Tuesday, May 4, 2010
After showering our April tears for John G, let's move on to happier things and celebrate May's flower: Mae West!!!
Mae West is in a category all her own. When she first came around, there was no on like her, and now that she's gone, it is clear that there never could or will be another. Mae was a calculating businesswoman and a born entertainer. Her greatest joy in life came from giving the better parts of herself to others . So devoted was she to this cause, that she never let up on her own facade, even in her private life. She knew that, just as you can't have your cake and eat it too, you can't keep your idols when you bring them down to earth. In a time of financial and social depression, Mae remained the dependable diva, delivering sharp one-liners, decking herself out in diamonds, and lusciously curling her lips whenever a devious thought entered her head. To men, she was a sexy, no-nonsense dame who could give as well as she got. In other words, she was a turn-on. To women, she was a soul-sister, spreading a message of empowerment and liberation, and kicking down the wall between accepted male and female gender roles. There were no cliches in Mae's world, just honest, true-to-life characters played to the exaggerated limit! With her films, she invited hope and proved to the world that no matter what, no matter who you are or who people think you are, you deserve the best, and you can have it; all you have to do is reach out and grab it!
It's hard to see behind the caricatured remembrance that is Mae West. Today we seem to remember only a sex-crazed old lady who lived obliviously in her pink palace at the Ravenswood Apartments with boy-toys in tow. But this was not Mae. This was the illusion she created to loosen us up, relax our morals, and get us to enjoy life instead of waste it. Not that she didn't practice what she preached! But above her love of men or jewelry, Mae loved her work. One of the hardest working performers to set foot on the New York stage or the Hollywood sound stage, every effort she put forward was to create the best possible product for her fans. She was dedicated to doing something new and different and entirely her own, never settling for second best. For this, her audiences adored her and she them. She never refused an autograph; she never left a fan letter unanswered. She embraced all aspects of her career and her image, and for all of her 87 years did not disappoint.
Now, when watching I'm No Angel (above, with Cary Grant) or My Little Chickadee, the stories seem cheesy and the comedy is a bit outdated, but Mae remains as fresh-- and I do mean fresh-- as the day she set foot before the camera. Her one-liners are legendary, her attitude is indefinable, and her personality is unmatched. Mae was all woman, but she let us see that she could play with the big boys. She doesn't slink around like some precious, demure leading lady-- she struts into frame and takes command! With her charismatic energy, she's not a spitfire or a firecracker, she's a whole damn volcano! At heart though, she was a kind friend, a giving soul, and a precious American treasure. Her passionate drive and her unstoppable smarts enabled her to go through life with a wink and a smile, justly achieving any goal she dared to dream.
For all she gave, she has rightfully earned her place in the Hollywood heart. She was a class act on screen and in life. In Night After Night, Mae responds to a coat-check girl's remark, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" by saying, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." At her funeral in 1980, the presiding preacher hit the nail on the head when he stated, "Goodness had everything to do with it." I quite agree. Goodness, and a little naughtiness too.