What was going on in the mind of MAE WEST on Saturday night, 13 January 1945 as her show "Catherine Was Great" was winding down its Broadway engagement with its 191th performance?
• • It is easy to disparage the dreams of a performer. When it comes to admiration and understanding of Mae's achievement, however, look to John T. Alexander's informative analysis of those who tried to walk in Catherine's shoes. He starts by mentioning all the European film stars who portrayed the empress: Pola Negri, Louise Dresser, Elisabeth Bergner, Paule Andral, Marlene Dietrich ["The Scarlet Empress" in 1934], etc. He also enumerates other interpretations by Tallulah Bankhead, Hildegard Neff, Jeanne Moreau, Zoe Caldwell, and so on. Especially dissatisfied by Dietrich's portrayal ("an arty disaster") and irritated by Bergner's interpretation, Mae West became even more intrigued with the Russian czarina.
• • Mae West said: "I saw the Empress as a warm, gay, very sensual woman, and yet a monarch who was a skillful politician and a master statesman."
• • John T. Alexander wrote: "In four months, by September 1938, Mae West compiled a screenplay about Catherine's life as an empress. ... [When] the Hollywood studios reacted frigidly, Mae West resolved to have it produced independently, but this proved impossible, too."
• • Determined to see the project produced, Mae reworked the material as a stage revue and opened for a three week run in Philadelphia in July 1944 before mounting a Broadway version. Though she later regretted it, she limited herself to one song: "Strong, Solid, and Sensational."
• • Mae's 70-lb train in the final scene required four men . . . • •
• • John T. Alexander wrote: The elaborate, heavily brocaded costumes tested her endurance; her 70-lb train in the final scene required four men to lift it gracefully. ... Certainly her portrayal impressed more deeply than ever in the popular psyche Catherine's association with extravagant, theatrical sexuality."
• • Source for this information: John T. Alexander's book "Catherine the Great: Life and Legend" (New York: Oxford University Press, Nov. 1989, 418 pages)
• • Sophie Tucker [1884 — 1966] • •
• • In January it's time to remember a singer and comedienne who was a big influence on Mae West, though she never admitted it.
• • Sophie Tucker [13 January 1884 — 9 February 1966] was one of the most popular entertainers in America during the first third of the 20th century. Almost ten years older than Mae and not as controversial when she launched her career, Sophie Tucker had an ethnic appeal which upped her forward momentum and she was, in fact, a much bigger draw in vaudeville than the Brooklyn bombshell.
• • On Saturday, 13 January 1945 • •
• • "Catherine Was Great" featured Mae West onstage in her stunning Russian empress regalia. Mike Todd's lavish production was onstage from 2 August 1944 — 13 January 1945 on Broadway, which ran for 191 performances. The play was staged at the Shubert Theatre, then moved to the Royale.
• • On Sunday, 13 January 1958 • •
• • An article in a Joe Weider publication in 2004 gave this point of view on the late bodybuilder and the Hollywood icon:
• • Joe Weider's reporter wrote: In 1955, a 64-year-old Mae West saw Mickey Hargitay on the cover of Strength and Health Magazine. She asked him to join her chorus of musclemen, clad in leopardskin G-strings, in her Las Vegas nightclub act, the Mae West Revue. According to Mae West, when she first met him, Hargitay had said: "Miss West, you are the end of my search for an ideal, my dream come true." ...
• • Blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield encountered the very handsome Mr. Universe 1956 Miklos (Mickey) Hargitay on 13 May 1956, while attending a performance of the "Mae West Revue" at the Latin Quarter in Manhattan.
• • Twenty months later, Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay wed on 13 January 1958. They had three children and, alas, would divorce in 1964.
• • On Sunday, 13 January 2008 • •
• • Newsday [the newspaper issue dated on Sunday, 13 January 2008] reported a collaboration between Mae West and The Naked Stage in Suffolk County on Long Island, the location where the play "Sex" was going to be presented in February 2008.
• • According to Newsday: "Sex" by Mae West will be performed on Feb. 12, 2008, and more — — at 7:30 p.m., Guild Hall, 158 Main St., East Hampton, NY 11937 — — free.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: “I’m glad you like my Catherine. I like her, too. She ruled 30 million people and had 3,000 lovers. I do the best I can in two hours.”
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • The article "Two Takes on Camille Saint-Saens’s 'Samson and Delilah'" was written by Christopher Purdy, who discussed Mae West's rendition of the aria.
• • Christopher Purdy explained: "But there is one performance of this music different than all the rest. It was immortalized in a film called 'Goin’ To Town' . Not only do we have a very special brand of music making, we also have the hysteria of backstage at the opera, on film. Saint-Saens meets his match long after his death when his music is, er, interpreted by….. Mae West.
• • Christopher Purdy continued: In her memoir Beverly the late Beverly Sills recalls meeting the very elderly Mae West in Hollywood. “I don’t think she knew who I was, but I certainly knew who she was.” When Sills asked Miss West if she ever sang, the old girl almost lost her false… eyelashes. “I got a fully trained operatic voice!,” she crowed.
• • Christopher Purdy added: Indeed. Not for nothing was Mae West the highest paid woman in America in the mid-1930s, outranking FDR and the head of General Motors at the height of the depression. ...
• • Source: Article: "Two Takes on Camille Saint-Saens’s 'Samson and Delilah'" written by Christopher Purdy for WOSU.org; posted on 13 January 2010
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2176th 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/
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • in 1944 • •
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