Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mae West: Fielding the Facts

"I have been approached by MAE WEST to consider collaborating," wrote W.C. Fields in 1935. "But I want my work to stand out individually. Besides Mae has the wrong slant on this thing [i.e., the bed]. She says she does her best writing in bed. Well, I do my best loafing there, and consider that this is the primary purpose of a bed."
• • The motion picture screenplay they eventually would produce together came about a few years later when the screen queen was no longer attached to Paramount Pictures.
• • "My Little Chickadee" — — starring Mae West and W.C. Fields — — was officially released in the month of March — — on 15 March 1940 — — and was booked in Manhattan at the prestigious Roxy; then located at 153 West 50th Street, this superbly appointed cathedral devoted to the cinema had first opened on 11 March 1927.
• • Canadian researcher and consummate Mae-maven R. Mark Desjardins has examined the conventional wisdom about these two former vaudevillians disliking each other, and gracefully plucked the stinger out.
• • Mr. Desjardins writes: Mae and W.C. Fields had a very complicated relationship for sure, but my research implies they had a friendship of sorts, which stretched back to the early days of Vaudeville. By the time of the premiere of "I'm No Angel" Hollywood's green-eyed monster, envy, resulted in few of Hollywood's royalty coming out for the opening. However, W.C. was one of the few who made a madcap appearance, arriving atop a four-horse brewery truck!
• • Mr. Desjardins adds: The following facts are culled from my manuscript, "In Search of Mae West." And although "My Little Chickadee" didn't initially live up to expectations at the time of its release, it eventually came to be recognized as a classic of its genre. Mae West stated: "Some people have gotten the quaint idea that I made more than one film with W.C. Fields. No way, baby. Once was enough." At the time West signed onto the film, she foresaw the day motion pictures would be shown on a new medium called "television," which already existed in prewar Britain. She had a clause written into her contract that stipulated she would receive royalties from subsequent broadcasts. Studio executives laughed at her, but West had the last laugh. In 1991, Daily Variety reported that MCA/Universal was being sued by the representatives of the Mae West estate for allegedly failing to pay about $1,000,000 owed in back royalty payments. The matter was quietly settled out of court.

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