Monday, August 03, 2009

Mae West: Malicious Maila

The challenge of stepping into the shoes of a Russian ruler was a long time coming for MAE WEST. Known for comedies, novelty numbers, the shimmy, fast taps, and suggestive stage frolics, the Brooklyn blonde was not readily seen as the type to helm a serious historical drama.
• • But once "Catherine Was Great" opened on 2 August 1944 at the Shubert Theatre, the Empress of Sex ran into other over-heated complications.
• • One of the actresses who played a Lady-in-Waiting in the czarina's court was billed as Mila Niemi. More commonly known as Maila Nurmi [1921 — 2008], the Finnish-American performer brought a heavy accent to the role and, apparently, an even heavier ego.
• • Maila Nurmi, 23 years old in 1944 and a striking high-cheeked beauty, was soon fired from the Broadway cast because Mae West feared she was being upstaged.
• • During the 1950s, Maila Nurmi went on to create the campy character Vampira. Her portrayal of this undead vixen — — as television's first sassy horror host and in the Ed Wood cult film "Plan 9 from Outer Space" — — became quite influential in this genre.

• • Let's imagine the crowds that gathered during August 1944 in front of the Shubert Theatre [225 West 44th Street] to try to buy tickets or get Mae's autograph.
• • An enthusiastic group will gather in the same spot on 16 August 2009 for a walking tour — — "Gaudy Girls on The Gay White Way: Mae West & Texas Guinan in the Theatre District" — — and we hope to see you, too, at 4 o'clock that Sunday.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1944 • •
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