Monday, April 7, 2014

Slut of the Month: Mae West

Brazen. Bold. Bawdy. 

I made myself platinum,
but I was born a dirty blonde.

Tillie, a Bavarian wanna-be model/actress,  and Battlin' Jack West, a sometime boxer and more frequent street brawler, named their pretty blue-eyed daughter Mary Jane. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on 17 August 1893, a few years after Katie was born and died, the precocious, outgoing baby girl was doted on by both parents, even after the arrival of a sister, and later, a brother.

Battlin' Jack took his little girl to the gym (possibly where Mae developed her lifelong crush on boxers and muscle men), and stage mother Tillie enrolled her in dance class and amateur night at the local burlesque theaters, where "Baby Mae" often won.

Mae began performing in Vaudeville in the Hal Clarendon Stock Company at the age of 14, with Tillie as costumer, watchful chaperone, and business manager. At 17, while away from her mother's protective supervision, and touring the Midwest as part of a performing duo with Frank Wallace, a dancer, Mae secretly (and illegally, lying about her age on the marriage certificate), married her partner.

Later, she would deny the marriage had ever occurred, until forced to concede differently, and always insisted they'd never lived together as husband and wife. Certainly they separated at the end of the summer of 1911, and there's no indication they ever saw each other again. According to some accounts, they divorced in 1920; but they weren't officially divorced until 1942.

She never remarried and never had children, nor did she seem to miss them. In fact, she even refused parts in films where she would have had to portray a mother, however juicy the role. What is evident is that Mae was no fan of traditional marriage and its trappings.

Getting married is like trading in the adoration of many for the sarcasm of one.

Chastity? Who Needs It?

I wrote the story myself.  It's about a girl who lost her reputation
and never missed it.

According to one account, Mae ditched her virginity at age 13, to a 21-year-old actor who made love to her on the stairs of the vestibule. In another account, she said her first orgasm came via a dream where a large brown bear first entered her bedroom, and then entered her. (Was she, perhaps, molested?)

However it came about, clearly Mae developed a strong appetite for sex, early on, that never waned.

Good sex is like good bridge.
If you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand.

From Vaudeville to Broadway to Jail to Hollywood

I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.

At the end of 1911, Mae got a part in her first Broadway show, a comedy review called A La Broadway, which folded after eight performances. The show might have failed, but West impressed the Broadway Shubert brothers enough to score a role in Vera Violetta (which featured Al Jolson).

Eventually, Mae began writing her own material (as Jane Mast), and in 1926 opened a Broadway play called Sex, which brought down the vice squad, arresting her and most of the cast. She served eight days "in the slammer," with two off for good behavior, and was a model prisoner according to the warden. She next planned and began producing a play called Drag about homosexuality, which threatened to be more provocative yet. But although it did well in Connecticut and was a New Jersey hit, the threat of further prosecution dissuaded her from bringing it to New York.

Mae produced several other plays, and her Gay Nineties-themed Diamond Lil became a Broadway smash.

Hollywood took notice. In 1932, at the almost geriatric age of 39 (geriatric for a movie newcomer, and not that Mae admitted her age), she made a memorable appearance in Night after Night, then headlined and co-wrote 1933's She Done Him Wrong, featuring a young actor on his way up to do more than see her sometime, Cary Grant. That Academy Award nominated film is credited with saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. Her next picture, I'm No Angel (again pairing her with Cary Grant) was also a blockbuster. By 1935, the only person pulling in more money that year was newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

A Hard Man is Good to Find

But Mae certainly found plenty of them. Besides her not-really-a-husband, there was Italian-born Guido Deiro, another vaudeville performer, and star of the piano-accordion, with whom she had a hot-and-heavy affair from 1913-1916. She had moved to Hollywood in the 1930's with her lover/business manager Jim Timony, who was extremely jealous, but she found ways to sneak other men into her apartment at the Ravenswood.  She was partial to boxers, like African-American Gorilla Jones, and musclemen like wrestler/Mr. California Paul Novak (born Chester Rybinski), 30 years younger, who became her lover when she was 61, and who lived with her until her death in 1980 at age 87.

It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men.

Her Material Wasn't Always Original

Mae stole borrowed everything, from her bawdy persona (modeled after Eva Tanguay, a vaudeville sensation, and Texas Guinan, a blowsy, hand-on-her-hip owner of a popular speak-easy) to making her act primarily about double entendres, derived from African-American vaudeville star Bert Williams.  She also performed a dance called "The Shimmy" based on dancing she'd seen in Chicago "colored" nightclubs.

