Friday, June 18, 2010

Mae West: Show Off

An automobile owned by MAE WEST will be featured in a Midwest beauty pageant.
• • The annual Concours d’Elegance of America at Meadow Brook will showcase an unspecified vehicle once enjoyed by the Brooklyn bombshell — — as well as other motor cars owned by celebrities, including the Nash Healy seen in the 1950s TV episodes of "Superman," and cars owned by heartthrob Clark Gable and cowboy actor Gene Autry.
• • This one day event is scheduled for the last Sunday in July — — 25 July 2010 — — when almost 250 cars and motorcycles will be invited to vie for coveted trophies and awards.
• • Where: Meadow Brook Hall, Oakland University Campus in Rochester, Michigan.
• • And the timing could not be more interesting since Mae's pen was busy sketching out her first play about beauty pageants during June and July in 1927. Eighty-three years ago, shortly after the Broadway star had been released from the women's workhouse, she began working on a new drama set during modern times and focused on behind-the-scenes shenanigans at beauty contests, which were just then coming into vogue.
• • • • The dark underbelly of the beauty pageant • • • •
• • During the 1920s, a common real estate ploy to increase land values and publicize the area was the community sponsored beauty contest. In "The Wicked Age," the shady, money-grubbing politicians who run Bridgetown, New Jersey decide to stage a leg show despite negative public opinion about such an enterprise. One landowner insists: "The basis of any industry . . . for success today is based on the exploitation of the female form." The influential rascal Alec Ferguson shouts down objections: "Which plays get over and make money for their producers? Those that try to uplift the public and teach it better ways of living — — don't make me laugh — — those plays go over that exhibit the women's body in some way or another."
• • Robert Carson is one of many who will protest that the competition to be the first "Miss Bridgetown" will degrade females, since it forces half-undressed young ladies to be paraded "on exhibition like prize cattle."
• • Mae's character was the beautiful and willful Evelyn "Babe" Carson. To keep the production on a tight budget, Mae hired (as usual) a lot of no-name talent, former vaudevillians looking for work, and her aging mentor Hal Clarendon to play Evelyn Carson's uncle/ guardian Robert Carson.
• • The usual suspects financed Mae's play — — Jim Timony, Owney Madden, et al. For over two months, Mae flamed through the investors' funding with on-going revisions and frantically long rehearsing.
• • How many calories were burning while Mae's motor was running? During the summer of 1927, the actress (then in her early 30s) was on a rigorous diet, trying to shed some of the "worry weight" gained during the obscenity trial and in prison, when she often dined with the very indulgent warden on rich food and creamed sauces. Excess poundage concerned her. She knew that her frisky character "Babe" Carson would be wearing a swimsuit during some scenes, so she was doing her best to slim down before she posed for some scantily clad promotional cheesecake shots with the chic socialite photographer G. Maillard Kesslere.
• • Eventually, the play's scenes would be set at the (fictional) residence of Robert Carson, Bridgetown, New Jersey, Moonlight Park, and "Babe" Carson's Manhattan apartment.
• • Mae West and Jim Timony booked Daly's West 63rd Street Theatre again and arranged for Edward Elsner to direct. Rehearsals for "The Wicked Age" began in September 1927.
• • The newspaper reviewers on the drama desk would be waiting for "Babe" Carson with critical arson, that dangerous weapon that can speedily torch any production and incinerate the hopes of advance ticket sales — — but no one knew that in June of 1927 and the creative impulse ignited Mae's Broadway dreams all during the hot months.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1927 • •
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