her death.
• • This, then, is a collection of those recordings, arranged chronologically and interspersed with brief, non-critical linking passages and summaries of some of her more successful plays and films.
• • Little in the way of thoughtful analysis . . . • •
• • It offers little in the way of thoughtful analysis of Mae West’s contribution, reading more like a ghosted celebrity autobiography than a serious addition to the film studies canon.
• • However, having said that, it does offer insights into the character and history of one of the more colorful characters to emerge from vaudeville into the Hollywood spotlights.
• • The Mae West character was an invention of May West, a spirited daughter of a Brooklyn immigrant family, who changed her name a little and then developed and honed herself on the variety stage, in a similar fashion to the pre-movies Marx Brothers.
• • Mae West’s character creation was a sexy brassy blonde, wisecracking with double entendres, and with a serious love of diamonds. She was the author of many plays featuring this character; some were very successfully produced on Broadway. One of them, Diamond Lil, had a sell-out run in London. Her first play, Sex, was judged to be an immoral theatrical performance, so West was sentenced to either a $500 fine or ten days in prison [sic].
• • She chose the latter, thinking it might provide material for a future play. It did give her huge publicity, which she built on in moving to Hollywood in the 1930s. There she made a dozen movies, of variable quality and success, including My Little Chickadee with W C Fields. She refused to allow anyone else to write her lines in these movies, thus maintaining the illusion of her character. The book gives few clues to Mae West’s real love life behind her blousy creation: she was married once early on, but unlike Monroe did not give it a second try [sic]; she did have two long-time devoted men friends who lived with her, although with separate beds, and who appear to have been gofers and fixers, or possibly bodyguards. And what about her famous collection of diamonds, given as gifts? The book ends with a sad little anecdote suggesting that she didn’t receive them all from admirers, but bought many of them herself.
— — Source: — —
• • Book Review: “She Always Knew How" by Charlotte Chandler (Simon & Schuster, 2009)
• • Byline: Phil Bloomfield, Oxford Times Book Critic
• • Published in: The Oxford Times — —
• • Published on: 28 May 2009
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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1 comment:

  1. As a long time reader of your blog, I am constantly amazed at the background information you consistently manage to dig up about our favorite gal. I was looking forward to Charlotte Chandler's biography of Mae West but was very disappointed about the lack of thought or real research that was put into this book that received a major push from a respected publishing house.
    West certainly warms up talking about her favorite subject - herself, and it is wonderful to hear her voice throughout this book. However, to the informed Mae West fan, this voice is somewhat muted and self serving rather than being reflective. For example, when the subject of one of West's lovers is brought up, he is simply referred to a "D." Guido Deiro and West were in fact married and ample proof lies deposited in Envelope 7, Miscellaneous Letters, and Legal Documents in the collection at the Center for the Study of Free-Reed instruments at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Years earlier, In 1911, West married Frank Wallace without obtaining a divorce. No mention is ever made of West being a bigamist.
    From my insider knowledge of Mae West gleamed from her inner circle the last 15 years of her life, many of her fabled diamonds were from admirers. Boy did Chandler ever do her wrong!