Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mae West: Wily Diane Arbus

MAE WEST had tried to sue Show Magazine over this portrait taken in her boudoir. Show published it anyway [January 1965 issue].
• • ''Mae West hated the pictures,'' Allan Arbus recalled about the shoot done by his late wife, who committed suicide in the month of July [on July 26th]. ''Because they were truthful.'' No, Allan, no. Mae did not appreciate being tricked by wily little Diane, that's the reason.
• • The image might come up another time — — since there are numerous prints of this limited edition of Mae West at Home, Santa Monica, California, 1965.
• • In 1964, Diane Arbus [14 March 1923 — 26 July 1971] flew to Los Angeles. Her buddy Robert Brown chauffeured her to Mae West's beach house on two successive days. By the 1960s, the New York City photo-journalist had adopted the Rolleiflex medium format twin-lens reflex. This format provided a square aspect ratio, higher image resolution, and a waist-level viewfinder that allowed Arbus to connect with her subjects in ways that a standard eye-level viewfinder did not. She was also experimenting with the use of flashes in daylight, allowing her to highlight and separate her subjects from the background.
• • For all of her technical savvy, Diane Arbus had enough smarts to know when to keep the camera bag out of sight. So it unfolded that, when Robert Brown came to drive his friend home on that first evening, she admitted she had not shot one frame yet. Instead she and the Brooklyn bombshell spent the time chatting.
• • Penis Pals • •
• • ''Do you know what we did most of the time?'' Diane enthusiastically told Robert. ''She's got a locked room with models in plaster of all the men she's had sex with — — of their erections.''
• • Regaling the East Coast guest with tales about her former lovers, Mae West had said: ''Each one is different: the way they sigh, the way they moan, the way they move; even the feel of them, their flesh is just a little different. . . . There's a man for every mood.''
• • Naturally, Diane Arbus wrote all of this down for the cover story she would write for Show's publisher Huntington Hartford. Then the next day, when her subject was relaxed and at ease, Diane shot several rolls. She was satisfied that she had done a good job capturing the septuagenarian sexpot — — in a negligee, backlighted by the merciless Southern California sun.
• • In her article, the 41-year-old phtographer would describe the 71-year-old screen legend as "imperious, adorable, magnanimous, genteel and girlish, almost simultaneously." She added, "There is even, forgive me, a kind of innocence about her."
• • After the session, Mae handed Diane a C-note, saying, "Thanks, honey." This was a habit dating back to the 1930s when the Paramount Pictures star would tip still photographers who snapped her on the set. [Diane returned the $100 with a gracious note.]
• • When the sharply focused black and white portraits appeared in print, however, Mae found them harsh, ugly, pitiless and directed her attorneys to sue the publisher. Her lawyers fired off a letter, calling the Mae layout "unflattering, cruel, and not at all glamourous."
• • Diane Arbus admitted there was a certain manipulativeness felt by those who click a shutter. A camera gave her access and power — — but what Diane trainer herself to notice especially was "the flaw."
• • Flaws did not interest Mae West. Not unlike Blanche DuBois, she did not want realism. She preferred magic, Hollywood's favorite home-grown product.
• • Mae West, Russeks, and Diane Arbus • •
• • Brooklyn’s Fulton Street used to offer an exhaltation of department stores; prestigious retailers lined up along the stretch once included Martin's, Abraham & Strauss, Loeser’s, and Russeks. Founded as a specialty house for furs, eventually, the Brooklyn outlet and its Manhattan counterpart on Fifth Avenue featured an upscale ladies line.
• • Founded in the early 1900s, the store's original owners were the grandparents of photographer Diane Arbus and her brother, poet Howard Nemerov. Their parents were David and Gertrude (Russek) Nemerov.
• • Russeks also supplied clothing and furs for some of Mae's Broadway shows. To thank them and give them publicity, Mae printed glossy postcards touting Russeks and distributed these in the theatre.
• • Diane Arbus: Mae West at Home, Santa Monica, California, 1965 [Gelatin Silver Print, 20 inches X 16 inches, signed by Arbus].
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • And speaking of a woman's untimely death . . . . Though Mae West was not as well known in Italy as she was in England, the ill-fated Wilma Montesi [3 February 1932 — 9 April 1953] was a huge fan.
• • Book critic Ian Thomson writes: Wilma Montesi, a plump and pretty carpenter's daughter, wanted only to be like Marina Berti and the Tinseltown starlets who visited from Hollywood. Like the young Fellini himself, in fact, she adored Mae West and the "impossible whiteness" of Jean Harlow's skin. Soon she was out of her depth in a demi-monde of narcotics, hoodlum financiers and sugar-daddy politicians. As a saga of ill-gotten money and mink, the Montesi affair foreshadows the "bunga bunga" parties of the Italian prime minister today. As well as being a thriller, Death and the Dolce Vita provides an excellent account of the virtues and misdeeds of Europe's most foxy political class. ...
• • Source: Book Review: "Death and the Dolce Vita by Stephen Gundle — — A fascinating book reveals the real-life scandal that lay behind Federico Fellini's La Dolca Vita" written by Ian Thomson for The Guardian [London]; posted on Friday 22 July 2011
• • 17 July 2004 17 July 2011 • •
• • In mid-July the Mae West Blog celebrates 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 2003rd 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 • • 1965 • •• • Feed — — http://feeds2.feedburner.com/MaeWest
Mae West.

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