Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mae West: Penis Talk

At a recent auction, a photo of MAE WEST was expected to fetch US $12,000 — $18,000. Lot ID 8478 is now in the possession of a bidder who paid only US $8,200 for it. The sale would not have amused the screen queen, who had tried to sue Show Magazine over this portrait. Show published it anyway [January 1965 issue].
• • ''Mae West hated the pictures,'' Allan Arbus recalled about the shoot done by his late wife. ''Because they were truthful.''
• • The image might come up another time — — since there are 75 prints of this limited edition of Mae West in a Chair at Home, Santa Monica, California, 1965.
• • In 1964, Diane Arbus [14 March 1923 — 26 July 1971] flew to Los Angeles. Her buddy Robert Brown chauffeured her to Mae West's beach house on two successive days. By the 1960s, the New York City photo-journalist had adopted the Rolleiflex medium format twin-lens reflex. This format provided a square aspect ratio, higher image resolution, and a waist-level viewfinder that allowed Arbus to connect with her subjects in ways that a standard eye-level viewfinder did not. She was also experimenting with the use of flashes in daylight, allowing her to highlight and separate her subjects from the background.
• • For all of her technical savvy, Diane Arbus had enough smarts to know when to keep the camera bag out of sight. So it unfolded that, when Robert Brown came to drive his friend home on that first evening, she admitted she had not shot one frame yet. Instead she and the Brooklyn bombshell spent the time chatting.
• • Penis Pals • •
• • ''Do you know what we did most of the time?'' Diane enthusiastically told Robert. ''She's got a locked room with models in plaster of all the men she's had sex with — — of their erections.''
• • Regaling the East Coast guest with tales about her former lovers, Mae West had said: ''Each one is different: the way they sigh, the way they moan, the way they move; even the feel of them, their flesh is just a little different. . . . There's a man for every mood.''
• • Naturally, Diane Arbus wrote all of this down for the cover story she would write for Show's publisher Huntington Hartford. Then the next day, when her subject was relaxed and at ease, Diane shot several rolls. She was satisfied that she had done a good job capturing the septuagenarian sexpot — — in a negligee, backlighted by the merciless Southern California sun.
• • In her article, the 41-year-old phtographer would describe the 71-year-old screen legend as "imperious, adorable, magnanimous, genteel and girlish, almost simultaneously." She added, "There is even, forgive me, a kind of innocence about her."
• • After the session, Mae handed Diane a C-note, saying, "Thanks, honey." This was a habit dating back to the 1930s when the Paramount Pictures star would tip still photographers who snapped her on the set. [Diane returned the $100 with a gracious note.]
• • When the sharply focused black and white portraits appeared in print, however, Mae found them harsh, ugly, pitiless and directed her attorneys to sue the publisher. Her lawyers fired off a letter, calling the Mae layout "unflattering, cruel, and not at all glamourous."
• • Diane Arbus admitted there was a certain manipulativeness felt by those who click a shutter. A camera gave her access and power — — but what Diane trainer herself to notice especially was "the flaw."
• • Flaws did not interest Mae West. Not unlike Blanche DuBois, she did not want realism. She preferred magic, Hollywood's favorite home-grown product.
• • Diane Arbus: Mae West in a Chair at Home, Santa Monica, California, 1965 [Gelatin Silver Print, 20 inches X 16 inches, signed by Arbus].

• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1964 • •
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Mae West.

1 comment:

  1. A new play, mounted in Australia, Arbus & West, during March, 2019 documents a possible interaction between these two iconic women. Evidently, West's plaster penis collection is referenced in the play. A photograph of this collection has yet to surface, but as this encounter occurred in 1964, West was clearly ahead of the curve, so to speak, as a few years later, Rolling Stone magazine profiled the infamous of rock n' roll groupies named "The Chicago Plaster Casters" who immortalized male members for posterity.