Friday, April 19, 2024

Speaking of Mae West

The New Yorker magazine recently shared a link to an article which is a reminder that the New Yorker has been around for a long time. A profile of that daring Mae West titled Mae West, the Queen of New York from 1928.

This was right before West went out to Hollywood and never went back to New York. 

And if she hadn't done, we probably would know her name no better than we know the name of Ina Claire, mentioned in the article:

Mae West has little interest in anything outside the theatre. Her reading is confined usually to Variety or any occasional newspaper. She does not even know the names of important theatrical figures unless she has come into direct contact with them. The other night Ina Claire came to see “Diamond Lil.” When Mae West was told she was out front she said, “All right, bring her in. But who is she?”

Although Claire also appeared in films and apparently could be as scandalous as West.

The author of the piece, Thyra Samter Winslow, was pretty prescient:

I have no idea how far Mae West will go, whether she will fade out to “that little place on Long Island” all good vaudeville people long for, or will write, year after year, hokum, melodramas, and sex thrillers to shock the worthies of the town, but I don’t think “Diamond Lil” is her last success.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Clara from Brooklyn

Clara Bow didn't make many talkies, and I've never seen or heard any until I found a copy of a 1929 movie "Dangerous Curves" on YouTube. Bow plays a circus tightrope walker. I knew Bow was from Brooklyn - Prospect Heights (Mae West was also from Brooklyn but Greenpoint) but I did not know how much of a Brooklyn accent she had - or at least had for this role - listen to her say "pah-tik-yah-lee cawfee." 

It was close to her own accent, but she could certainly do the mid-Atlantic accent as can be heard in this clip from "Call Her Savage." 

"This is java - but java."


Bow plays another circus performer in "Hoopla," her last film, in 1933, with an accent closer to her own.

What's really interesting about the role is that it would have been perfect for Mae West - Bow plays a wise-cracking vamp who falls for an attractive young man. In fact the role is the Mae West character - West really never played any other kind. Bow's character is even named "Lou" and West played "Lady Lou" in "She Done Him Wrong" also released in 1933. Based on the few films I've seen of either of them, I'd say Bow had greater range as an actor than West, but on the other hand, West wrote many of her own wise-cracks. 

West was almost a decade older than Bow, but West spent her twenties and early thirties in New York theater, producing, directing and starring in plays she wrote herself, and getting arrested for them

West didn't get to Hollywood until 1932, at the end of Bow's career and the beginning of the dread "Hays Code" which cracked down on naughtiness in Hollywood. Since all of Bow's movies were pre-Code, she got to show a lot of skin, including at least two films where she is seen skinny-dipping, including Hoopla. If it wasn't for the Hays Code, you know West would have tried to top Bow for who could be the naughtiest.