Like: Mae West (1940)

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

If by chance you have never seen a Mae West comedic performance, do yourself a favor, and rectify that situation immediately.

Granted, Mae West made her entire career on one great shtick: she’d talk in a sultry tough-dame voice and bang out one liners. Seriously, that and a little bit of singing was her entire career. Check out any of her movie. It’s almost all she does moment to moment, line after line… and it is glourious.

But do not mistake this directness for Mae West being a vacant prop, pumping out studio-fed lines just with her own bit of gusto. The truth is anything but. She was a true comedic auteur, with an active brilliance and polish behind that one singular and glourious shtick. She was complete product of the vaudeville stage, the place where she sharpened her wit and creative savvy.  Her early career involved some serious taboo and boundary pushing, she even got arrested for performing her play entitled “SEX.” She would then bring that edginess and creativity to her film roles and actually WROTE many of the movies she starred in (an incredible feat for the time… wait a minute… pardon my language but what the fuck am I talking about? That’s incredible feat today. Name me a female actress/star who writes her own movies? [Cricket Cricket] Just Tina Fey? … that’s all I can think of… one.). The edginess and double-entendre laden dialogue of her early films like I’M NO ANGEL (1933) were considered lewd enough by the uptight-nicks that it led to the censorship era of Hollywood with the Movie Production Code (well they were just SOME of the films and a lot of it actually had to do with communism fears, but Mae West’s stuff is often cited as a driving force). Fed up with code by the mid-40’s West returned to the stage where her antics were both more appreciated and under the radar.

But as for her short run of movies, whichever genius came up with the idea of pairing her with WC Fields deserves a medal, as MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940) is one of my favorite movies. Those not familiar W.C. Fields should also make themselves aware of his comedic stylings. Fields and West are actually doppelgangers of sorts. Both had finely tuned one-note personas (Field’s being the witty, scheming drunk with just as uncanny diction) with sharp tongues and ever sharper minds. Their pairing was so obvious and  perfect…  So naturally, they hated each other. Neither liked to play second fiddle and there’s the famous stories about each of them furiously pumping out re-writes right into production in order to make themselves the star. Which is wonderful for us, because that drive/spite helped push the films so that almost every single line and moment really, truly funny. It also had the added effect of letting their natural hatred of each other show up so palpably on screen. Thankfully, the characters are just trying to play each other the whole time so it’s completely called for. The film actually had a decent budget for the time, but they play it low much to their own success. It provides some hilarious slapstick and lets you throw up your hands at the obvious badness of the whole proceeding. When you roll with the punches,  you will enjoy a truly classic movie.

Thanks Mae.

A scene from My Little Chickadee

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index.jsp?cid=238503

The best youtube video I could find to embed was this horrible quality I’M NO ANGEL  … which is sad, but work with what you got:

THE WHOLE MOVIE IS ON HULU

http://www.movieweb.com/video/HUBtkGBHMjEZFI

And lastly some Mae West quotes (Via IMDB):

A hard man is good to find.

When caught between two evils I generally pick the one I’ve never tried before.

When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.

I believe in censorship. After all, I made a fortune out of it.

I only like two kinds of men: domestic and foreign.

I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing.

I wrote the story myself. It’s all about a girl who lost her reputation but never missed it.

Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere else.

I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.

Ten men waiting for me at the door? Send one of them home, I’m tired.

I do all my writing in bed; everybody knows I do my best work there.

Few men know how to kiss well. Fortunately, I’ve always had time to teach them.

Why don’t you come sometime and see me? I’m home every evening . . . Come up, and I’ll tell your fortune.

A dame that knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up.

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One Response to Like: Mae West (1940)

  1. Bevin says:

    I’ve always admired Mae West, or at least what I’ve heard of her. Bawdy without being trashy or making it seem like she was trying too hard– she was the best at what she did.

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