Saturday, September 05, 2009

Mae West: Original Brinkley Girl

Nineteen-year-old MAE WEST claimed to be "The Original Brinkley Girl."
• • During 1912-13, when Mae was still trying to find her way in her career, she was billing herself as a "Nell Brinkley Girl." At the time, she was a fresh-faced brunette teenager with a penchant for physically energetic routines in vaudeville. Unlike other performers who had but one act to offer the audience, Mae was always testing new approaches and buying new material. She tried to dazzle the ticket-holders with her versatility: fast tap dancing and acrobatic feats onstage combined with "character" [novelty] songs often in an ethnic idiom.
• • Nell Brinkley [18861944] • •
• • What's there to remember about Nell Brinkley born on the 5th day in the month of September? Plenty.
• • Seven years older than the Brooklyn bombshell, beautiful Nell Brinkley [5 September 1886 21 October 1944] was born in Denver, Colorado, and taught herself portraiture. In 1903, while she was still in high school, the Denver Post hired her to draw romantic cartoons. Her enchanting "Brinkley Girls" with their free flowing dresses and curly hair depicting a vivacious feminine beauty were quite unlike the passive, sedate (and sedated looking) Gibson Girl.
• • Her exposure in a Denver newspaper led to an invitation, in October 1907, to come to The Big Apple as an illustrator/ reporter for publisher William Randolph Hearst (and his editor Arthur Brisbane) at the New York Evening Journal. Now her drawings became even more popular.
• • Soon Nell Brinkley was getting assignments as a reporter to interview celebrities such as Evelyn Nesbitt-Thaw, the wife of the millionaire murderer Harry Thaw (who had killed architect Stanford White).
• • Within a few months, her artistic talent inspired a spin-off onstage. Her "Brinkley Girl" became the theme for the 1908 Ziegfeld Follies, played by Mae Murray. A young Helen Hayes also played a Brinkley Girl in the play "Jack the Giant Killer" [1909].
• • As Mae West did in her plays, Nell Brinkley widened her scope to include pen and ink depictions of working women. Brinkley used her fame to campaign for better working conditions and higher pay for women who had joined in the war effort, and who were suffering economic and social dislocation due to acting on their patriotism.
• • Unlike most of her contemporaries, she drew women of different races and cultures.
• • Nell Brinkley's illustrations influenced many artists. Brinkley's career was the model for Dale Messick's "Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter" comic strip series.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • circa 1913 • • Nell Brinkley in 1915 • •
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Mae West.

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