Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mae West: American Roof

MAE WEST always said, "The best way to behave is to misbehave." And she meant it.
• • One of the many playhouses Mae West appeared in, with her seductive showmanship of comedy mixed with the blues and ragtime music by trendy black composers, was the American Music Hall (located at 260 West 42nd Street, New York, NY). Built to seat over 2,000 ticket-holders, this was one of the first theatres to open in the "new" theatre district on 42nd Street. Various managers, including William Morris (founder of the talent agency, an outfit that represented Mae during the 1940s and 1950s), tried to make a success of an auditorium handicapped by its "remote" Eighth Avenue location.
• • When this hopeful haven for the perfoming arts opened in the month of May — — on 22 May 1893 — — it was known as the American Theatre. Eventually, it added a popular top floor feature, an additional room known as the American Roof.
• • March 1912 was Mae's first performance at the American Roof.
• • When the 21-year-old trouper returned to the American Roof Theatre in January 1915, she was the headliner even though Guido Deiro was in the line-up. In Mae West, An Icon in Black and White, biographer Jill Watts writes: For this appearance, in addition to her trademark "I've Got a Style All My Own," she performed several characterizations and Shelton Brooks's [sic] "Balling the Jack." The New York Clipper rated it Mae's best number, noting it "won her the desired applause." Sime remained unconverted. He felt that Deiro, also on the bill, should have occupied the featured spot, noting that Mae had "repressed her exuberance somewhat, but could stand a trifle more repression" [Variety, 9 January 1915].
• • • • Note: The term "balling the jack" was originally a conductor's way of saying a train was moving at top speed; in black slang, the locomotive carrying the load was the jack[ass]. However, due to the popularity of the song "Balling the Jack," one of the hits from the Ziegfeld Follies in 1913, by the 1920s, this expression had come to mean any wild, rapid, or all-out effort. And though Jill Watts is a very careful researcher, it was actually the African-American team of composer Chris Brown [1879
1949] and lyricist James Burris who deserve credit for the song "Balling the Jack," which cleverly offers step-by-step dance instructions in the lyrics.
• • A few years before Mae performed here, Sophie Tucker was engaged as the headliner by the management of 260 West 42nd Street. And her exuberance and magnetism was not appreciated by the critics who reviewed her January 1910 show. Was Sophie misbehaving or simply putting on a good show?
• • REVIEW: Sophie Tucker at the American Music Hall, New York, January 1910
• • 'Sophie Tucker made her usual pronounced hit and sang seven songs in all. These included, "If You Want a Little Bit of Love Just Send for Me," "Don't Waltz So Fast, Honey," "That Yiddisha Rag," "Cubanola Glide" and "Wild Cherry Rag." Miss Tucker at one time had a big chance of becoming a musical comedy artiste of real note, but she missed it. Her present method — — though it wins great outbursts of applause from a certain class of vaudeville goers — — is too rough and "loud" to be classed as artistic. The magnetism is there and the ability to sing "coon" numbers exuberantly. But the method is too broad and at times is almost offensively vulgar in its apparent double entendre of rendition of certain phrases and songs.'
• • Review published in The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York [on Saturday, 18 January 1910, p. 18d]

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • You are invited to the Annual Mae West Birthday Tribute to hear the songs of Shelton Brooks (and others) performed live.
• • WHEN: 10:00 PM on Saturday, 14 August 2010 — — one night only
• • WHERE: ACTORS TEMPLE, 339 West 47th Street, New York, NY 10036 [where SOPHIE TUCKER became one of their first vaudeville members in 1923]
• • WHO: MAE WEST [Anne Marie Finnie] and SOPHIE TUCKER [Maggie Worsdale], presented and introduced by playwright LindaAnn Loschiavo
• • WHAT ELSE: Shimmy lessons, raffle prizes, goodies, and a chance to win deluxe European scarves featuring MAE WEST’s quotes.
• • SUBWAYS: IND: C, E to West 50th Street station; BMT: N, R, W to West 49th Street station — — exit on the West 47th Street side
• • VIP service available. Please inquire.
• • CONTACT: Miss Sophie Email: worsdale (at) URL:
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West appeared in this theatre in 1912 and 1915 • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.

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