Friday, July 10, 2009

Mae West: Wicked in 1927

On 10 July 1927, The New York Times announced that MAE WEST had written a new play, "The Wicked Age."
• • During her imprisonment in the Women's Workhouse, Mae had claimed she was thinking about corruption — — and how a system of institutionalized corruption affected women. She felt she could set forth her ideas effectively in a play about the dirty politics of beauty pageants.
• • During the entire summer of 1927, Mae was revising and reworking the manuscript, which was set in Bridgetown [Cumberland County], New Jersey.
• • Mae's character was the beautiful and willful Evelyn "Babe" Carson. To keep the production on a tight budget, Mae hired a lot of no-name talent, former vaudevillians looking for work, and her aging mentor Hal Clarendon to play her uncle/ guardian Robert Carson.
• • During the 1920s, a common real estate ploy to increase land values and publicize the area was the community sponsored beauty contest. In "The Wicked Age," the shady, money-grubbing politicians who run Bridgetown decide to stage a leg show despite negative public opinion about such an enterprise. One landowner insists: "The basis of any industry . . . for success today is based on the exploitation of the female form." The influential rascal Alec Ferguson shouts down objections: "Which plays get over and make money for their producers? Those that try to uplift the public and teach it better ways of living — — don't make me laugh — — those plays go over that exhibit the women's body in some way or another."
• • Robert Carson is one of many who will protest that the competition to be the first "Miss Bridgetown" will degrade females, since it forces half-undressed young ladies to be paraded "on exhibition like prize cattle."
• • The usual suspects financed Mae's play — — Jim Timony, Owney Madden, et al. For over two months, Mae burned up the investors' funding with on-going revisions and frantically long rehearsing.
• • The incomplete and somewhat inaccurate Internet Broadway Database [IBD] notes that the Carson clan was played by these actors:
• • Mae West — — Evelyn "Babe" Carson
• • Hal Clarendon — — Robert Carson
• • Augusta Perry — — Mrs. Martha Carson
• • Doris Haslett — — Ruth Carson
• • Ruth Hunter — — Gloria Carson
• • However, in the play, Gloria is neither a Carson nor a relative; she is actually Babe's best friend who is murdered.
• • Yet other sources indicate that vaudevillian Marjorie Main, born on 24 February 1890 in Indiana, was really the actress who played the role of Martha Carson, Mae's mother — — despite Marjorie's being only three years older. Perhaps silent film actress Augusta Perry had taken the Martha Carson role on opening night or she was credited for a performance from which the IDB records were compiled. Marjorie Main's name could have been mentioned in the publicity leading up to the premiere; maybe she was rehearsing until her ungovernable fear of germs got the better of her.
• • In the autumn, "The Wicked Age" opened at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre [debut: 4 November 1927]. Critics sneezed at the enterprise.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Augusta Perry played Babe Carson's mother in 1927 • •
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Mae West.

4 comments:

  1. Anton's 3rd great niece4:36 PM

    Someonewho also produced and cowrote the play was Anton Scibilia, whose name appears on the Playbill.

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  2. Please tell us more about your late ancestor.
    .
    Many Mae West biographers, who could not find any details about "Anton Scibilia" whatsoever, have remarked that Anton's name was akin to "George Spelvin" (a moniker seen on many a Playbill, too).

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  3. Wow! He was a producer and writer who was born in Italy around the mind 1880s. He came over with his mother in 1900 and his family ranged from Philadelphia to Queens, NY. At one point, he tried to convince his niece (my grandmother) to become a professional tap dancer and wanted to take her on the road. She, although a fantastic dancer, wanted to go into fashion so she said no. It was always a family legend that he "discovered" Mae West and helped her career immensely, but it wasn't until recently that I did all this research and found out that he wrote and produced plays. Most of his plays were written in 1919, as I've discovered so far. His story is amazing but I still don't know much. I do know that he had a wife named Lucy and a son. Here is a photo of him from 1945:
    http://mediasvc.ancestry.com/image/7743f517-7b2c-40c9-a00a-ccf6649b5f2b.jpg?Client=Trees&NamespaceID=1093&MaxSide=500
    (The photo from left to right is: My great-grandfather, Anton's brother Joseph, my grandmother, who was 21, and Anton. My grandma told me that he was the shortest of all 5 brothers.)

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  4. Anton was also a nickname. His birth name is Antonino. Scibilia was his real last name, however.

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