Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mae West: Footsteps & Footnotes

MAE WEST: how can her impact on pop culture be measured? In November 2010 it will be thirty years since the Brooklyn bombshell left us.
• • The popularity of her one-liners keeps her name popping up in the news almost daily. An astonishingly diverse number of people across the world quote her such as Warren Buffet, artists from India, and fashion designers from France.
• • Mae West still functions as a Muse. Yesterday, for instance, the 41-year-old actor Michael Sheen told HitFix that his character in "Tron Legacy" was inspired by rockers such as David Bowie, Frank-N-Furter from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the MC from "Cabaret" and Mae West.
• • The personality she played onscreen has become a familiar reference point. But who was she in real life? Colette praised her as the ultimate woman who did not defer to a man — — on celluloid or in reality. Clearly, Mae West was confident enough to rock the world in a cradle of her own devising, often outwitting those who sought to unhinge her hand or make her stumble. Leaping her shrewd elegant leap across generations, she has landed in the mouth of an Irish soccer coach, in the recollections of a World War 2 veteran, high on the schedule of film fest organizers, and on the list of The Top Ten Motion Picture Classics,
preserved for posterity.
• • Proust said that truth is only a point of view about things. Mark, a devoted Mae-maven, who is working on a manuscript titled "In Search of Mae West," shares his truths and discoveries with our readers.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • In commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of Mae's burial, Canadian R. Mark Desjardins writes about "the most interesting woman I never met."
• • • • PART 2 • • • •
• • Continuing from yesterday, Mark offers these fond recollections about his trips to The Big Apple and to Los Angeles, following in Mae's footsteps.
• • • • Mae's Hometown: New York City! • • • •
• • Mark explains: I decided to travel to NYC for the 100th anniversary of Mae West's birth [17 August 1993] with the idea that I could visit her grave site and retrace some of her footsteps in order to get a better idea of her Broadway career. I also needed to research reviews of her plays, etc. and spent several hours at the New York Public Library. Then I discovered that the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Centre was where I should spend time. By good luck, one of the librarians in "The Cage" named Roderick Bladel, now long retired, became intrigued by my constant ordering of obscure Mae West material and, after two days observing me, asked me about the purpose of my interest. I explained the reason for my journey and he told me he remembered seeing an ad for a Mae West Tour to celebrate her birthday anniversary. By amazing luck, there was one last available seat on the tour, and my reservation was confirmed.
• • The tour was conducted by Sam Stafford, the president and founder of Sidewalk Tours of New York on Sunday, August 15th, 1993. For thirty dollars, a total of sixty fans, approximately 54 of them males, boarded a caravan of three mini buses. Each participant was given a bound commemorative booklet, and our name was written in gold ink on large purple ribbon that surrounded a beautiful huge floral arrangement that was to be placed at Mae's crypt.
• • During the tour, we drove by the site of the Daly Theatre, Mae's apartment residence at 266 West End Avenue, and the Catholic Church she attended from time to time in Manhattan. Of course, the highlight of the tour was our stop at the Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.
• • Abbey Mausoleum • •
• • Normally the Abbey Mausoleum is closed to the public, but Sam had obtained permission for the group to enter and view the West family resting place. The building had been state of the art in 1926 when it was built and the only reason Mae West rests there is that when her beloved mother died, she was entombed there. The marble interior was impressive, but obviously the three caretakers who accompanied us appeared somewhat put out that they had to dust off the path we were to take to the top floor. Beautiful stained glass widows that had been broken by vandals were held together by silver duct tape. A bag containing human ashes lay beside a crypt. All other areas in the Abbey were roped off and off limits to us.
• • Sam Stafford upset the caretakers by leading the group to unsheduled stops to the crypts of Victor Moore, Mae's co-star in "The Heat Is On" and James J. (Gentlemen Jim") Corbett, one time Heavyweight Champion of the World, one of her love interests because their resting places had not been dusted off.
• • After Sam checked the floral arrangement to ensure that all the participants names were indeed on the ribbon, we were lead to Mae's final resting place. There were five crypts in all, arranged full length. It appears that Mae was originally placed in the third crypt from the top. Later after her will was read, it was discovered that she had wanted to placed on top. After Beverly passed away, Mae's was removed from the 3rd spot and placed on top.
• • After a brief statement from Sam, the floral arrangement was placed in front of the West family crypt and the participants assembled for a group picture. These flowers were the only ones in evidence in the entire building. I noted that someone had managed to place a tiny rose bud on the bottom ledge of Mae's crypt and that it had dried and was very tiny. Stan told me later that he had visited Mae's crypt the previous Christmas and had noticed the bud back then. It must have been about twenty feet up.
• • At Mae's crypt, the assembled fans shared stories, pictures and memories of their cherished idol. One fan, Rena Burg blew bubbles beneath Mae's crypt and Jori Ellen Schwartzman , a Mae West scholar, videotaped much of the tour, and attempted to interview many of the participants, much to some's dismay.
• • Ron Alexander of The New York Times attended the tour and in his campy assessment of the outing entitled Peel Her A Grape, reported, "Bette [Midler] would be perfect as Mae, if they ever make a movie about her, someone said from the back of the minibus. "I wrote her and told her so," a fellow said. "She never answered."
• • Ron Alexander expounded that Sam was surprised that the tour was even bigger than my "Jackie's World" walking tour or our bus trip to Judy's grave. "This was not a crowd that had to hear last names to know about whom Mr Stafford was talking," Ron stated in his article.
• • West End Avenue Adventure • •
