Friday, July 15, 2011

Mae West: Back in NYC

"I'm No Angel," a screen comedy written by and starring MAE WEST, will be shown at Film Forum in Manhattan a few days from now as part of their hand selected retrospective of the top fifty Pre-Code motion pictures. This is the perfect summer treat for the movie buff who is parched and in need of 1930s nectar made the good old fashioned way when Hollywood's machinery knew how to satisfy a ticket-buyer. And when you see Mae onscreen, as Tira the Incomparable, you'll feel that generosity of spirit and fun working like yeast in the inert matter of the movie house as laughter rises.
• • Film Forum is at 209 West Houston Street in New York City and the Pre-Code schedule and several period trailers are online there to get you in the mood.
• • Preparing the local cinephile for this film fest, Bruce Bennett penned a fascinating piece on the politics and profits involved in the talkies released after the Wall Street Crash.
• • Bruce Bennett wrote: To many, the words "New York" connote unchecked self-expression and serial impiety. But on the occasion of Film Forum's "Essential Pre-Code," a 50-film survey, beginning Friday, of depression-era Hollywood's racy talking pictures, it is worth remembering that during this period the Empire State was the film-censorship capital of the nation. ...
• • Bruce Bennett explained: According to the New York State Archive's online inventory of censorship scripts, of the 50 films in Film Forum's survey, 23 were subject to New York State censor "eliminations." Two films, "Baby Face" — which will screen in the Library of Congress's recently discovered pre-censorship version — and "The Story of Temple Drake," were rejected outright. The "pre-code" era concluded when the motion-picture industry moved from the toothless guidelines of 1930 to a binding Production Code Administration in 1934. ...
• • Bruce Bennett continued: And yet, despite Zanuck's ballyhoo, behind the scenes Hollywood's compliance with the wishes of New York censors was swift and nearly universal. The reason, according to Mike Mashon, the head of Library of Congress's Moving Image Section, was purely financial. "If New York City was not allowed to show your film, your film was almost guaranteed not to make money," he said.
• • • • "They were paying to have their own films censored." • • • •
• • Bruce Bennett emphasized the profit motive. Bennett added: But someone was making money. While researching her two books on America's experiment in state-controlled movie morality, Laura Wittern-Keller of the Department of History at SUNY-Albany unearthed evidence of the New York commission's own financial success. "The New York State censor board always turned a handsome profit," Ms. Wittern-Keller said. "Just to have a film reviewed, a distributor paid three dollars a reel. They were paying to have their own films censored." . . . [Source: Article "The Storm Before the Calm — — A New Series Pulls the Pasties Off America's Early Era of Scandalous Cinema" written by Bruce Bennett for The Wall St. Journal; posted on 14 July 2011.]
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West discussed some of the details involved in the making of "I'm No Angel" [1933], a blockbuster hit for Paramount Pictures.
• • Mae West wrote this: Well, to me it was better than that. Out of the idea grew my second starring picture, "I'm No Angel," the story of a glamorous lady lion-tamer. Day by day my excitement grew as I approached closer to the supreme moment of my life. I had no fear whatever. If lions are killers at heart, I do not recall ever thinking about the fact in relation to myself. Anyhow, my obsession with getting into the cage with lions had become so great that I could recognize no stop signal. I had a talk with the trainer. He said that the lions he would use in the scene were well-trained and fairly tame. There was always some element of danger, he said, but he thought that I would be safe in the cage long enough to make the scene.
• • At last the great day came and I arrived at the studio bright and early. I hurried into my make-up and white lion-tamer's uniform a gorgeous outfit of white silk tights, white boots, a white military jacket lavish with gold braid, a tall white military cap flaunting white plumes, and a military cape of ermine.
• • Thus arrayed I went into the Madison Square Garden set, accompanied by my entourage of maids, hair dressers, make-up artists and assistants. What a lovely day was in store for me. After a delay of an hour or so, Wesley Ruggles, the director, told me that we could not shoot the scene as planned. Mr. Ruggles was looking very serious that morning.
• • "The head trainer isn't here," he said. "And there's no one to double for you. You should have a double. I always thought you ought to."
• • "Why," I said, "it was understood that I was to get a close-up with the lions myself for a few shots. I don't need a double for what I want to do in there. You can take them going through their tricks with a double later on."
• • "But you don't understand," he said. "I didn't want to upset you, but the head trainer had his arm almost torn off this morning by one of those lions. We figured he could handle them while you were In there, but now he's gone. And the lions are restless besides."
• • What a let-down, This was terrible. I was grieved to hear of the accident, of course, and said so. But the old terrific urge was not to be downed. Not when the means of satisfaction was close at hand.
• • "Do you really need him?" I asked. "Can't we go ahead with the assistant trainer?"
• • Mr. Ruggles was positive. "I can't let you take a chance with those lions!" he said.
• • In a few minutes my producer, William LeBaron, was sent for, and he arrived with two assistants to hear my story. He said it was a daring thing that I wanted to do and he agreed that it would make the picture a lot better. But even he couldn't commit himself.
• • Just then Al Kaufman came on the set. He was and is a reasonable and understanding man, but also an excellent business executive. He listened as I blurted out, "This lion scene is the main reason I'm doing this picture!!"'
• • Al thought a moment, and then he told me that the studio had an enormous investment in me and this picture. Aside from the humanitarian feeling of not wanting to have me mangled or killed, the business risk of losing both me and the picture just wasn't to be taken lightly.
• • Finally Al said, "All right, Mae, I will tell you what well do. Let's leave this scene to the last. We'll get all the rest of the picture shot and then well do the scene!'
• • "Oh, no!" I protested, "You just want to put it off to the last moment, hoping I'll go cold on it. You don't want me to do it. We're ready now and I want to do it now."
• • I argued for a long time and finally they gave in. After lunch I returned to the set and things began to move. ...
• • Source: Mae West telling a story in "THE PUBLIC IS NEVER WRONG: The Autobiography of Adolph Zukor" [NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1953]
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • “Going to help redistribute a nice chunk of the nation's coin. Mae West is today the biggest conversation-provoker, free space grabber and all-around box office bet in the country.” — — Variety (1933)
• • 17 July 2004 17 July 2011 • •
• • In mid-July the Mae West Blog will celebrate its seventh anniversary. Thank you to all those Mae-mavens who come up and see Mae every day.
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 1992nd 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 • • 1933 • •
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