It just so happened that last weekend I was channel surfing and came across a movie on Turner Classic Movies starring Cary Grant and Mae West titled I'm No Angel.
I have always loved Cary Grant. Not so much his co-star. It had been a long time since I had watched a Mae West movie in its entirety, if ever, that I can recall. It was near the beginning of the show and Cary Grant had not yet appeared on the screen. But, there was Mae, engaged in the type of banter that made her famous. Ok, I thought, I'll stick with this and see where it goes. It was the best decision I would make all weekend. Within minutes, I was laughing my fool head off. Mae, where have you been all my life?
Mae sang, flirted, swaggered, vamped and strutted her stuff, all the while delivering with that sultry voice the best one-liners I have ever heard come from a female's mouth on screen - better than Marlena Dietrich, Betty Davis, Roseanne Barr, Rosy O'Donnell, and Lucille Ball all rolled into one.
Mae West was born in 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. When she was five, she first performed at a church social. At seven she began to appear in amateur talent shows which she often won. By the time she was 14, she was playing in Vaudeville shows with the stage name of Baby Mae. It was here she honed her delivery of her one-line zingers with double meanings.
At one point in her early career she even tried being a male impersonator. Her first show on Broadway was Sex, a show she herself produced, as well as wrote and directed. The New York City officials weren't too crazy about the subject and had the theater raided by the police. She, as well as the cast, was arrested and she subsequently was sentenced to 10 days in prison on moral charges. While at the prison, she reportedly had supper with the warden and his wife and told the news media that she wore silk underpants in prison. After serving eight days, she was released, having reduced her sentence by two days for "good behavior".
She went to Hollywood in 1930 and appeared in her first movie in 1932 at the age of 38, surprisingly old to be a sex symbol. In that movie, Night After Night, she had a relatively small part, with which she wasn't too happy. Her co-star, George Raft, said of her performance, "She stole everything except the camera." In one scene, a hat check girl says, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." to which Mae quips, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." And so her course in films was set. I read somewhere while researching this post that she was only 5 '1", but on screen she appears taller, maybe because of her high heels or because she was so statuesque. Maybe it was because of her larger than life persona. At one point in her career, she was the highest paid actor in show business. The profits from her films are credited for saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy!
|The Dick Cavett Show interview|
don' t think I ever did even in my 20's! I shudder to think what I might be like at 80....I am sure there will not be one ounce of sexiness connected to me when I reach that age. But Mae, well she just had IT, whatever IT is, even at 80. If you go on www.youtube.com you can see part of that interview for yourself.
Her voluptuous curves, swaggered walk and personality have became part of our culture in ways I never knew. The classic iconic Coke bottle shape is said to be modeled after Mae's body! The Coke ad slogan "It's the Real Thing" came years after, but one thing is for certain, Mae's figure was just that...the real thing.
Mae died in 1980 at the age of 87. She was once quoted as saying,
As for me, I am a walking contradiction in terms. Part of me is a traditionalist. A conservative. A prude. A straight-laced, raised in the Bible Belt, follow-the rules, nose-to-the-grindstone type of gal. I can't help it; I was raised that way. I come from a long line of staid Southern women. However, on the other hand, I am a rebel. A non-conformist. A push-the envelope, think-outside-the-box, funky, eclectic woman. There's a place for both sides of me in my life. But I confess.... yes, here's the confession for this week.... I confess that the older I get, the more I hope that the less conventional side of me wins out a little more often, that I am not afraid to speak out, show my personality, and be a little like Mae West, who broke the mold.
God bless you, Mae, for making me laugh and showing me that, as a woman, I can be content to be me, no matter how outrageous that may be or how old I get! There's something to be said in the freedom that offers. Don't worry, though, I'm not about to be a raging women's libber and go out and burn my bra. Mae, even in her zaniest moments, knew the value of a good bra to keep "the girls" up front and forward. Which reminds me, I need to go shopping.........