Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mae West: Ben Schulberg

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 on 4 November 1934, B.P. Schulberg sat down with Hollywood reporter John C. Moffitt and revealed a behind-the-scenes decision that occurred in 1932.
• • Let's meet him first.
• • Benjamin Percival Schulberg [19 January 1892 — 25 February 1957] • •
• • Benjamin Percival Schulberg was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut — — that infamous city where Mae West was arrested in late January 1927 — — and his mother gave birth to him on Tuesday, 19 January 1892. The Hollywood producer and studio honcho was Mae's contemporary and the father of screenwriter Budd Schulberg [1914 — 2009] and producer Stuart Schulberg [1922 — 1979].
• • B.P. Schulberg was a reporter, who became a studio publicist and then transitioned into the loftier role of producer. By 1922, the 30-year-old was the president of Preferred Pictures, Inc.  Schulberg was instrumental in making Paramount a leading film company in Hollywood during the 1920s by recruiting top directors. He also was a pioneer when it came to the technical innovations that would help the studio make a smooth transition from silent to sound films.
• • Despite being a visionary, in 1932 B.P. Schulberg was kicked to the curb during a studio-wide purge. Though he continued his Tinseltown trajectory, as an independent producer, he never regained his hotshot status. He retired in 1943 and bemoaned an "indifferent and forgetful industry."
• • Ben Schulberg died in Key Biscayne, Florida on 25 February 1957. He was 65.
• • "The Experts Derided Mae West" • •
• • Journalist 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."
• • Ben 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.
• • Dated 19 January 1889 in the city of Brooklyn • •
• • It was Saturday, 19 January 1889, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY, Battling Jack West and Tillie Delker took their wedding vows before a local minister with Jack's sister Julia West acting as maid of honor.
• • California biographer Emily Wortis Leider wrote: If they knew about it, Matilda's family almost certainly would have attempted to thwart her impetuous marriage at age eighteen to John "Battlin' Jack" West, a cigar-chomping, street-smart tough. The marriage certificate of Tillie Delker and John West, dated January 19, 1889, in the city of Brooklyn — — a separate city then, not yet a part of metropolitan New York — — lists the groom's age as twenty-two, his birthplace as New York City, and his occupation: "mechanic."
• • On Monday, 19 January 1981 in The N.Y. Times • •
• • Readers of The N.Y. Times opened their newspaper on Monday, 19 January 1981 and they read this startling headline: "Mae West Left Million, Mostly to Her Sister." A reporter based in California filed the story for Reuters, which was date-lined from Los Angeles.
• • LOS ANGELES, January 18 — Mae West, who died in November [1980] at the age of 87, left $1 million, according to her will filed in court here.
• • Paul Novak, a former ''muscleman'' in her stage act who was her constant companion for the last 25 years, was not mentioned in the will, filed on Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court.
• • A petition for probate estimated the value of Miss West's personal property at $1 million with an annual income of $50,000. She left the bulk of her estate, including her jewelry, to her sister, Mildred West. Other bequests included one for $3,500 to the Mae West Fan Club of Ontario.
• • Miss West, unlike the character she played on the screen, led a quiet private life and invested much of her money in property.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: "The act went over very big."
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • On 19 January 1912 the New Jersey World mentioned "willowy" Mae West.
• • The New Jersey World wrote: The real surprise of the bill was a May West [sic] and Company. No one seems to have heard much of her, and inquiry showed she was new to the stage. But Miss West has a style and a willowy abandon that is intoxicating ....
• • Source: New Jersey World; published on Friday, 19 January 1912
• • By the Numbers • • 
• • The Mae West Blog was started eight years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 2551st 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:

Source: to Google

• • Photo:
• • Mae West • 1932
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