Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mae West: Blame Bridgeport

MAE WEST might have put the blame on Bridgeport — — but did she go back to bedevil a playhouse?
• • During the early 1920s, impresario Sylvestre Poli brought the Poli Palace to the Nutmeg State.
• • Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb and eventually renamed Loew's Palace Theater [1325 Main Street, Bridgeport, CT 06604], this landmark was the biggest movie theater ever erected in Connecticut — — and the largest among Bridgeport's 20-plus theaters. Poli's was actually one of two theaters built inside a single building (the other being the Majestic).
• • Despite the public's curiosity about the controversial vaudevillian Mae West, and her latest play "The Drag," Jim Timony could only manage to secure half a week at Poli's Park, which was then in use as a burlesque house in Bridgeport. It was a dreary and wintery Monday on 31 January 1927 when the Morals Production Company hoisted a banner over the trolley cars criss-crossing Main Street. Pedestrians were intrigued by this saucy announcement: "The Drag" by the author of SEX — — more sensational than Rain or The Captive!"

• • While they were lodging at the Arcade Hotel, Beverly West and Edward Elsner (Mae's sister and director) were arrested at 5 AM on 2 February 1927. Both the play and the arrest were the talk of Bridgeport.
• • Ghost-busting and career-boosting • •
• • Currently researching a local squad of spirit-chasing cops, whose haunts are the historic Bridgeport theaters, John Burgeson has alerted readers of The Connecticut Post to the intersection of ghost-busting and career-boosting aims currently afoot on Main Street.
• • Writing from Bridgeport, John Burgeson asks the famous question: When the ghosts that haunt Bridgeport's old Poli Palace theater get out of line, who you gonna call?
• • Why the cops, of course — — or, more specifically, the East Coast Paranormal Police.
• • Now, the newly formed ECPP might have a shot at fame. On Monday, a TV producer was in town to shoot footage of the ghost-hunting cops in action inside the Poli Palace and Majestic theaters downtown on Main Street, two long-abandoned, historic showplaces that score high on the creepiness scale.
• • "Today, we're doing a pitch tape for a new show we have in mind," said Rob Johnson, a production coordinator for Pangolin Pictures. "We understand that the Poli Palace might be haunted and Jim Myers suspects that there might be a poltergeist here."
• • Jim Myers, a 12-year veteran with the Bridgeport Police Department, is the man behind the ECPP, which has been getting help from one of the heavy hitters in the ghost-hunting business, famed psychic and Monroe resident Lorraine Warren.
• • Pangolin Pictures, which has three Emmy Awards to its credit, is primarily a producer of nature films for cable networks. These include "Tarantulas: King of Spiders" and "Jaws and Claws."
• • Johnson notes that while there are other ghost-hunter shows, Pangolin likes the fact that Myers uses "police training" to investigate strange occurrences.
• • "We think that's an interesting angle that will be new to paranormal shows," he said. "In 'Ghost Hunters,' they're plumbers by trade. Jim's group all have had police training."
• • On Monday, Johnson and his assistant, Gina Fitch, were busy shooting footage of Myers and his 11-person team as they explored the dusty innards of the Poli Palace and two attached buildings, the Majestic theater and the Savoy Hotel.
• • In 2007, the direct-to-video cop action flick starring Steven Seagal shot in downtown Bridgeport included scenes filmed at the Poli and Majestic theaters. The showcases continued screening movies sporadically into the early 1970s, long past their glory days as venues for elaborate live entertainment, and later for first-run Hollywood movies. Through the early 1950s, it wasn't unusual for movie stars to turn out on opening night to boost attendance.
• • While plans have been floated over the years to restore the theaters, nothing has ever become of them. Johnson hopes that the pitch tape, which will be about five minutes long, will be pedaled to the various cable channels, such as Discovery, National Geographic Channel, TLC, the History Channel and so forth. He said that it may take six months or longer for the channels to decide whether to proceed with the idea.
• • "It's just a quick piece to show Jim and his team, and what they can do," Johnson said, "and to show the network what it would look like as a series."
• • If a network picks up the idea, the ECPP would be central to the show, which would follow the team as it checks out various reports of paranormal activity up and down the East Coast, Johnson said.
• • Bridgeport City Historian Mary Witkowski, also interviewed Monday by Johnson, said there's no shortage of reasons why there might be strange goings-on inside the theaters.
• • Mae West: Is that you? • •
• • "First it could be the Golden Hill Paugusset [Indian] tribe, whose graves may have been disturbed when they built there. It could be Dutch Schultz, the rum-runner who was murdered in New Jersey — — he did a lot of business in Bridgeport back in the 1930s. Or, it even could be Mae West ---- she had performed here, got into trouble and spent the night in jail," Witkowski said. "Maybe she wants to get back at us."
• • Myers said he has 16 to 18 members in the ECPP, and all are trained in police work. "I actually come in here on a weekly basis because the city gave me the key, so I can keep an eye on the place," Myers said. "I've seen a couple of photos that were taken here that were pretty strange."
— — Source: — —
• • Article: "Ghost-hunting cops haunt historic Bridgeport theaters"
• • Byline: By John Burgeson
• • Published in: The Connecticut Post — — www.connpost.com
• • Published on: 11 May 2009
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

• • The arrest at the Arcade Hotel after "The Drag" is dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West." Beverly's drunken antics and Mae's strategies are featured in Act I, Scene 2. You can watch a portion of this surprising scene on YouTube.
• • The "scene of the crime" is still in business: Arcade Hotel 1001 Main St, Bridgeport, CT 06604; Tel (203) 333-9376.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Poli's and Main Street in 1927 • •
• • Feed — — http://feeds2.feedburner.com/MaeWest
Mae West.

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