Monday, November 30, 2009

Mae West: Once Is Enough

MAE WEST said: "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."
• • This statement could easily describe her handsome co-star Cary Grant, who died in the month of November.

• • It’s a kick to see Cary [18 January 1904 — 29 November 1986] opposite Mae West before his own movie star image had solidified. The promise may be there, but Grant is stiff in the role of Captain Cummings. He would not yet become the polished and adroit comic leading man that he turned himself into by the end of the nineteen-thirties. As the uniformed do-gooder, he is baby-faced and no real match for West’s dominating presence.
• • Cary Grant was not yet thirty the first time he starred opposite West, and his age adds another provocative element to West’s gleefully taboo-busting, sexually frank presence. “To be sexual with younger men has been, according to Hollywood, a female sin punishable by death or dishonor,” feminist film critic Kathi Maio writes in her book Popcorn and Sexual Politics. “There have only been rare exceptions. When Mae West encouraged Cary Grant, a much younger man, to come up and see her sometime, she wasn’t interested in baking him a batch of brownies. Mae was sexy, but her blatant bawdiness was never threatening because her come hither looks were played for comedy. And besides, Mae West got to break the rules governing female comportment because Mae West was a law unto herself.”
• • Kathi Maio is mostly right here — — West really does seem to be a law unto herself as she shimmies across the screen and swaps lascivious double entendres, but what Maio neglects to acknowledge is that there were a great number of people who did find West extremely threatening, and that her persona only emerged as the result of cleverness and persistence in the face of censorship.
• • As for Cary Grant's emerging persona, he confessed, "I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.” In other words, Cary came up sometime
— — to see his better self.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

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