Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mae West: Recollections from Abroad

MAE WEST used to say: "I speak two languages — — body and English." It's obvious that her appeal is not just North American. You don't need to have grown up on the East or West Coast to "get" her.
• • What effect was there on her fans abroad and on her anxious household in November 1980, as the vivacious performer millions have applauded slipped further back, wavering in those last temporary breaths? A news flash on the 22nd fractured the calm, partnered with an emptying fear, words waving goodbye. Was it a star or a far streetlight that blinkered out just then? Yet something left a slender pathway of tracks — — recollections that filled in our emptiness.
• • Proust said that truth is only a point of view about things. Ian, an avid collector of Westiana and one of the wizards behind the vivid "Mae West Color Site," cherishes the Brooklyn bombshell and opens a precious memory book for our readers.
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• • In commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of Mae's burial, Scottish admirer Ian Macnicol writes about Mae West and the family affair that sparked his tender attachment.
• • • Ian remembers: My interest in Mae West goes right back to my childhood. My Mother revered the film stars of her youth — — Crawford, Davis, etc. — — and I grew up enjoying their films on TV with her. Even as a child, I loved the look of the classic Hollywood movies. However, it was my Father who introduced me to Mae West.
• • • Dad worked away during the week and he worked nights, so I only ever saw him at the weekend and hardly ever in daylight! It was nothing short of an event when, one Sunday afternoon, Dad got up to watch TV — — the idol of his youth, Mae West, was on the telly! The film was “She Done Him Wrong” and I sat at his feet to see who in the world had achieved this miracle. I was completely bowled over by Mae, laughing my head off at all the witty lines and basically just eating her up; I “got” her immediately. History repeated itself the next Sunday when “I’m No Angel” was televised and, from then on, Dad and I had something in common: a life-long love of Miss Mae West.
• • • Unbelievably, Mae was not back on TV in the UK for almost 10 years and in those days (the 1960s) it was not easy to find out about her. However, I did what I could, devouring the available books, including “Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It,” all of which only added to my fascination. At some point in the mid 1960s there was a big spread about Mae in a magazine. I was totally amazed by her appearance and delighted in her expressed outlook on life and in her total belief in herself. It wasn’t long after that that rumours began to percolate that Mae was about to make a film comeback in Gore Vidal’s “Myra Breckenridge” [1970]. Suddenly, there was massive press coverage about Mae, and I was in seventh heaven!
• • • I wrote to her and sent her a painting I had done. In return, I got a lovely hand-signed picture that I cherish to this day. I joined her photo-fan club and got a couple of batches of beautiful 8 x 10s that way. Looking back, it would appear that Paul Novak ran that club since the envelopes all bear the Ravenswood address and the sender is noted as Charles Krauser (the name he initially used when he appeared with Mae in her nightclub act).
• • • • • • One Man's a-MAE-zing Collection • • • • • •
• • • The internet has allowed Mae West fans greater and easier access to Mae West material and memorabilia and, of course, to one another. Indeed, my own collection would not exist were it not for the net. The main collections lie in several private hands as well as a number of public archives, most notably the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Having seen its photo collection, I am aware that it is very light on biographical photos and those chronicling her early and later theatrical career and her nightclub act. I am, therefore, more inclined to collect photos from those areas of her life as I plan to bequeath my paper/photo collection to the Academy.
• • • I also have quite a big collection of ephemera, which I have exhibited for friends and fellow fans, much to their enjoyment and amusement. This includes the paste necklace Mae wore in the “Hard to Handle” number in “Myra” and the fox fur trimmed cape she wore in the “Next” sequence in “Sextette." These were from her personal wardrobe and there are many photos of her wearing these items prior to their film appearances. My favourite piece, however, is a little handbag that she must have used many times for even after all these years, it still has the faint smell of her perfume and powder. I had intended having the bag restored but it is much more interesting to me in its current state.
• • • Knitted Stockings • • •
• • • One kind of funny thing I own is the pair of knitted stockings Mae wears in the photos with Julie Andrews [see picture on the left] where Mae sports her seldom seen but still fine pair of legs. ... [to be continued]
Written by: Ian Macnicol, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

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• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West shows her legs in 1927 • • and again with Julie Andrews • •
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