Monday, August 17, 2009

Mae West: Padlock Queen

MAE WEST's birthday (17 August 1893) presented a reason to assemble in the theatre district and return to the scene of her prime. The famous speakeasy hostess Texas Guinan had entertained Mae, Owney Madden, and others at Club Abbey [203 — 205 West 54th], the 300 Club and Argonaut [151 West 54th], along with other night spots the group visited on August 16th.
• • Share in the excitement by reading a delectable portion of "A Night with the Padlock Queen" from Allen Churchill's book.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Until La Guinan arrives, the Three Hundred Club remains sedate and dignified. Four guitarists stroll from table to table plucking out melodies on request. Their specialty is the recently successful "Valencia," but they are equally adept at such dissimilar numbers as "Sleepy Time Gal" and "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby." Also on hand is Ethel the cute cigarette girl.
• • Club Abbey • •
• • In the early months of 1927 Ethel's beauty has taken on a particular radiance. Up to now her rival for the title of Most Beautiful Cigarette Girl on Broadway has been Mavis of the Club Abbey [205 West 54th Street]. A spectacular finale to this rivalry came when the Club Abbey was shot up by gangster patrons. Mavis assisted one of the bleeding gangsters to Polyclinic Hospital, and in the peculiar code of Broadway lost caste by this good Samaritan deed. Ethel is now securely entrenched as the Most Beautiful Cigarette Girl on the Main Stem.
• • Three Hundred Club • •
• • Midnight comes and goes, and a sense of expectancy fills the Three Hundred Club [151 West 54th]. Eyes dart to the entrance door. Those in the know confide importantly that Tex must be stopping at her brother Tommy's Club Plantation or at this point in history was it Texas Tommy's?
• • At Tommy Guinan's, four musicians named Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, and Jack Teagarden labor nightly in the orchestra. At the Three Hundred Club an orchestra barren of potential jazz greats takes over from the four guitarists and a few couples slip to the tiny floor to dance. By twelve-thirty the fifty tables are full. Lady Diana Manners, William Beebe, Ann Pennington (the Scandals star with the dimpled knees) and millionaire escort, Bill Fallon (the great mouthpiece), Mae West, Frank Tinney and Imogene Wilson, the latter the most beautiful of all Follies girls, Aimee Semple McPherson, the visiting evangelist these could be the celebrities present tonight. Mayor Walker may appear during the evening, on his arm a cute, dark-haired flapper named Betty Compton, whom he spotted dancing in Oh, Kay! and straightway made his steady companion. The underworld is represented by Owney Madden and Big Bill Dwyer, Prohibition overlords and backers of night clubs. Lesser underworld figures are present with jazz babies from Broadway shows. There are sugar daddies and gold-diggers of the variety immortalized in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — — and a sprinkling of older women in the company of young men. One such, called the Dancing Grandmother, is an almost nightly patron at the Three Hundred Club.
• • At a quarter to one comes a stir at the entrance door and the feeling that a supercharged personality is there. An excited whisper runs through the room, Texas, Texas! Everything stops as Tex greets friends at the door and tosses a brisk word of greeting to the hatcheck girl and maitre'd. Here is royalty entering its domain.
• • One who witnesses her splendid entrance is Stephen Graham: "There she is like a queen, like the sun, like a big firework, like a gorgeous tamer who has just let herself into a large cage of pet tigers. A kiss here, a stroke of the hand there, an uttered Darling! there, she goes from table to table closing the company into a unit around her personality."
• • The fun begins as soon as Tex arrives. She makes her way to the dance floor, which with her appearance becomes the stage. Taking a fragile chair, she perches atop it a highly difficult position for one of her girth but a feat she manages admirably every night. A waiter appears at her side with a box full of kleeter-klappers: a small piece of wood with two wooden balls attached which, when shaken, produces a hideous din. Tex raises one above her head, shakes it furiously. Next she dips into the box for others and begins tossing them to friends around the room. "Here, Tex, here," grown men beseech, eager to be singled out by her famous attention. ...
— — Excerpt: — —
• • Chapter: "A Night with the Padlock Queen"
• • The Year the World Went Mad [Thomas Y. Crowell, I960]
• • BY: Allen Churchill
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
Add to Google
• • Photo: • • Mae West's friend Texas Guinan • • 1928 • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.

No comments:

Post a Comment