Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mae West: More to Be Pitied Than Censured

MAE WEST chose the music that would appear in her Broadway hit "Diamond Lil" [1928] and many of these old-fashioned barroom favorites would reappear on the soundtrack of "She Done Him Wrong" [filmed in 1932], though Hollywood often omitted these credits. In addition to the numbers that Mae performed onscreen as saloon singer Lady Lou, there were musical interludes played during the film and a few well-worn pieces that the actors performed at the piano in Gus Jordan's tavern on the Bowery. These were the songs Mae grew up with, that would have been popular when her parents were courting and went to a bar — when social drinking was not the crime it became during the Prohibition Era a time of nickel beer and simple pleasures with neighborhood friends thirty years before.
• • "She's More to Be Pitied Than Censured" • •
• • "She's More to Be Pitied Than Censured" first appeared in the 1890s (sometime between 1894 — 1898). This ballad was written under the pseudonym "William B. Gray" by a variety artist who got his start in show business as a member of the Glenroy Brothers, exhibition boxers. Mr. Glenroy, who wrote both the music and the lyrics, was also active as a singer, usually doing duets with his vaudeville partner Henry Lamb.
• • In the motion picture version, "She's More to Be Pitied Than Censured" was sung in the saloon by Fred Santley. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah on 20 November 1887 as Frederic Mansfield, Fred was the brother of the Hollywood actor/director Joseph Santley.
• • During the month of May — — on 14 May 1953 — — Fred Santley died in Los Angeles, California. He was 65 years old.
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • Today's installment of "Quote, Unquote" is much too delightful to be shortened or relegated to an abbreviated format. Written by the California newspaper publisher Gary Dickson, his column appears below in its entirety.
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• • Press On: Once can be enough • •
• • Written by: Gary Dickson, publisher, Record-Bee
• • The daily quote box on my computer homepage often includes an entry by Mae West. I always find them to be among the most entertaining statements of all the famous people whose quotes appear in that space. Mae West is one of the most quoted women in history, which is an amazing accomplishment for the late film star who was born in Brooklyn in 1893. At birth she was given the name Mary Jane West. She received very little schooling because she began performing on the vaudeville stage while most youngsters were starting elementary school. But, it's safe to say that she certainly received an education.
• • Mae West once sarcastically quipped, "I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it." She was referring to how, through most of her show business career, she was dogged by those who wanted to control her words and actions on screen and on stage.
• • Being censored early on moved her from being relatively unknown to being the talk of New York City and later, the country. In 1926 she was arrested on charges of obscenity for her play "Sex." West spent 10 days in jail, but more importantly, at a time of societal changes, "the Roaring 20s," she received a great deal of publicity and created a large amount of public interest. Just two years later, her Broadway play, "Diamond Lil" was a huge box office success.
• • Broadway led to Hollywood and movie fame. Her first role was just a small part in a George Raft film called "Night After Night." But, an ad-libbed line got her noticed. In one of her scenes a coat check girl notices her jewelry and says, "Goodness! What lovely diamonds!" I'm not sure what Mae's scripted reply was supposed to be, but she retorted, "Goodness had nothing to with it."
• • She was not only the star of her second movie in 1932, but "She Done Him Wrong" was also based on one of her own plays. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and made a star out of Cary Grant. She continued to make movies during the 1940s and for a period of time became the highest paid female in the United States.
• • The battles with the censors remained on ongoing issue. Mae West has been given credit for almost single-handedly being responsible for the implementation of the Motion Picture Production Code. Because of the censors, Mae developed her method of double talk or double entendre so the viewer could take what they wanted to from her lines. About this she said, "If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning," and "It's hard to be funny when you have to be clean." In the 1940s, primarily due to the censors, she left the screen and returned to the stage, which has always been a less controlled environment than the movies.
• • There is no question that West leaned toward an approach to marriage, relationships and sex that was often considered risqué or taboo during the majority of her lifetime. There are lots of her famous quotes that make this clear. My favorites include, "Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before," "I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it," and "When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better."
• • Regardless of how individuals judge Mae West, I believe she earned and deserves her place in history. She was certainly a woman who was way ahead of her time. In a much more conservative era she spoke and acted openly, honestly and frankly. She was an overachiever with an excellent philosophy on life. One of my favorite Mae West quotes illustrates that view. She said, "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."
• • Source: Gary Dickson is the publisher of the Record-Bee. Call him at 707-263-5636, ext. 24. E-mail him at Posted on Friday, 13 May 2011
• • Lake County Record-Bee, PO Box 849 Lakeport, CA 95453; T. 707-263-5636
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• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004.
You are reading the 1930th 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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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1932 • •
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