Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mae West: Richard from Bensonhurst

In 1944, a starry-eyed 22-year-old Brooklynite Richard Sylvan Seltzer landed a small part in MAE WEST's Broadway show, "Catherine Was Great."
• • Born on 29 August 1922, he was the younger of two sons of impoverished Jewish parents who were evicted from their apartment in Bensonhurst several times. More than once, Richard and his brother, Benson, lived in homes for troubled boys. Their father abandoned the family when Richard was a teenager.
• • Like many children who dream of something better, he got his start as a young actor with minor roles in several Broadway shows and was in the cast of "Dead End," which starred the Dead End Kids.
• • When the show closed in 1937, Blackwell moved to Los Angeles with his mother and brother and found work in movies, starting with "Little Tough Guy" (1938) — — a spinoff of the Broadway show he left behind. He got another small role that year in "Juvenile Court," starring Rita Hayworth.
• • Meeting Mae West in 1944 was unforgettable, he always said. Shortly afterward, he was to encounter movie producer Howard Hughes, who changed his name to Richard Blackwell. Howard Hughes chose the name to sound "theatrical, polished, memorable," Blackwell wrote in his autobiography.
• • Eventually, he became "Mr. Blackwell," whose annual "worst dressed" list dressed down movie stars, music icons, and European royalty with the predilection for making a fashion faux pas. This helped turn him into a household name.
• • Mr. Blackwell lived in the Hancock Park enclave of Los Angeles with his partner of 60 years, Robert Spencer. Unfortunately, Blackwell suffered from Bell's palsy for the last seven years of his life. He died in Los Angeles in October — — on 19 October 2008 — — of complications from an intestinal infection. He was 86 years old.
• • On 19 October 1899 • •
• • Mae West was a little slip of a girl when the St Louis Post-Dispatch published their edition on 19 October 1899. This paper reported a local crime: beautiful Frankie Baker, a 27-year-old mulatto prostitute [residing at 212 Targee Street, St. Louis, Missouri], who kept an expensively decked-out 17-year-old mack, stabbed him on October 15th. A few days later, Frankie's cheating (and abusive) lover died. A blitz of headlines followed: "Woman Kills Colored Man in St. Louis."
• • The stabbing and the ensuing trial — — wherein Frankie Baker [1872 — 1952] was acquitted — — inspired the folksong "Frankie and Johnny."
• • In 1928 — 1929, Mae West sang "Frankie and Johnny" on Broadway in her melodrama "Diamond Lil," giving the song a glamour glow, enhancing its prominence.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: "Frankie and Johnny were lovers / Oh lordy, how they could love /Swore to be true to each other / Just as true as the stars above / He was her man, but he was doing her wrong . . . ."
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • An article on the early cinema mentioned Mae West.
• • J. Hoberman writes: Introduced rolling her eyes and shooting craps, Clara Bow is a paradoxical presence, a fading star who seems the essence of hard-boiled resilience. A spunkier Jean Harlow, a svelter Mae West, she takes her place among the comic sex goddesses of the early talkies, resurrected along with the film that preserved her performance. Film restoration is also the restoration of cultural memory. ...
• • Source: Article: "To Save and Project Fest: Long Live Cinema!" written by J. Hoberman for The Village Voice; posted on Wednesday, 12 October 2011
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2088th 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 • • 1928 song sheet • •
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  1. Short memory: Late 70's, working scaffolds in NYC, my foreman and I both lived in Brooklyn. He knew Mae - I didn't believe him. Said I could meet her. Never went. Ergo: A life long regret.. RIP M.W.
    ~Booker James Winter

  2. Booker1:00 PM

    How's Mae doin these days?