Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mae West: Deserved Better

MAE WEST starred in "Sextette," the film version of the stage play "Sextet." And a DVD has been released. Many movie buffs have opinions about this motion picture released in 1978.
• • Pop Matters columnist Bill Gibron writes: Now available on DVD for the first time in full blown anamorphic widescreen, "Sextette" suggests that, by the middle of the Me Decade, someone had it in for Mae West. His viewpoint is one reconsideration of this misconceived motion picture.
• • Mae West definitely deserved better . . . • •
• • According to Bill Gibron: Mae West definitely deserved better. Gibron notes: A camp fixture for most of the ‘60s and ‘70s, she had taken her career as controversial early talky “bad” girl and transformed it into a combination of gay icon, culture curio, feminist fixture, and in her mind, still sizzling sex kitten. Never mind the fact that she was starring in vaudeville in 1907, and that the majority of her fame was achieved in the early ‘30s (when she was nearly 40). West was an institution, an example of a boundary pushing beauty that wasn’t afraid to flaunt what proper society (and its so-called moral watchdogs) thought was perverse.
• • Bill Gibron continues: Mae West was more than just her measurements and her ferocious frankness. She was a keen marketer, creating projects for herself when none were available or even being offered. She took her talents to Broadway, to regional theater, she toured the country with her revue, and kept her soon to be celebrated vulgarity as a topic of publicity rag reality. By the time the ‘40s rolled around, she was mostly forgotten, and during the ‘50s, her mantle was moved over to figures more formidable — — such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield. Yet via radio or Las Vegas revival, West still kept her star. It may have dimmed a bit, but it certainly still held some show business sway. ... [Source: Bill Gibron's column "Pretty Hate Machine: 'Sextette'" on; posted on Thursday, 9 June 2011.]
• • R. Mark Desjardins: Thoughts on "Sextette" • •
• • Writing from Vancouver, Canada, R. Mark Desjardins offers his viewpoint on "Sextette," Mae West's final film: A very high quality DVD print of "Sextette" has been released to replaced the previous poor quality version. I have the following comments to share.
• • R. Mark Desjardins writes: Fans of Mae West have suffered long enough viewing inferior prints of her last film, Sextette. Finally a newly remastered version has been released, and this vastly improved version should attract new fans for the woman who was daring enough to stage her play "Sex" sixty years before Madonna published her metal bound book of the same title.
• • It was Mae West's gay connection which helped to keep her front and centre in the collective cultural consciousness and primed for yet another revival. Finally, in 1976, two neophyte producers, Daniel Briggs, twenty-one and Robert Sullivan, twenty-three, announced they were bringing Sextette to the screen. Simultaneous with the news that Sextette was to go into production, came an announcement from Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles, that he was creating a special Mae Day and issuing a proclamation in her honor. Bradley presented West with a scroll acclaiming her "valuable and important role" in the movie industry on Saturday, 6 May 1976.
• • In August, after seeing 36-year-old Timothy Dalton, Mae West was quoted as saying "Don't search any further. He's the man I want. I've always liked Timothy Dalton since The Lion In Winter. He's charming and handsome, and he can act. I was happy we got to work with each other in Sextette."
• • West's publicist, Stanley Musgrove assisted in looking for a composer who could work with West and give her material that would make her look good. In the end, veteran rhythm and blues arranger and producer, Van McCoy was hired to score the film, and his subtle disco arrangements brought a contemporary feel to the picture. West had eight musical numbers in the film and she told Kevin Thomas, "Isn't that funny. Instead of "Wedding March" they play "Hooray for Hollywood." According to Stanley Musgrove, Paul Novak, West's long time companion told him the dailies of Sextette he'd seen "Aren't so good and that the musical numbers will have to save the picture."
• • During an interview for Club magazine, West told a reporter, "I know my rhythm and how to pace a film. At the end of Sextette" they wanted me to do a ballad that ended on a sad note. I told `em, hey, fellas, it'll be too slow. You'll ruin the mood we've established. I know my music. We got to do this right. We need something fast. Later, when we saw the rushes, the producers told me I was right." The soundtrack for Sextette was never officially released; however, Crown International Pictures prepared a publicity kit for the film which included a cassette containing the Van McCoy produced musical numbers featuring Mae West without dialogue overlapping her songs.
• • When asked how she felt about her costars West was upbeat. "We had a good time on the set. It was quite a cast. Dalton, Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Keith Moon, Alice Cooper, George (Raft), all those musclemen, and of course, Dom DeLuise. I think this is the closest anyone's ever came to stealing a picture from me! But he's a doll. And a very funny man. Working with him was one of the great treats of my career."
• • Ringo Starr enjoyed working with West and invited her to a wrap-up gala he threw in a rented house on Woodrow Wilson Drive. "I had this party there and about a hundred people came including Mae West. We had a band and a lot of musicians and rock `n' rollers were there obviously. Mae just sat in a big chair and all these rockers were on their knees to her because she was so great. She had such a huge personality and she could mix with the best of them."
