Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Mae West: Harlem Heated

Jill Watts, biographer of MAE WEST, a distinguished professor at CSUSM, and a talented author of books on Father Divine [1879—1965] and Hattie McDaniel [1895—1952], which has inspired a new film about the Oscar winner, has kindly consented to an exclusive interview with The Mae West Blog. This is Part 2.
• • Was Mae West black? • • 
• • JILL WATTS: She explained that she assumed she was because of how she talked and sang.  I thought that was interesting. So I started to read up on Mae and discovered that she had spent a lot of time in Harlem and that she had strong connections with a number of black artists. 
• • JW: Shortly afterward, I was browsing the shelves in a used bookstore and discovered a book entitled “The Constant Sinner.”  I was astonished to find that Mae West had written it and it was a steamy novel about a relationship between a white woman and a black man.  That was usual for the early 1930s. 
• • JW: I decided that there was more to Mae West than we thought we knew and that I wanted to write a biography that told the story of how she developed as a performer and her relationship not only to gender issues but also race and class. 
• • Mae West drew much inspiration from black culture • •  . . .
• • This exciting interview with Prof. Jill Watts will be continued on the next post.
• • Recommended Reading: “Mae West: An Icon in Black and White” by Jill Watts [Oxford University Press; paperback edition, 2003]; 400 pages.
• • Why Mae gave Howard Merling 22 1/2% of the royalties • •
• • Howard Merling did all the Harlem research for Mae’s play and novel.
• • Howard Merling, Bert Merling, and Mae got together in June 1931 — — and a simple handwritten statement was signed by all three. In their 2-page contract Mae West agrees to pay her collaborator Howard Merling 22 1/2% of the royalties received from the play "The Constant Sinner," based on Mae West's novel "Babe Gordon." 
• • For this drama set in Harlem, Howard Merling (who was a Caucasian writer) had contributed research material about racy night clubs, gambling, pimps, negroes, drug addicts, drug dealers, prostitutes, speakeasies, and other low-life pleasure-seeking for this novel about a black pimp named Money Johnson, boxer Bearcat Delaney, and Babe Gordon, a white woman. Mae West always worked with collaborators.
• • "The Constant Sinner" opened on Broadway in September 1931.

• • On Sunday, 1 August 1937 • •
• • Frank Wallace, the man Mae West wed in April 1911 but ditched soon after, seemed to have the best memory in the world. Or so he convinced the Los Angeles reporter who sat down with him for this lengthy interview published in Singapore on Sunday, 1 August 1937.
• • The page 1 article was "Mae West's Romance Told by Husband." 
• • Confessions Magazine. 1937, Mae West cover, with that provocative phrase "Sex Appeal." Wow..
• • Overheard in Hollywood •
• • Courtney Love was hardly ever without a tiara (albeit more Claire’s Accessories than Cartier) subverting the iconography of Mae West and Victorian dollies to conjure up her subversive grunginess.
• • In Her Own Words • •
• • Mae West said: “The wages of sin are sables and a film contract.”
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • Thee Gleaner mentioned Mae West.
• • The Gleaner carried a story on Sunday, 18 August 1935 saying that Frank Wallace and Trixie LeMae were visiting her mother, Lena Carey.
• • "Yesterday, incidentally, was Miss West's birthday," revealed her former husband Frank Wallace to the news media, "and — — she was 42."
• • "The nerve of a brass monkey," was Mae West's response.  . . .
• • Source: Item in The Gleaner; published on Sunday, 18 August 1935
• • The evolution of 2 Mae West plays that keep her memory alive • • 
• • A discussion with Mae West playwright LindaAnn LoSchiavo — — 
• •
• • The Mae West Blog celebrates its 14th anniversary • •  
• • Thank you for reading, sending questions, and posting comments during these past fourteen years. Not long ago, we entertained 3,497 visitors. And we reached a milestone recently when we completed 4,000 blog posts. Wow!  
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started fourteen years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 4014th 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:


• • Photo:
• • Mae West • in 1937

• • Feed — —
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