Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mae West: Chryselephantine

The summer air was feverish with applause during July 1928 when MAE WEST was riding a big box office wave at the Royale Theatre.
• • Though this Broadway showplace [located at 242 West 45th Street] had first hung out its shingle during January 1927, and has become known for long-running musicals, a non-musical was the theatre's first bonanza: Mae West’s "Diamond Lil," which wriggled in on 9 April 1928 and maintained its sunny side up for over 170 performances.
• • Time Magazine took its temperature [issue dated Monday, 23 April 1928].
• • Time's theatre critic, sparing no flair, admitted Lil had his heart at hello: "Diamond Lil" — — Propped up under the armpits by a dress that might have been designed by the stage carpenter, Mae West played the role that she had written about a bygone queen of Manhattan's underworld. Diamond Lil was a harlot whose heart was as big and golden as the enormous swan shaped bed that stood in her elaborate cubicle above Gus Jordan's saloon and brothel. None the less, she was hardboiled; when a Salvation Army captain came to save her soul, she planned to seduce him and when a lady threatened a double cross, Diamond Lil stabbed her in the tenderloin district. Despite her efforts, Gus Jordan, the Bowery boss, is caught eventually, for white slave trafficking. The Salvation Army captain, really a member of the police force, is his captor; Diamond Lil cuddles into his arms at the end saying, "Boy, I knew you could be had.''
• • Actress West plays her heroine with an eloquent and minatory calm, which contrasts well with the chryselephantine magnificence of her appearance. There are old-time tough songs, outmoded slang words ("moll," "dick," "corset"), and singing waiters, one of whom yodels, in the musty barroom, the same song with which he recently amused Manhattan cabaret patrons. "Diamond Lil" is an entertaining melodrama, concluded Time's man on the aisle.
• • You just don't hear critics uttering "minatory" these days, do you? Minatory — — means of a menacing or threatening nature
• • And how about that $25 phrase "the chryselephantine magnificence"? Chryselephantine — — (adjective) means made of, or overlaid with, gold and ivory, as certain objects made in ancient Greece.

• • The Royale Theatre on West 45th will be one of the tour stops on 16 August 2009.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Walking Tour: "Gaudy Girls on The Gay White Way: Mae West & Texas Guinan in the Theatre District"
• • When: 4:00 PM on Sunday — — 16 August 2008 — — rain or shine
• • Meet: Shubert Alley, 44th Street, West of Broadway, New York, NY 10036
• • Price: $10 [this walking tour lasts about 90 minutes]
• • Subway: N or R [BMT] train to West 42nd Street; 1 [IRT] train to Times Square

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • as Diamond Lil in 1928 • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.

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