• • Herbert Kenwith first met Mae West when she appeared in Catherine was Great in 1944 and over the years had been her business advisor, director and personal friend. Perhaps he is the closest person alive to be able to speak about what really went on in her mind. Los Angeles Times Film Critic, Kevin Thomas, believed Kenwith knew more about West's insecurities than anyone. He told Thomas that West had asked him to direct Sextette, but he refused because he felt "it wasn't any good, and I told her so." In an A&E Biography on West, Kenwith recalled being with West on the last day of shooting on the Sextette set. "We got into her car. I said nothing about the film. She asked me nothing. The chauffeur was driving. I was sitting on the back seat with Mae and I just continued to look out the left side of the car. Mae was looking out the right side. We didn't talk to one another. I was determined not to talk about the film Without any warning, she put her hand upon mine whereupon I turned to her and she said, `Well dear, that was yesterday. I've got to think about tomorrow.'"
• • Huge pink billboards sprouted around Los Angeles proclaiming "MAE WEST IS COMING" but as summer passed into fall no studio stepped forward to distribute the film. West began to worry the film might sit unseen on a shelf. Warner Brothers agreed to show the film for a limited run in Westwood, but it upset West to discover Sextette would be shown double billed with Outrageous! starring Craig Russell. West showed up for the Westwood showing but Craig Russell did not. Chris Basinger and Robert Duran were in attendance that evening and recalled Outrageous! was shown first. According to Robert Duran, a Mae West insider who attended the event, West did not view Russell's film. "She didn't come into the theater until the intermission. People were out in the lobby and that's when she arrived in the white limousine."
• • In March of 1978, Briggs and Sullivan signed a lease for the Cinerama Dome near Sunset and Vine and held an old-fashioned Hollywood opening complete with floodlights, bleachers and an interview platform for arriving celebrities. Reviews of the film in the Los Angeles press were mixed and even Kevin Thomas, diplomatically stated the film "will be cherished by her fans for whom it was made."
• • While Ken Hughes tried his best directing Sextette, it was slaughtered by critics — — and this time West was the prime target. Friends hid the most savage reviews from her, but West instinctively knew the film wasn't what she hoped it might be. Robert Duran stated that, as far as he knew, Paul Novak kept the bad reviews from West. "Maybe in the old days she read them, but she'd gotten away from that. She knew it was a turkey."
• • Crown-International booked Sextette into the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in November of 1978 and West travelled by automobile for the opening. Hundreds of spectators who couldn't join the 2,200 ticket holders swarmed Market Street, and West and her entourage had to enter through the stage door as a safety precaution.
• • Sextette opened on the East Coast in June of 1979 and was booked in several theaters in New York. Time stated the film was "a work so bad, so ferally innocent, that it is good, an instant classic to be treasured by connoisseurs of the genre everywhere." Reviews like this raised hope in West's mind that the picture might become a cult film similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If West wanted to believe that, and it gave her comfort, her entourage willingly obliged her.
• • • • Written exclusively for the Mae West Blog by Mae-maven R. Mark Desjardins.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Marlo Manners: Wow! All this meat and no potatoes!
• • Marlo Manners: Is that a gun in your pocket — — or are you just glad to see me?
• • Marlo Manners: Marriage is like a book. The whole story takes place between the covers.
• • [Source: Mae West wrote her own lines for "Sextette," 1978.]
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • From Oklahoma, James D. Watts, Jr. writes: Sara Wilemon first became interested in the subject while researching a role for a comedy written by Mae West. Since then, she's been a part of a local troupe Eye Candy Burlesque (which, along with the Horsemeat Flea Circus, is presenting "School for Red Hot Mamas"), and has performed in Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco. "When I've attended shows in other places, they're usually held in bars," she said. "One of the great things about having this show in a theater is, first of all, you can do things like sketches, dialogue, things like that. It gets closer to the real spirit of burlesque. ...
• • Source: Article: "Backstage: Nightingale burlesque show 'School for Hot Mamas' labor of love" written by James D. Watts, Jr. for Tulsa World; posted on 9 June 2011
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 1958th 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:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1978 • •
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  1. Anonymous8:58 PM

    There is nothing refreshing about this review of Sextette. It is a horrible hatchet job not only on the film but on Miss West personally. And I'm sad to see it reproduced on this blog. Ian M, Edinburgh

  2. Anonymous12:47 PM

    Please note my comment above refers to the Bill Gibron review (see link below) which the blog author originally described as "refreshing" and not to Mark Dedgardins' excellent and well balanced contribution.
    Ian M, Edinburgh