Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mae West: Papa Charlie Jackson

Written by "Jane Mast" and starring MAE WEST as Margy LaMont, "Sex" opened in April — — on 26 April 1926. The Broadway debut occurred a few blocks north of Columbus Circle at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre, the only playhouse available at the time. Today is the 85th anniversary of Mae's achievement. Writing and staging "Sex" would change her life.
• • Two days later (on 28 April 1926) Variety took an early stand against the play: “Mae West … has broken the fetters and does as she pleases here. After three hours of this play’s nasty, infantile, amateurish, and vicious dialog, after watching its various actors do their stuff badly, one really has a feeling of gratefulness for any repression that may have toned down her vaudeville songs in the past. If this show could do one week of good business it would depart with a handsome profit, it’s that cheaply put on.”
• • Phooey on you, Variety. Unstoppable "Sex" not only sold out its premiere but it also offered 385 performances with general admission tickets sold for $3.50. According to Mae West, orchestra seats were $10.
• • For "Sex," Mae chose music she personally liked, songs not yet familiar to a white audience of theatre-going New Yorkers. One number she selected was by "Papa" Charlie Jackson [c.1885 — 1938], an African-American blues man and songster born in New Orleans. Jackson had appeared in minstrel shows with a hybrid instrument: a cross between a guitar banjo and a ukulele. Though
numerous details of his life as a performer remain unclear, it is known that his recording career began in 1924 when the Paramount label signed him. When he recorded "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues," these hits registered as the first commercially successful and self-accompanied recordings by a male singer of the blues. The track "Salty Dog Blues" turned out to be his most famous song. Shortly after, Jackson would cut records with Hattie McDaniel, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox — — a vocalist billed as the "sepia Mae West." After gaining attention in the 1920s and 1930s, it seems that Jackson died in Chicago, Illinois (perhaps) in 1938 at age 53.
• • "Shake That Thing" [1925] • •
• • In 1925, with lyricist C. Johnson, Charlie Jackson composed "Shake That Thing," a 3 minute song published by Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc., 488 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022. Accompanied by the group Smithsonian Blues, Papa Charlie Jackson recorded this himself — — a sultry blues number that Mae heard and introduced to her Broadway audience in her 1926 show, while backed by a jazz band. She also selected the cool blues song "My Sweet Man" (and other pieces by talented black composers such as W.C. Handy) to feature in "Sex." The police officials who came to spy and take notes were especially interested in her bare midriff as she shimmied. The exotic movements of Mae's bellybutton were preserved in the trial transcripts in 1927.
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• • The police raid in February 1927 is dramatized in Act I of the stage play COURTING MAE WEST. This is one panel from the COURTING MAE WEST comic book written and designed by playwright LindaAnn Loschiavo and delightfully illustrated and hand-colored by artist Michael DiMotta. Do not copy this panel nor reuse it without permission. Be nice.
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• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • Here's Larry Harnisch reflecting on Los Angeles history and a friend of Mae West's. Larry Harnisch writes: April 25, 1961: You may remember Cannonball Green as the promising light-heavyweight of a quarter-century ago who once put Maxie Rosenbloom on the floor four times up in Ventura but only got a draw. Cannonball's career came to an abrupt end and his life almost followed suit one night in 1936 in a Sunset Boulevard phone booth when Chalky Wright's brother, Lee, who was a chauffeur for Mae West at the time, shot him as he was making a phone call. Now he thinks he's got a new career — — ...
• • Source: Flashback: "Jim Murray, April 25, 1961" by Larry Harnisch for The Los Angeles Times; reposted on 25 April 2011
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004.
You are reading the 1912th blog post. Unlike many blogs, which draw upon reprinted content from a newspaper or a magazine and/ or summaries, links, or photos, the mainstay of this blog is its fresh material focused on the life and career of Mae West, herself an American original.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • & Barry O'Neill, "Sex" on 9 February 1927 • •
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Mae West.

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