Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mae West: Twelve Men

It was during 1924 that MAE WEST attached herself to the subversive song "Big Boy," a run-away hit by the lyricist Jack Yellen [1892 — 1991] and the composer Milton Ager [1893 — 1979]. "Big Boy," with explicit lyrics about a darktown sheik who drives both pale and brown-skinned women wild in bed, was offered by Advanced Music Corp. on a song sheet disguised with artwork depicting a jaunty white male.
• • On 17 April 1924 "Big Boy" was copyrighted by Ager, Yellen, & Bornstein, Inc., 1595 Broadway, New York City. By the time the Wolverines recorded this number a few months later (in October 1924), it had already become a runaway chart-topper.
• • Born in Poland on 6 July 1892, Jack Selig Yellen was a year older than Mae. At five years old, little Jackie emigrated with his parents to the United States; he was raised in Buffalo, New York and started to write songs in high school.
• • Jack Yellen [6 July 1892 — 17 April 1991] is best remembered for his collaboration with composer Milton Ager. In 1924, Mae appeared on their song sheet for "Hula Lou"; so did Sophie Tucker and other singers. Jack Yellen also worked with the composers Harold Arlen and Sammy Fain. [Sammy Fain created a number of songs Mae performed while under contract for Paramount Pictures such as "He's a Bad Man" and "Now I'm a Lady," part of the "Goin' to Town" soundtrack.]
• • Jack Yellen was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1996. After enjoying a full life with many career high points, he died in Concord, New York, aged 98, during the month of April — — on 17 April 1991.
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • The "Pleasure Man" trial, and the fear of being remanded to jail, took its toll on Mae West. These suspenseful events are dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets." In Act 2, Texas Guinan tries to joke about it: "How can twelve men hold you, Mae, when one never could?" But faced with imprisonment again, Mae is not taking it lightly. And though she often did put a good face on it in public, candid photographs of the actress-playwright solemnly entering the revolving door at the Criminal Courts Building show her on the verge of tears. After much expense, and the best efforts of her well-connected lawyer Nathan Burkan, the case was officially closed by a letter sent to the New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt that included signatures of all the members of the jury. The jurors were not in favor of cases involving theatrical censorship being elevated to the level of criminal judicial proceedings.
• • Their letter emphasized this point: "The failure to agree tends to demonstrate that censorship of plays by criminal litigation is not the most effective and reliable means of assuring to the play-going public of New York that no play will be presented that tends to corrupt the morals of the young. Our disagreement tends to demonstrate the unreliability, if not the futility of criminal litigation as a means of censoring plays. The impracticality of faithfully portraying by court testimony the performance as it was actually presented onstage with all the gestures, actions, expressions, intonation of voice, and accuracy of dialogue, tends strongly to defeat the conviction of the guilty by a criminal court procedure. ..."
• • Source: Article: "Jury Sends Letter to the Governor" excerpted in The New York Times; printed in the newspaper on 16 April 1930.
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004.
You are reading the 1902nd 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.
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