But anything Mae got her hips around, er, her lips around, became hers. Despite the impression she liked to give, her one-liners were never spontaneous, but creations she labored over, leaving an archive of well over 2,000 pages of notes just on one-liners alone, plus reams more of story ideas, play drafts, and other writings. Queen of one-liners, she coined or polished phrases that are still popular today, and used by people who have no idea of their Mae West connection. She found a way of twisting the most innocuous lines to make them provocative, and as for material that was smutty to begin with...

She may have done more than any other individual to horrify the pearl-clutchers and rush the Hays Office (founded to regulate "indecency" in motion pictures) into overdrive, resulting in her eventual downfall as a movie star. Her entire shtick was built around double entendres. With her material censored so heavily, there was little remaining of the Mae West wit that movie goers flocked to hear, and the movies she made after 1934, with the exception of 1940's My Little Chickadee, did poorly at the box office. She and several other big name stars were dubbed Box Office Poison in an advertorial by Harry Brandt.

Goodness Had Everything To Do With Mae

Except as required in film roles, Mae never smoked, and she wasn't a drinker, either. Nor was she fond of men (besides her father) who indulged in those vices.

She might've made bundles of money, but she gave much of it away, mostly anonymously. Whenever she got a new limo, the old one was passed down to a local convent. Of Jewish descent through her mother, raised (somewhat) Protestant, Mae donated generously to, and sometimes attended Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish services, though her own spiritual leanings were more towards spiritualism, and she was a fan of seances.

Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.

She also used her influence to get many vaudeville performers, now down on their luck, paying roles in the talkies, and was extremely generous with her lovers, many of them up-and-coming boxers. She was the main source of support for her sister Beverly and baby brother, John, and was devastated when her mother died in 1930, though when Battlin' Jack died in 1935, she kept filming after only a short break.

She Was No Angel

Men are like linoleum floors.  Lay 'em right
and you can walk all over 
them for years.

Mae apparently did not lay her directors. Most of them hated her for: 1) keeping theatre hours on a movie set (arriving late, working late), and 2) insisting on rewriting her lines or changing the lighting, often as scenes were being filmed. Mae believed that each movie, each scene, was all about her, and to hell with the idea of story or continuity or shooting schedule. Still, every story about her mentions her tireless work ethic, regardless of the medium (stage, screen, radio, etc.) in which she was performing.

To Mae, truth was whatever she wanted it to be. She frequently shaved years off her age, claimed never to diet (she did), never to have had a professional failure (she had several big ones), and while a great proponent of daily sex (and daily enemas, ew!), expressed stern disapproval of adultery (hers, apparently, did not count). She wore wigs to disguise the loss of her hair, and wore extreme corsets to obtain that hourglass figure, plus padding in strategic places, along with platform shoes to add height. She took lovers as it pleased her, usually while happily deceiving her current boyfriend that he was her one and only.

Ultimately, she was honest about her life philosophy.

I never loved another person the way I loved myself.

She Never Retired Gracefully

While she might not have worked in the movie industry for a span of decades, Mae traveled to the UK and did plays, appeared on radio shows (one getting her into much hot water), and even recorded a couple of rock albums. She wrote (and later updated) her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, and did a Vegas stage show surrounded by mancandy where she met Paul Novak, her last steady boyfriend... She also believed that she still looked 26, even into her eighties, and was mortally offended when people didn't help her maintain the fiction that they thought so, too.

Mae probably shouldn't have done her last film, Sextette, filmed in 1976. Stories say she had to have a speaker in her wig read her the lines, and a production assistant crawling below the camera shot to move her around the stage, that she was disoriented and forgetful. While her next-to-last film, Myra Breckinridge, has achieved cult popularity, consensus is that Sextette is merely awful, and not in a fun, campy way.

In 1980 Mae suffered a stroke, followed by complications, then a second stroke, and died shortly thereafter. She was entombed in the family crypt she'd purchased in Brooklyn, along with her parents, her brother John who died in 1964, and her sister Beverly, who only outlived her by a year and a few months.

Mae was also outlived by:
  • Slang for life jackets = "Mae Wests"
  • The cover of the Beatles' Lonely Hearts Club Band album
  • Salvador Dali's Mae West Lips Sofa
  • A statue at Hollywood & La Brea in Los Angeles (also commemorating other leading ladies of cinema)
  • A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street.

Dozens of witty one-liners. Here's a few more:
  • You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
  • I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.
  • An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.
  • He's a self-made man, and he worships his creator.
  • Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
  • Cultivate your curves - they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided.
  • Marriage is a great institution but I'm not ready for an institution.
  • To err is human - but it feels divine.
  • Pretended virtue is the worst vice.
  • When women go wrong, men go right after them.
  • Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!

Past Sluts: Go to the For Sluts Only page for links to past sluts in this series.

 Are you a Mae West fan?
What's your favorite Mae West quote?

