Friday, August 13, 2010

Mae West: Remembered

To commemorate the birthday of MAE WEST next week, the Asheville Film Society will screen "Night After Night" [1932] and "She Done Him Wrong" [1933] on Tuesday 17 August 2010 in the Cinema Lounge of the Carolina Asheville. More details will follow on an up-coming post.
• • As reported yesterday, a new portrait of the Brooklyn bombshell will be unveiled this weekend at Fat Sat's in Belen, New Mexico. Clearly, Mae's charms remain, for many, undiminished by time.
• • Diamond Lil contemplates Cathy • •
• • What would a sunny-side-up comedienne like Mae West have thought about "Cathy," the 34-years-running comic strip about a self-deprecating woe-is-me female whose downbeat world view focused mainly on gaining weight or striking out with men? Cartoonist Cathy Guisewite (born in 1950), who created "Cathy" in 1976, just pulled the plug, perhaps worn-out by recycling her character's endless self-contempt, mediocrity, and slime-cold suspicion.
• • For many, the appeal of Mae's scrappy characters — — Diamond Lil, Lady Lou, Tira, Maudie Triplett, Peaches O'Day, etc. — — is that these figures were so supremely un-Cathy-like, heroines whose honor has not been the possession of her keeper. For Mae, a woman's honor was rooted in being able to say yes or no, and make each stick fast, inspirited with a responsible will carried high like a torch. Watching these celluloid citizens — — Flower Belle Lee, Rose Carlton, Ruby Carter — — the audience is invigorated by the lightness, the wit, the absence of toxic judgment rusting each moment. In every frame, she who delights and replenishes us, returns.
• • Proust said that truth is only a point of view about things. David, a discerning collector of rare Westiana who had had personal contact with the screen queen since he was a teenager, cherishes the Brooklyn bombshell and shares his adventures with our readers.
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• • In commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary of Mae's burial, California-based admirer David Pekrol writes about Mae West and the treasures he has unearthed.
• • • David remembers: As Mae's August 17th birthday approaches, we are also reminded that it is the year of the 30th anniversary of her death in November of 1980.
• • My interest in Mae West started un-officially at the age of 8, in 1968, when I caught the stagecoach robbery scene in "My Little Chickadee" before my older brother switched the channel. Forward four years and a visit to the local drug store where they had a display of posters at $3.00 each. The one that caught my eye was Mae dressed as the Statue of Liberty in black and white (i.e., the publicity shot for Myra Breckinridge). I bought it immediately and hung it in my bedroom. This sparked my collection and I wanted to know more about this amazing woman who was 76 years old when the photo was taken and still incredibly sexy. This was also the beginning of my lifelong love of Camp. What a great sense of humor this woman must have, I thought, to dress in this costume and still be taken seriously.
• • • • • • A Personal Connection • • • • • •
• • Back then we didn't have many resources beyond the library and I researched as much as I could — — old magazines, books, etc. Then I discovered her address listed in the Who's Who in America. I wrote Mae many fan letters and eventually spoke with her on the phone twice officially and I also spoke to "Beverly" three times.
• • Most die-hard fans know by now that she would masquerade as her sister to 'feel out' an ardent fan. So, it is most probable I had the good fortune to speak to her five times. She was the most amazing woman on the phone as well! Very kind and most appreciative when she discovered my young age!
• • "How old are you?" Mae asked.
• • I replied, "I'm fifteen."
• • She responded, "Ohhhhhh!"
• • If was after this that she began to really open up and reveal some personal experiences to me of her life. These incidents have been, subsequently, confirmed in posthumous books.
• • She asked me if I had ever been to Santa Monica. Living on the East Coast (in New Jersey) back then, I said no. I believe she was probably going to invite me to one of her seances but it was not to be.
• • I was struck hard when she passed away and, after clipping the plethora of articles of her death, the funeral and then the burial, I put the collection and scrapbook away for two years. One day, in late 1982, I opened the scrapbook and out fell the clippings. As I read them, I finally began to grieve for this woman whom had been a part of my life for the last ten years. A very cathartic afternoon which ended by putting the finishing touches on the scrapbook that had chronicled every public sighting, news event, etc. since 1972. Closure...
• • • • • • One Man's a-MAE-zing Collection • • • • • •
• • Living in SF, from 1983 on, I would haunt the memorabilia shops looking for anything related to Mae. Disappointingly, most of the items were really quite ordinary. Then came the Internet and Ebay! Items I never thought I would ever come across suddenly were a click away!
• • Some of my favorite items I now own are: a rare and original 3 sheet movie poster for "Every Day's a Holiday," a half sheet for "Klondike Annie," a one sheet for "The Heat's On," many lobby cards, play programs including a mint condition program for "The Constant Sinner," and what is believed to be the earliest known autograph she gave to a young fan in June of 1910 when she was touring with the "Huck Finn" act in Acton, Pennsylvania (she wrote the date and location on the slip of paper). She was to marry for the first time soon after in April 1911.
• • In 1998, I was very fortunate to find a VHS copy of The Dick Cavett interview in an antique store in Palm Springs. I quickly released this incredible find to the public (where it belongs), and it is now found on YouTube. The tape also included rare silent footage of her Las Vegas musclemen act: "The Mae West Revue" from the 1950s.
• • But my most treasured items are the autographed photos she sent me and the Xmas card I received from her on Xmas Eve 1974.
• • Looking back, I think my interest in Mae at my early age of 12 had much to do with the fact I knew I was gay and was at odds with my sexuality and my Catholic upbringing. She appeared to me to be someone who didn't give a damn what anyone thought of her own expression of sexuality. This was eye-opening! Mae West helped me come to terms, quite easily, with who I am. I loved the way she treated men in her movies and I decided I would follow her example when I came out at age 18(!). Unfortunately, in the real world, this isn't really the proper way to treat someone you're interested in. But it sure was fun for quite a while. My twin mantras were: "When caught between two evils I always pick the one I never tried" and "It's not the men in my life that counts, it's the life in my men!"
• • What a woman! She is sorely missed.
Written by: David Pekrol, California, United States of America

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• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1932 • •
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