Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mae West: An Empress Impressed

It was August 1944 and MAE WEST was back on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre wearing furs, jewelry, a tiara, and a rather chilly and serious expression.
• • Czarina Catherine, who was born on 2 May 1729 and died on 17 November 1796, reigned as Empress of Russia for 34 years, from 28 June 1762 until her death — — which was not caused by post-dramatic stress disorder.
• • Though the play was neither hilarious nor a big box-office draw, it did eke out 191 performances.
• • Time Magazine's drama critic made this assessment.
• • "Catherine Was Great" (by Mae West; produced by Michael Todd) is an opulent and incredible fancy-undress affair in which the queen of all the sirens essays the Empress of All the Russias. "Catherine," said Mae West in a first-night curtain speech, "had 300 lovers. I did the best I could in two hours." For a while her best was reasonably good: she seemed to make Lords of the Bedchamber of the whole Russian court and boud-warriors of half the Russian army. As she followed her hips about the stage in a solemn slink, as she languidly drew shameless innuendos from her husky throat, Actress West caught some of the aplomb, humor and matchless vulgarity of her "Come up and see me some time." But pretty soon her unvaried role began to pull and so, soon after, did her unvarying way of playing it.
• • Worse yet, the man-eater in Catherine was not enough for Actress West; she insisted on encompassing the Empress as well, and far from spoofing the imperial manner, tried to outdo it. When a courtier reminded her that "They also serve who only stand and wait," she replied "Quoting Milton's 'prome,' I presume!" She had sponged up enough history to soak her play with wars, uprisings and palace intrigues. But the excitement was conveyed in dialogue that had the specific gravity of lead, and the results, when not merely sedative, were often crushing.
— — Source: — —
• • "The Theatre" Column: "Catherine Was Great"
• • Published in: Time Magazine — — printed edition
• • Published on: Monday, 14 August 1944
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