19 December 2014

We Still Don't Appreciate Mae - the Auteur


I had a poster of this on my bedroom wall.

I loved Mae West from the first minute I saw her — which was probably in one of her lesser movies, My Little Chickadee. At the time (the late 60s) there was a lot of interest in W.C. Fields, and this film was shown a lot. The pairing was indeed funny, if uneasy for the two of them, but at the time he was the admired iconoclast and she was basically just a sex symbol. That was admirable in its way; but no one realized what a complete original she was — or what a creative force.

Everyone who is interested knows the story that Mae saved Paramount. What people don’t realize, even today, is how much of that rescue she was directly responsible for. Mae not only wrote her own script for “She Done Him Wrong” — from her own successful stage play — but she had final approval on just about everything, from director to casting to costumes to music. The delightful movie that brought in those millions was all down to her choices and decisions.
Lady Lou
This has never happened again; no one performer has ever even asked for such power, much less gotten it. I’m still not sure how she did it, to tell the truth, except that the executives in charge of the studio were so desperate that they were willing to take a chance on one last throw of the dice. But it certainly paid off, for everybody.

The persona she devised with her writing and performances is such a wonderful creation — so full of life, so interested, so lively and self-confident. She’s never sulky, never moody, never ungenerous or mean. On the other hand, she’s ready to defend herself against all comers — nobody intimidates her.
Tira and friend.
Nothing daunted her, from putting her head in a lion’s mouth to singing grand opera (yes, that’s really her, in both cases). She faces scary situations and relies on herself to get out of them. She’s always willing to help a friend, male or female. And at the same time she blasts through restrictive sexual conventions with no hesitation at all.
"You don't need feet to be a dancer."
And best of all, to me — and I freely admit that this may be different for her male and female fans — is her constant wit. Some of her scripts are marvelous satires in themselves — the spoiled movie star in “Go West Young Man”; Tira, the Girl of the People, fencing with the obnoxious upper class bitch in “I’m No Angel” “Can you imagine that broad discussing me in that manner?” then explaining to extra-hot Jack Clayton, "She came over here and got nasty; I had to put her in her place."; effortlessly juggling hordes of panting admirers in “Belle of the Nineties”. And her writing was not superficial; most of us can sympathize with Cleo’s plaintive philosophical question in “Goin’ to Town”, “Why do I have to like THAT guy?”
She sure could pick 'em --- With Gilbert Roland

With Warren William






Censorship eventually did in her movie career; she simply went back to the stage, with a phenomenally successful nightclub act. And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing; I wouldn’t want to see her playing smaller roles. I’m just grateful for what we have. But really, where are the classy remastered versions of her work? Where are the annotated box sets? Why doesn't she get the limousine treatment that other creative originals get today?