Friday, November 04, 2011

Mae West: Schulberg's Insight

Maybe you don't remember him but he took credit for bringing MAE WEST to the silver screen. In a fascinating newspaper article "The Experts Derided Mae West" published in Singapore in early November — — on 4 November 1934 — — B.P. Schulberg [1892 — 1957] sat down with Hollywood reporter John C. Moffitt and revealed a behind-the-scenes decision in 1932.
• • John C. Moffitt's in-depth piece liberally quotes two main sources: Mae West and Ben Schulberg, who explained this: When Harry Zehner, confidential secretary to Carl Laemmle, Jr. suggested Mae as a screen possibility to the powers at Universal, he was howled down. Mr. Zehner refers to this in the studio dining room whenever he desires to get supervisors and associate producers biting their nails. Ben Schulberg is the man who took Mae to the screen, but he is frank in admitting he achieved this stroke of showmanship over his own protest. "I remember that I distinguished myself by sneering and scoffing," Schulberg says, "when they first brought Mae's name up."
• • In between cigar puffs, Schulberg confided that he knew George Raft's limitations when the studio positioned him to headline the speakeasy story "Night After Night" in 1932. Raft was seen as a strong performer with a monotone personality; he needed to be "placed in opposition to several varied personalities," according to Schulberg, therefore, they cast Constance Cummings for romantic contrast, and so on. They needed a gal for the part of the tough beauty shop owner. When Mae's name came up, the studio fellows were divided. Some insisted Mae was "too large to photograph well" but the others emphasized "But Mae West is funny and this is a funny part."
• • Schulberg continued: "The showmen didn't want Mae and the dummies did. ... I said I would telegraph Mae West and make her an offer. I kept my word. I sent her an offer that named so little money, I was sure she would turn it down. To my amazement she accepted. ..."
• • Journalist John C. Moffitt concludes his lengthy narrative with this sentence: Mae West arrived in Hollywood on a "coffee and cakes" contract and she lost no time becoming the biggest moneymaker in the history of the talkies, the one bright financial star in the long dark night of Hollywood's depression.
• • These short paragraphs hit just a few highlights in Moffitt's article. Come back another time to read more.
• • In November, Let's Remember Joe Frisco [1889 — 1958] • •
• • According to Jill Watts: Rather than working with the busy choreographer of "Sometime" in 1918, Mae West sought out special guidance from her Chicago pal Joe Frisco, a popular white jazz dancer who was an expert in black technique.
• • Born in Milan, Illinois in the month of November — — on 4 November 1889 — — Joe Frisco was a variety artist whose first bookings featured him as a proficient jazz dancer. Joe Frisco performed with some of the first jazz bands in Chicago and New York City, including Tom Brown's Band from Dixieland, the Original Dixieland Jass Band, and the Louisiana Five. In 1918, he took his first Broadway bows in the Ziegfeld Follies, but also toured in variety throughout the 1920s.
• • • “After they made that guy, th-th-they threw away the sh-sh-shovel!” • • •
• • Clever and witty, Joe Frisco incorporated his stutter into his act and became a popular comedian. One of his witty off-stage remarks, made in a stammering voice, was: “After they made that guy, th-th-they threw away the sh-sh-shovel!”
• • Mae admired his off-the-cuff humor and reworked Joe Frisco's line, which became "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
• • Addicted to gambling, Joe Frisco lost focus and his career declined. He was penniless when he died of cancer in Woodland Hills, California on 12 February 1958. He was 66 years old.
• • On 4 November 1927 • •
• • Starring Mae West as Babe (Evelyn) Carson, "The Wicked Age" opened on 4 November 1927 at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre. There were 19 performances.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: "The best way to hold a man is in your arms."
• • Mae West said: "Don't marry a man to reform him — — that's what reform schools are for."
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • An article about a PFD mentioned Mae West.
• • Amy Shaw writes: If you’ve ever watched movie classics, you’ll know the amply endowed actress Mae West, whose famous line, “Come up and see me sometime,” has inspired many a comical line or two. Mae also inspired the nickname of the inflatable life preserver, invented by Andrew Toti, which the War Department bought the rights to in 1936.
• • Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are really nothing to joke about, as they can save your life and also, in most cases, “It’s the law!” Women and children no longer have to endure wearing bulky life preservers built for men. Even dogs get their own PFDs these days.. ...
• • Source: Article: "Move over, Mae West, there’s a new PFD in town" written by Amy Shaw for W.O.M.A.; posted on 23 August 2009
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2104th 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 • • sketched in September 1934 • •
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