Friday, July 30, 2010

Mae West: Hollywood Heartbreak

It was sixty years ago in January 1950, when "Diamond Lil" was onstage, that a British critic interviewed MAE WEST backstage. Throughout his article he kept comparing his impressions of the bawdy, gaudy, bejeweled 1890s saloon singer with the trim, slim, quiet-spoken woman before him, removing her diamond rings and bracelets in her dressing room.
• • You Made Me Love You • •
• • He wrote: "When Diamond Lil, in a voice that exercises her adenoids far more than her larynx, confides (sings is hardly the word) to her listeners the arch sentiments of "You Made Me Love You," a cataract of applause lasting several minutes overwhelms the theatre and stops the show." Continuing his backstage impressions of Mae back in 1950, the Englishman added, "Gone is the voice ranging suggestively between sibilance and gutteralness and in its stead comes a matter-of-fact New York accent liberally interspersed with you-see-what-I-means, kindas, lookas, and cantchas. And not a wisecrack anywhere. She saves those for her plays. ..."
• • How did her loved ones feel in November 1980, vigilant in the lilac light, in the lengthening pulse of a sorrow so profound it was numbing, as shadow and substance began their vanishing? There on the bedside table, a red resurrection of long-stemmed American beauties, its bark peeling back (where thorns were removed), bones sticking through.
• • And how do Mae's lifelong fans feel today — — experiencing the aftermath of her legacy amidst the clutter of the wise and foolish books written about her — — when they rally among themselves?
• • Proust said that truth is only a point of view about things. Damon, an avid collector of Westian and a resolute keeper of the flame, shares his perspective with our readers.
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• • In commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of Mae's burial, American devotee Damon Devine writes about Mae West and the West Coast fellowship he is such an integral part of.
• • Damon recalls: When I was 10, in 1980, I was in the car with my grandfather when a radio news bulletin announced that Mae West had passed away. For some unknown reason I was stricken.
• • MAE WEST died? How was that possible? I had always known of her, everyone did.
• • She was in the news on occasion, in the dictionary and portrayed in one way or another in several different cartoons. To me, she was like George Washington, or Mickey Mouse — — you just knew who she was, no matter what age you were.
• • In 1981
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• • A year later, lots of trouble began in my home. I had lived with my ultra-conservative Republican grandparents for three years by that time. Having come to them from my other side of them family, who was very liberal and kind, this was a very bad match. There were constant clashes because they simply could not change my very nature.
• • I was extremely unhappy and knew of no way out. Depressed, and with raging hormones, I happened to have caught ‘Mae West Week’ on TV in November of 1981, commemorating the one year anniversary of Mae West’s passing. I was TOTALLY fascinated! My beaten down self esteem and FEAR of conservatives would cease be week’s end! This lady adored herself, and made FUN of prudes and conservatives! I would love her madly, from then on. When in fear, or when feeling the weight of conservatives in power (be it Reagan or my grandparents!), I was now armed with a flippant one-liner and saw the absurdity of their self-righteousness. It saved me. It really did.
• • I left home at 15 — — and took only my clothes and Mae West memorabilia. Those were two things I could not do without! No matter where I went or ended up, the books, records and photo albums would come with me. No matter where I move, one wall is always dedicated to Mae West, who was a savior of sorts.
• • In the very early 1990s (having moved to Los Angeles), I met such wonderful people as Ramfis Diaz and Chris Basinger (the latter a good friend of Mae West’s who was also a switchboard operator at the Ravenswood). Basinger introduced a twenty-something Tim Malachosky to Mae West in 1973, after he waited for days on end in the Ravenswood lobby, in hopes of catching a glimpse of her. Malachosky, via considerable persistence, would later become a much appreciated gofer of Paul Novak’s (Mae West’s live-in companion), and at times would even get to help with West’s fan mail.
• • • • The Lack of a Mae West Fan Club • • • •
• • One wonders why there are not Mae West birthday parties and fan clubs all over the world to the extent that there are long-running fan clubs for Marilyn Monroe [1926 — 1962], "Norma Jean" songs, annual gravesite memorials for Monroe covered in newspapers, and a never-ending stream bubbling out more book titles. [One Marilyn Monroe fan site, with a long masthead of contributors, reviews a new book about her 10
12 times a year.] Well, I tell it like it is, so get ready to hear the truth.
• • Mae West was not passive sexually nor a conventionally beautiful and tragic figure.
• • She lived a long and very happy life. She always won and was the aggressor. Most straight men can’t handle that, many gay men can’t relate to it (for a majority cling to tragedy, and as a gay person, I feel entitled to generalize there) and, for whatever reason, a great many women would rather be Marilyn Monroe. Why not Mae West and Marlene Dietrich? They were totally unconventional and lived to be older women, with very admirable lives and long careers. Apparently, the world loves a good talent combined with tragedy, so Garland, Monroe and Piaf it is. Don’t grow old, die of your vices, and you too will always be remembered! What a message!
• • Or… it could be as simple as blaming Roger Richman. What has he done to promote Mae West, whose estate he owns? NOTHING. He owns (or owned?) Monroe’s and must have made a pretty penny there (his last name, RICHMAN, is sooo ironic!).
• • Here in Hollywood, Monroe is EVERYWHERE. Every single store on Hollywood Blvd has Marilyn’s image in its windows. Kids buy her post cards, photos, posters and refrigerator magnets without ever having seen one of her films! That should have been Mae West! She could have empowered these young ladies and gays! She is an excellent role model to go after what you want and WIN, when the odds may be against you! She would have shown there is no need to have a huge brood of kids and a husband to be a “real woman.”
• • Where is Mae West’s U.S. postage stamp? Where is her wax figure in Madame Tussauds? They’ve got Raquel Welch’s wax figure in there, but no Mae West! That’s just… wrong. Very, very wrong.
• • Well… we celebrate Mae West every August! So come celebrate with us in Los Angeles! . . . [to be continued]
Written by: Damon Devine, Hollywood, California

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• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West fan • • Damon Devine • •
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