• • Sam had taken a liking to me and was impressed by my interest in Mae and invited me to join him on Tuesday, August 17th to celebrate Mae's official birthday. He had originally wanted to return to the Abbey Mausoleum, but had been denied permission for a return visit. Rather than travel by subway for 40 minutes just to stand outside the Abbey, Sam arranged for Cable One News to interview him in from of Mae's former apartment on West End Avenue. On my way there, I bumped into Roderick Bladel, the librarian who had been so helpful to me and he was thrilled at my good luck to date.
• • Upon arriving at the West End Avenue site, the news crew had not shown up yet and Sam went to telephone them. Meanwhile, I noted that the lobby door to the building had been propped open, and I brazenly snuck into the building and started photographing the lobby interior. The caretaker confronted me and I explained that Mae West had lived her so many years ago and that today was the 100th anniversary of her birth.
• • The caretaker told me that her former suite had been vacated and that I could go upstairs and look around if I wanted to. I accepted his invitation and took countless photographs before realizing Sam would be looking for me. The caretaker stated the news crew was welcome to come up as well and I went back outside with the good news.
• • Rick Burd, another Mae West fan (who had met her) had arrived by now. I was to meet Rick again in Los Angeles a few years later again. After the crew finished interviewing Sam and Rick, I was asked why I had travelled so far to attend her birthday celebration and why I found Mae West so interesting. Realizing my reply may be cut out, I used a Mae West line, "In her own words, 'fascinatin' without being irritatin'!" and, of course, they used it. Imagine my delight later that evening watching the Channel One News as I lay on my bed at the West 63 Street YMCA watching myself on television!
• • Mae West Birthday Celebration In Los Angeles • •
• • Remembering One Annual Event from August 1996
• •
• • The first and only Mae West Birthday celebration in Los Angeles that I have been able to attend to date, apart from the party I plan to attend this August, was the one I participated in August, 1996.
• • Ramfis "Ram" Diaz, a Los Angeles based bartender and musician who has been a long time Mae West fan, hosts this annual party in his apartment in a neighborhood not far from the Ravenswood Apartment building. Weather permitting, the event is held on the rooftop of this art deco era building with the tops of palms trees dotting the horizon.
• • Usually attended by up to fifty or more celebrants such as Chris Basinger who used to be the front desk clerk at the Ravenswood, Damon Devine, a knowledgeable film memorabilia collector, and Kevin Thomas, film reviewer for The Los Angeles Times, the yearly gathering is for "fans and friends of Miss Mae West."
• • Last year's event was the biggest and splashiest to date, with financial backing from the bar when Diaz works. However, with a new employer, Diaz notes that this years celebration may be much more modest in scope. Traditionally Ramfis cooks up an all you can eat spaghetti dinner and guests are encouraged to bring something to toast Mae. Stories and memories of Mae are shared and a general good time is had by all.
• • • • • • One Man's a-MAE-zing Collection • • • • • •
• • As a result of my interest and research in Mae West, I collect any books relating to her career and writings. I am fortunate to have been given a few small items of her personal clothing such as a glove and a handkerchief. I do collect photographs of Mae, but personally find stills of her Las Vegas Review era the most fascinating. Of special interest to me are the series of photographs of her laying in her Vegas suite bed while lifting barbells. Perhaps this harkens back to my early fascination with Mae West stemming from the cheese cake magazine photos that memorized me as a boy.
• • Perhaps the most valuable item I have obtained is a second edition printing of Mae West's biography "Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It' which she personally inscribed to her cousin, "To Henry Doelger my Distinguished Cousin
— — So pleased to have included you in my book. Hope you enjoy my demonstration of progressive education. Affectionately, Mae West 1959."
• • The Lack of a Mae West Fan Club • •
• • It is my thought that Mae West does not currently hold the appeal to have a Fan Club base similar to Marilyn Monroe or James Dean because she died an old woman. Those who die young, in the flower of youth seem to be more revered in pop culture. However, it is my thought that Mae West wanted to appeal to the young and young at heart. She worked all her life to maintain the visual image of "Mae West"
— — an hourglass-figured blonde wise quipping bombshell. At perhaps great personal cost, she has achieved her goal.
• • Hopefully my manuscript "In Search of Mae West" will appeal to a young demographic who will rediscover her. If a bio epic project could be developed aimed at dusting off her image and making it appeal to a youthful audience, I could foresee a huge increase in interest in Mae West. That would make my 18 year plus involvement in this project well worth my while.
• • Mae West's Impact on Me • •
• • What impresses me the most about Mae West is how much an impact she had on 20th century culture. Being basically uneducated past the third grade, she left her mark on our world in a way that will be celebrated well into the future. Her humor, wisdom and healthy attitude towards sexuality are still relevant. She was a woman well before her time.
• • Before I conclude my remarks, I wanted to mention something else that is very important. For me, apart from fulfilling a dream of writing a book, my involvement with Mae West has opened the door to many wonderful friendships with other fans, whom I would otherwise never had met. Bringing diverse people together with her positive message of believing in yourself, taking time to have fun and not taking yourself too seriously is perhaps Mae West's greatest legacy!
Written by: R. Mark Desjardins of Vancouver, B.C. Canada

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
Add to Google
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1914 • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.


  1. Romain4:06 PM

    That article is amazing thank you so much darling!!!
    I really looove to hear from other fan's experiences...
    I didn't really understand if the book will be available... BUT I REALLY HOPE SO!!!


  2. R. Mark Desjardins1:20 AM

    My manuscript "In Search Of Mae West" is still morphing. Presently is weighs in at about 320 pages, but will probably top 400 pages or so when new additions are added. My hope is to prepare a CD Rom with photographs, artwork and sound bites as well. Most likely it will be self published, but you can bet that I will work it on the net, and promote it to the fullest I can.
    Mae West was the ultimate self promoter and I didn't work on this project for 18 years and counting without learning a few tricks from the master herself!