Your thoughts?
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Can't Write? Don't Give Up

Many experts tell us: Write Every Day, Write Every Day. If you want to be successful as an Author, You must Write Every Day.

But what if you can't? What if evil circumstances in your life are firmly cock writer-blocking you from getting up-close-and-personal with your muse?

Yeah, yeah, I know Lauren Hillenbrand labored on while disabled by chronic fatigue syndrome, other writers scratched out a sentence or a paragraph of their novels every single day. If what was going on with me was me, was my own physical ailments or broken heart or whatever, I could deal, but it's not me, it's my family.

My sis and her hubs, at their favorite place, not so very long ago.

The Crises

For those of you not following this blog (or actually having your own life), the Cliffnotes:

  • My sister has a serious form of cancer, with a not-so-great survival rate (28%).
  • Days after going through extensive surgery for said cancer (early December), her husband had a major stroke.
  • Following said stroke, his liver, which was already impaired, began failing. Taking his kidneys with it.
  • We've had the "This Looks Like The End" convo with doctors regarding him at least twice a month for the last five months, and grieved accordingly. Then he's rallied or stabilized... until the next time.
  • Months in the hospital (for him), followed by weeks at (temporary) home, which requires 24/7 attendance for him, and he gets two hospice visits a week (plus call, and the hospice people have been great). We are currently in another phase of "This Really Looks Like The End," as he doesn't want to leave his bed or eat. (But we've been here before, too. Do we grieve? Do we not grieve? If anybody's got tips on how to manage that trick, I'd love to hear 'em.)
  • Chemotherapy from hell continues for my poor sister, requiring shots, blood transfusions, and endless prune juice cocktails, though hopefully, she is almost on the other side of chemo... provided there is no recurrence.
Cover of "The End (A Series of Unfortunat...
Cover via Amazon

Other family members have experienced minor inconveniences like major car accidents, out-of-nowhere onset of bi-polar mania with psychosis, and other challenges. No, we're not the Baudelaire family from Lemony Snicket, and as far as I know, nobody's pissed off a gypsy.

What I Did On Winter Vacation... and Spring Break

I feel very blessed in my family, who are loving and supportive and awesome, despite our current trials & tribulations. I also feel exhausted, physically and emotionally, and I'm not the one burdened with the heavy lifting. My role has been assisting several nights a week while my BIL was in the hospital, helping to cover on the weekends, and schlepping family to-and-from the airport. Plus my 40+ hours full time job, which has been in its busiest season.

This has not left much time or energy for writing. For an analogy of what's been going on in my brain and heart, I feel like my foot is encased in a large cement block.

And that somebody shot me in the other leg.

Weighted down, dull and draggy, alternating with stabs of acute pain.

I Soldier On, But...

I simply don't have the attention or focus to work on my novels right now.

I think of those works, wistfully. Sometimes I have dreams about them. I know that some people can write novels when all on the same day, their house is on fire and their husband just came out as gay and a dingo stole their baby, and kudos to those who can swing it, but I'm not one of that tribe.

I've tried. It just ain't there.

Evernote and My Steno Pad Are My Besties

Evernote (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm still (occasionally) writing a short piece, or my Slut of the Month posts. Book reviews. And whenever, wherever I get an idea, I jot it down. Sometimes it's for one of my novels, sometimes it's for a new project, sometimes it's for a blog post. When I have free lunch minutes, I'll transfer my notes from paper to Evernote. (Or make 'em directly into Evernote if I've got WiFi.)

Because I haven't given up on writing, it's just postponed. Even though the drama of the past seven months makes me feel like I have been living in crisis mode forever, I know that this, too, will end.

Love Will Keep Me Together

Self-love, that is, and I'm not talking about my vibrator collection. My family (and I) are depending on me to take care of myself, and not get into a car accident or otherwise break down. So I am eating healthy (plus some chocolate), and sleeping when I can (love my naps!), and when I do have an hour or so free, I am trying to spend it on this beautiful thing:

Because it would be too easy to just become a chocolate-eating lump and not do any cardio work.

And I'm doing meditations. My ever-expanding Tara Brach collection has really helped me through this rough time, especially this audio program.

All those people who say that if you don't write every day, you are doomed (as a writer), I say phooey on them. I believe (maybe because I have to) that you can pick up where you left off, at least in terms of writing novels. Probably not without lots of effort, true. It does take more time to get in the groove once you've been away for a while.

But it can be done, it has been done by others, and as soon as life gives me the opportunity, I plan on doing it. I'm not giving up on me, and whatever your current writing roadblock, I encourage you not to give up on you, either.

Have you ever taken an involuntary writing break?
How did you get yourself back in the groove?
Your thoughts?
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