Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mae West: Sepia Mae West

During the 1920s, a number of Black performers were billed as "the sepia MAE WEST" or the "sepia Rudolph Valentino" and so on. In Mae's case, it was either because of her notoriety, which gave her name recognition, or because she had linked herself to the black composers who wrote blues songs.
• • For instance, Papa Charlie Jackson [c.1885 — 1938] recorded "Shake That Thing" himself in 1925 — — a sultry blues number that Mae loved and introduced to her Broadway audience in her show "Sex" [1926], while backed by a jazz band. Jackson would cut records with Hattie McDaniel, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox — — a vocalist billed as the "Sepia Mae West." She was born in Georgia in the month of February.
• • Ida Cox [25 February 1896 — 10 November 1967] • •
• • One of the 1920s stand-out blues artists, Ida Cox [25 February 1896 — 10 November 1967] began one of her successful tours billed as "the Sepia Mae West." By 1920, the 24-year-old performer was appearing as a headline act at the 81 Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia; another top-billed showman at the time was Jelly Roll Morton.
• • Promoted as the "Uncrowned Queen of the Blues" by Paramount in the early 1920s, Ida Cox never did achieve the fame accorded to her contemporaries Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. But years before Mae West had a recording contract, Ida Cox had recorded 78 songs for Paramount between 1923 and 1929, resulting in an outstanding four-volume set of her greatest hits. A take-charge type like Mae, Ida Cox's beauty, charisma, powerful voice, energy, and captivating stage presence earned her significant popularity during the 1920s, when women dominated blues music.
• • Tonight on Saturday, 25 February 2012 • •
• • "Burlesque to Broadway" brings back the fun, excitement, and gaiety of the Burlesque era featuring Broadway caliber performances with the fast paced sizzle of a Las Vegas production. Quinn Lemley brings to life the songs and music of characters from that rousing time when Mae West, Sally Rand, and Gypsy Rose Lee were mesmerizing audiences. The performance will take audiences back to the world of striptease artists and fan dancers.
• • WHERE: The Sondheim Center (200 North Main St., Fairfield, Iowa 52556) this evening on Saturday, February 25th at 7:30 pm.
• • Jim Backus [25 February 1913 — 3 July 1989] • •
• • Jim Backus, a colleague of Mae West, was born in Ohio in February — — on 25 February 1913. The Cleveland native had a durable career and was one of the few actors to do it all: vaudeville, summer stock, Broadway, radio, TV, cartoons, and motion pictures.
• • In the cast of "Myra Breckinridge" [1970], the 57-year-old Backus portrayed a doctor.
• • Jim Backus reunited with Mae West three years later, attending the Masquers Club's salute to the Empress of Sex as one of her "Gentlemen in Waiting" (along with George Raft, Jack LaRue, Steve Allen, Lloyd Nolan, etc.).
• • When the 1973 event was reborn in an audio format as "Mae Day: The Masquers Club Salutes Mae West CD" [1998], Mae-mavens could hear Jim Backus offering an amusing 4-minute tribute [exactly 4 minutes and 16 seconds long, if you want to get technical] to the buxom blonde guest of honor.
• • Jim Backus died in Los Angeles, California on 3 July 1989 of pneumonia.
• • On Tuesday, 25 February 1913 • •
• • The announcement that "Mae West, the comedienne" was appearing at the Grand ran in the Atlantic Journal on Tuesday, 25 February 1913.
• • On Saturday, 25 February 1922 • •
• • One of Mae's vaudeville idols was Bert Williams [12 November 1874 — 4 March 1922]. The pre-eminent Black entertainer of his era (birthname Egbert Austin Williams), was born on the island of Antigua [West Indies]. In 1888 his family moved to Los Angeles. He began his entertainment career in 1892 in San Francisco.
• • Stricken with pneumonia, Bert Williams did not want to miss performances, aware that he was the only bright spot keeping an otherwise middling musical alive at the box office. After collapsing onstage in Detroit, on Saturday, 25 February 1922 while singing "Under The Bamboo Tree," Bert Williams initially fooled his Michigan audience, who thought he was clowning around. Escorted to his dressing room, Williams joked, "That's a nice way to die. They was laughing when I made my last exit."
• • Bert Williams returned to his home in New York City but his condition deteriorated and he died in a hospital on March 4th. He was 47 years old.
• • On Tuesday, 25 February 1936 • •
• • Motion Picture Herald ran a feature on "Klondike Annie" in their issue dated on Tuesday, 25 February 1936.
• • Citizen News did an article on "Klondike Annie" on Tuesday, 25 February 1936. Three days earlier, on 22 February 1936, gossip columnist Louella Parsons weighed in on Mae West's latest motion picture, too.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: "Beards can do one of two things for men. One type becomes very distinguished looking, and the other achieves a primitive, sexy look. Some women say they couldn't bear to kiss a man with whiskers. All I've got to say is, whiskers or not, he's a man, isn't he?"
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • An article about Angus McBean [1904 — 1990] mentioned Mae West.
• • Peter Campbell wrote: Angus McBean knew that he knew how to please. Actors, he said, were terrified of having pictures taken, but "the stars often get to know a photographer and to trust him, and thank goodness that photographer is often me!" . . . He was clever at making things. There is a Mae West doll on show — — it appears too in his portrait of her. Mae couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t sell it to her. . . .
• • Source: Article: "At the National Portrait Gallery" written by Peter Campbell for the London Review of Books on page 24, Vol. 28 No. 15; published on: 3 August 2006
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2220th 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 • 1926 • •
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  1. I have recently completed a bio of Mae Johnson, known as the "sepia Mae West." MW anecdotes in Part 2 and discussion of other "sepia Mae Wests" in Part 5.

  2. Dear Keller78rpm:
    I applaud your "sepia Mae West" projects, however, I could NOT access the link!

  3. Sorry, here's the full link: