Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mae West: W.C. Fields

"I have been approached by MAE WEST to consider collaborating," wrote W.C. Fields in 1935. "But I want my work to stand out individually. Besides Mae has the wrong slant on this thing [i.e., the bed]. She says she does her best writing in bed. Well, I do my best loafing there, and consider that this is the primary purpose of a bed."
• • The motion picture screenplay they eventually would create came about a few years later when the screen queen was no longer attached to Paramount Pictures and (no doubt) eager to return to making movies.
• • "My Little Chickadee" — — starring Mae West and W.C. Fields — — was officially released on 15 March 1940 and was booked in Manhattan at the prestigious Roxy; then located at 153 West 50th Street, this superbly appointed cathedral devoted to the cinema had first opened in 1927.
• • Born in Darby, Pennsylvania at the end of January, William Claude Dukenfield [29 January 1880 — 25 December 1946], better known as W. C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler, and writer. The vaudevillian perfected a stage act as a silent juggler, but eventually cultivated a motion picture persona of a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for children, dogs, and women.
• • Mae had entered into negotiations for this joint venture by the end of May 1939 with reservations due to her costar's reputation for over-doing the imbibing.
• • Earlier that month, W.C. Fields had submitted a script called "December and Mae." In this early draft, which was set in the 1880s, the two leads were wed (but in name only) and also the co-owners of a Western-style barroom. By summer the studio had roped Grover Jones, a professional screenwriter, into the deal. Fields found Grover's ideas both tame and lame — — and urged Mae to collaborate with him instead.
• • Here are a few lines that made it into the final version:
• • Cuthbert J. Twillie: May I present my card?
• • Flower Belle Lee: 'Novelties and Notions.' What kind of notions you got?
• • Cuthbert J. Twillie: You'd be surprised. Some are old, some are new. Whom have I the honor of addressing?
• • Flower Belle Lee: Mmm, call me Flower Belle.
• • Cuthbert J. Twillie: Flower Belle, what a euphonious appellation. Easy on the ears and a banquet for the eyes.
• • Flower Belle Lee: You're kinda cute yourself.
• • Cuthbert J. Twillie: Thank you. I never argue with a lady.
• • Flower Belle Lee: Smart boy.
• • Another line he wrote was: "Whilst traveling through the Andes Mountains, we lost our corkscrew. Had to live on food and water for several days."
• • "My Little Chickadee" ends with this exchange:
• • Cuthbert J. Twillie (Fields): "Come up and see me sometime."
• • Flower Belle Lee (West): "Mmm, I will, my little chickadee."
• • In 1957 Max Ernst finished his "Study for a Monument to W.C. Fields," a tribute to the motion picture "My Little Chickadee."
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • with Fields in 1940 • •
• • Feed — —
Mae West.

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