Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mae West: Kiss-Less Bride

There was a great deal of mayhem in the life of MAE WEST when her kiss-proof marriage to Frank Wallace was first exposed — — and divorce proceedings began.
• • As all Mae-Mavens know, on the morning of 11 April 1911, a teenager wed her 21-year-old co-star Frank Wallace [birthname: Frank Szatkus] in Milwaukee. He and Mae West had been performing at the Big Gaiety Theatre there, part of the Columbia Amusement Company, an Eastern burlesque wheel run by Henry Jacobs and John Jermon.
• • PHOTO: Yes, that's Mae, next to her bridegroom, showing off her new wedding ring in 1911.
• • Mae, who was still 17 when they eloped, had met the entertainer the previous year. Matchmaker Matilda West had gone backstage to tell this soft-shoe artist that she had a youngster who was a “comer” — — a good partner to pair up with.
• • A dark-haired, wiry acrobatic dancer, Frank Wallace was determined not to follow the example of his sedentary father, a Lithuanian tailor from Queens, New York. Threading his way through the vaudeville and burlesque circuit, he shared the bill with Mae West and Willie Hogan at Canarsie’s Waldo Casino in Brooklyn. In those days, they often rehearsed in the basement of the house that belonged to Mae’s parents. Following rehearsals, Matilda would serve a Bavarian supper of pig’s knuckles and sauerkraut.
• • When singing ragtime favorites — — like “Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary” and “Everybody’s Doin’ It” — — West and Wallace consciously imitated black performers, sliding, shuffling, and stepping in a sultry, passionate, smooth style that brought them bookings in Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
• • According to Frank Wallace's account, after a few weeks of rehearsal, “we went on the Fox circuit. Later we signed with Jacobs and Jermon, the burlesque producers.”
• • Mae claimed she only wanted to get physical with Frank, not tie the knot. However, Etta Woods, an older singer on the bill with them, persuaded Mae that it was better to be married in case she got pregnant accidentally. After they said their vows, Mae insisted that the marriage be kept a secret from her family and their booking agents.
• • The length of their tour in “A Florida Enchantment” lasted a few months, after which Mae returned to her parents in Brooklyn and encouraged Wallace to join a different road company, which he did.
• • During the regional tour of "Diamond Lil" [1928 — 1929], Frank Wallace played a bartender. Here they are onstage, side by side, in the Midwest.
• • West and Wallace never lived together as man and wife. Their secret elopement only came to light when Mae became a Hollywood headliner in the 1930s and Frank, run down at the heels and looking for a meal ticket, decided to sue his successful wife. In July 1937, in response to a legal interrogatory, Mae finally was obliged to admit she had been married to her skinny dance partner, although she maintained she had been a "kiss-less bride."
• • In 1942, as they went to court, Frank Wallace was holding out for a costly $1,000 per month maintenance, charging that he had "subordinated" his career to his wife's after they wed. As a result, argued Wallace, she earned "fabulous sums" while his career languished.
• • Fortunately, Mae discovered that he had married Rae Blakesley in 1916 in NYC without seeking a divorce first, or even notifying her about this act of bigamy.
• • It was in the month of July — — on 19 July 1942 — — that Wallace agreed to drop his fight for alimony.
• • The final divorce decree was granted in 1943.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Reflecting upon her divorce from Frank Wallace, Mae West noted this about hastily tying the knot in 1911: "It was later proved to be some knot. The judge must have learned it from a sailor."
• • "He'll always remain in the wastebasket of my memories," West quipped on learning of the death of her former bridegroom Frank Wallace.
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • "For over 30 years I have held this secret in my heart," said Frank Wallace. "I have complied with everything that Miss West wanted. She wanted a career but now I want a chance to tell my story ...."
• • Source: Article: "Mae West's Husband Drops Suit, Agrees to a Divorce" written by The United Press; published by The Pittsburgh Press on 19 July 1942
• • 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 1996th 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 • • 1911 and 1929 • •
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