EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS BEST?

Hat-check girl in Mae West’s first film: “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds.”
Mae West: “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Some actors and actresses (and I don’t mean this pejoratively) basically play themselves in their films, while others are so believable and natural in varied roles and genres, they completely inhabit whatever given character they portray. An example of the latter, going back to Hollywood’s Golden Age, is Henry Fonda (if you think he played only serious parts, you haven’t seen the classic 1941 comedy, THE LADY EVE, in which he co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck — another of the most versatile players of that era).

Mae West was of the first category, very much the Diamond Lil character she created. Today being her birthday (8/17/1893), it’s her day to sparkle:

It has been said that “Mae West literally constituted a one-woman genre.” Basically playing herself, she was one of the country’s biggest box office draws in the 1930s, despite being almost 40 years old when offered her first movie contract (by Paramount) in 1932. Previously, she’d appeared in a number of rather risqué plays, including Diamond Lil and her first starring role on Broadway (appropriately titled Sex), which she wrote, produced and directed. As with all the plays she wrote and performed in, there was much controversy and publicity, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling.

Her first film (see opening quote) was NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, making such an impression that co-star George Raft reportedly said, “She stole everything but the cameras.” Her next film, SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933), featured Cary Grant in one of his first major roles, and was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. It was such a big moneymaker that it saved Paramount from bankruptcy in the midst of the Great Depression.

West went on to make six more movies in the 1930s, but in 1934, the Production Code began to be strictly enforced, and censors doubled down on her double-entendres. By today’s standards, such censorship seems ludicrous, but those were moralistic times, and after her last ‘naughty’ picture for Paramount in 1937, they thought it best to terminate her contract if they knew what’s good for them. She did manage to make one more hit movie, co-starring with W. C. Fields in My Little Chickadee for Universal Pictures in 1940.

Unbawdied and unbowed, when asked about puritanical attempts to impede her career, West wisecracked, “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.” Not for nothing was one of her nicknames “The Statue of Libido.” She died in 1980 at the age of 87.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Coincidentally, August 17 is also the birthday of my mother, who passed away 17 years ago. Happy Birthday, Mom — YOU WERE THE BEST.

30 comments on “EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS BEST?

  1. Happy Birthday to one of my favorites – and risque she was. In the elevator, a man said to her (as she was nearest the console), “Ballroom, please.” Her reply? “Oh, I didn’t know I was crowding you.”

    I’m sure your mother was a great deal more appropriate, but I’ll bet she was just as memorable. Raise a birthday toast to her for me.

    FUN post!
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      That’s a great quote, Madelyn — I hadn’t heard it before…. And thank you for the “memorable” thoughts concerning my mother: much deserved by her and appreciated by me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Have you heard the one about her climbing a staircase lined with young men in one of her films? She never lifted her eyes above their belts and, at one point she paused and said, “Oh, a new one!” Outrageous always.

        You are most welcome, btw, for my comment about your mother. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Outstanding tribute to Mae !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don Frankel says:

    Too bad she never made a movie with Groucho Marx. They wouldn’t have needed a script.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mistermuse says:

      That would’ve been one hell of a movie, Don. Throw in Dorothy Parker (even though she never acted), and we wouldn’t have been able to ‘keep up’ with the double-entendres.

      Like

    • literaryeyes says:

      She wrote her own material. I bet grouch did too. Geniuses like that are rare these days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse says:

        I can appreciate why you might think Groucho wrote his own stuff. However, having read several books on the Marx Brothers, the fact is that Groucho didn’t write the scripts for their movies; the Marx’s were so zany and hard to hold to script that their ad libs/antics usually took precedence over what was written for them (even though very good writers, such as George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, worked on their films).

        Like

    • mistermuse says:

      I re-thank you for another public service (or disservice, depending upon one’s point of view) on my behalf. Remind me to give you a raise if you keep this up. 😦

      Like

      • moorezart says:

        LOL – I find what you do most engaging. I simply can’t help myself. Even as a child I couldn’t help sharing with my friends whatever treasure I had found in my Cracker Jack’s Box.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse says:

        I remember Cracker Jacks well — I think they’ve been around even longer than I have, if that’s possible (not that I liked them all that much). I vaguely recall a time or two, as a boy, buying a box just for the “treasure” and throwing away the Cracker Jacks. Too bad I don’t still have the treasures — I could take them on Antiques Roadshow and find out if they’re worth thousands today. One never knows, do one?

        Like

  4. Carmen says:

    I wonder if she was the inspiration for the, “Did you get your ears lowered?” comment. I use it regularly at school and get lots of blank stares in response – from High School folk. 🙂 Once in awhile I get, “Hey! My grandparents say that!” (which gives me pause, as you would think)

    Nice post, mister, from the East ‘girl’! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ricardo says:

    Fulsome praise for the filthy-minded, Sr. Muse. We hear it so infrequently. Muchas gracias.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carmen says:

      “Fulsome praise for the filthy-minded” – excellent – ha, ha! 🙂 (the mister is hesitant in replying; he’s having a hard time with a rejoinder, methinks)

      Liked by 1 person

      • mistermuse says:

        Carmen, contrary to unpopular belief, I don’t sit in front of my computer for hours at a time (except when I fall asleep) waiting for comments to pop up that I can shoot down….though I will admit that in the hours after I post, I wish I didn’t have to get up from my chair to go to the john every 15 minutes (just kidding, of course — and now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see a man about a horse). 😦

        Like

      • Carmen says:

        Ha, ha! Well, I’ve been making Barbie clothes for several days so every time the computer dings I welcome the interruption. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      No problem, Ricardo. I’d say more, but I’m having female problems (not that Carmen isn’t well worth it — haha).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. restlessjo says:

    Queen of the one-liners 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. literaryeyes says:

    I’m a Mae West fan and have been known to binge on her movies. In one she does a naughty dance that was so naughty they filmed her from the waist up! Seriously, she was a pioneer in promoting women as sexy AND intelligent. She put gays and transvestites in her plays. She didn’t do it just to shock, she did it because she believed in respect for people no matter what their sexuality or gender orientation, and especially for women.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mistermuse says:

    Although I own a number of biographies/autobiographies of Hollywood Golden Age movie stars, I’ve never read one by or about Mae West, so I didn’t know some of what you describe. Thanks for the info.

    Like

  9. Mél@nie says:

    Salvador Dali was also fascinated by her… she was a FREE woman – une avant-gardiste!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      Indeed! Mae was both a woman of her time (1920s-early 1930s) and too much woman for highly puritanical times (from 1934 on, when rigid censorship curtailed, and subsequently ended, her freedom to make the movies she wanted to make).

      Like

  10. scifihammy says:

    Mae West was an amazing woman! As I’m sure was your Mother too. Always nice to remember our loved ones on special days.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s