Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Mae West: Queen of the Third Sex

Many people think of MAE WEST as a movie queen. But she was also a writer who worked hard honing her witticisms and comic comebacks. The Brooklyn bombshell discussed her habits with Dick Cavett on "Backlot USA" [1976], revealing that she did not know how to type and she always wrote longhand in bed. Mae also confessed that, since she knew the censors would want to red pencil her manuscripts, she would deliberately put extra material in.
• • In preparation for the walking tour at 3:00 pm on Sunday, 14 August 2011, here's some background on Mae's battles with the purity police during her Broadway career in the 1920s. Instead of pursuing gun-toting bootleggers, City Hall kept the city safe and sanitized by jailing individuals like Mae and some lesbian novelists (like Eve Addams), and also giving O'Neill legal grief over minutiae such as Sunday performances of his plays. Dramatist and resident of "Bohemia" LindaAnn Loschiavo has prepared this look back in time.
• • The artwork, drawn by Michael Di Motta, is taken from his preliminary sketches for The Courting Mae West Comic Book.
• • • • "Mae West in Bohemia — — Gin, Sin, Censorship, and Eugene O'Neill" • • • •
• • The Jazz Age in Greenwich Village might seem like one big party. In spite of the weighty Eighteenth Amendment, which enacted the Prohibition Era in the USA on 16 January 1919, speakeasies were all the rage. The “pansy craze” made drag balls a hot ticket not only for gays but also heterosexuals. And more publishers were renting storefronts in Washington Square and printing left-wing journals, radical essays, little magazines, and controversial plays.
• • Despite the appearance of a free-wheeling society, censorship was ever present. The Catholic Church found a champion in New York’s Gov. Alfred E. Smith [elected governor in 1922, 1924, and 1926]. And The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV or SSV), founded in 1873 by Anthony Comstock, was a leading force in banning books by James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence, and lodging complaints about “dirt” plays on Broadway. [After his death in 1915, Comstock was succeeded by John S. Sumner, who headed the NYSSV until 1950.]
• • • • MAE WEST & CENSORSHIP • • • •
• • In February 1927 Mae was arrested and jailed shortly after her gay play The Drag had a midnight performance on 31 January 1927. Her play Sex (which had been doing good box office at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre for 10 months) was raided and padlocked. After a jury found her guilty, she served a short sentence in the Women’s Workhouse in April 1927.
• • In October 1928, Mae was arrested again when her gay play Pleasure Man opened at the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway. Though her well-connected lawyer Nathan Burkan kept her out of jail, the trial in 1930 bankrupted her.
• • Throughout his career, Eugene G. O'Neill faced protests and efforts at censorship over material that some found objectionable and scandalous — — or immoral such as The Hairy Ape in 1922.
• • May 15, 1924 After a newspaper noted a "white Actress to kiss Negro's hand" in O'Neill's play All God's Chillun Got Wings [starring Paul Robeson], a member of the Salvation Army and the Society for the Suppression of Vice called for the production to cease. During rehearsal, the Provincetown Players got threatening letters from the Ku Klux Klan. Under a bomb threat, the play opened with a large police presence at the Provincetown Playhouse [15 May 1924]. The Mayor’s office showed their disapproval, too. The directors of the theater had applied for a permit to use a group of children in the first scene and the permit had been refused, no explanation being offered.
• • With its depiction of a passionate relationship between a young man and his stepmother, O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms outraged New York District Attorney Joab Banton after it opened on Broadway in 1924. Banton had also targeted other productions at the time. . . . But Desire, he said, was "too thoroughly bad to be purified by blue pen," and he threatened to convene a grand jury if the play was not shut down. After the producer refused, Banton created a citizen jury to evaluate the morality of Broadway productions. Upon seeing Desire, the play jury reached a verdict that it was not obscene, and the show went on. O'Neill bemoaned the final result. "We got a large audience, but of the wrong kind of people," O’Neill said. "They came for dirt and found it in everything.”
• • • • Greenwich Village's "queen of the third sex" • • • •
• • Eva Kotchever, a Jewish Polish emigre, took the name Eve Addams and proclaimed herself to be "queen of the third sex." At Eve's Hang-out on MacDougal St., social activities included poetry readings, salons, and discussions focused on sexual topics. A few newspapers raised an alarm about this cafe "where ladies prefer each other" and a sign on her door that announced MEN ARE ADMITTED BUT NOT WELCOME. Tipped off, an under-cover policewoman stopped by, and began to drop in and flirt with Eve, who shared some of her writing with the newcomer, a book titled Lesbian Love. The police raided the premises in June 1926. Charged with obscenity, Eve was sent to the Women’s Workhouse, then deported at the end of the year.
• • Mae West & Eugene O'Neill: Off-beat Links • •
• • Eugene O'Neill loved to watch boxing as much as Mae West did. Anyone who went to take in the fights at Madison Square Garden during the 1920s or early 1930s might have spotted Gene or Mae in a good seat. Of course the Brooklynite had an advantage here in that she could also date the prizefighters after the bout.
• • On Sunday afternoon, 14 August 2011 • •
• • "Mae West in Bohemia — — Gin, Sin, Censorship, and Eugene O'Neill"
• • Mae West's birthday is August 17th. Join us at 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, 14 August 2011. The title of this illustrated historical theme walk is "Mae West in Bohemia — — Gin, Sin, Censorship, and Eugene O'Neill." Rare vintage illustrations will show you how the buildings and blocks looked as these two theatre people saw them.
• • Where: This illustrated walking tour begins at 62 West Ninth Street, NYC (near Sixth Avenue). Join us and take a walk on the wild side this weekend on August 14th.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West told this to a reporter (but maybe it was said tongue-in-cheek): "Right now I think censorship is necessary. The things they're doing and saying in films right now just shouldn't be allowed. There's no dignity anymore and I think that's very important."
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • Celia Walden writes: Mr. Chow had pulled off every restaurateur’s dream: transposing a restaurant and its atmosphere from one city to another. Not that the idiosyncrasies of the Sixties Brit Pack could rival this lot. Chow can still remember Mae West being given a standing ovation for finishing her meal and scrawling “for food that’s best, ask Mae West” in the visitor’s book. ...
• • Source: Interview: "Mr. Chow — — How the world's starriest restaurateur turned feeding the famous into an art" written by Celia Walden for The Telegraph (UK); posted on Monday, 08 August 2011
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2017th 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 • • 1927 • •
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Mae West.

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