London: Mae West was too old, too short, too voluptuous, too funny and too independent to be a sex symbol, as a new book reveals, but a bad and bold attitude is what transformed the 39-year-old into a cultural icon.
Clive Hirschhorn has spilt the beans on the legendary star Mae West who had something unreal and unattainable about her.
Hirschhorn interviewed her for The Sunday Express in 1968. According to him, West was 75, looked 20 years younger and had just released an album of rock songs.
West said that not even at the very peak of her career in the mid-Thirties was she as popular and as in demand as she was at that moment.
“You want to know why? I’ll tell you in two words: glamour. I’ve still got glamour, honey, and the whole world is panting for it. I’m the epitome of sex appeal and there’s no denying it,” a news daily quoted her as telling Hirschhorn.
“The only gal who came near me was pretty little Marilyn Monroe but the rest of the gals? Big chests, small voices and no brains,” she added.
It was George Raft, with whom she had a brief but torrid affair, who was responsible for Mae West’s Hollywood career. He suggested she act in the movie ‘Night After Night’ after one role still had to be cast.
She refused to accept the script and wrote her own dialogues, just as she had done with her stage plays 20 years earlier. As she told Hirschhorn, unlike Broadway where she traded in body language rather than one-liners, in the movies she had to come up with wisecracks to compensate for the physical things the censors would not allow her to do, such as sitting on a man’s lap.
“And, honey, I’ve been on more laps than a napkin,” she said.
The impact Mae made on the film was tremendous from the moment she enters Raft’s nightclub in furs and jewels. It would become one of her most famous ripostes. The line and its delivery zinged its way into Hollywood legend, launching Mae West as a star.
During her five-year reign at Paramount Mae’s Depression-era popularity did much to keep the studio afloat while she established herself as a one-of-a-kind goddess who turned the battle of the sexes into comic fodder.
In the late Fifties, she met a bodybuilding champion and ex-marine called Paul Novak, and their relationship would last until her death in 1980. . He was always on hand to attend to her needs, to escort her when she went out and to act as her bodyguard. He also kept her healthy, as she was diagnosed as a diabetic and was also suffering from cataracts.
From the start of her career to its finish, Mae West projected a vision of sexuality that was unique in Hollywood’s history, making sex both fun and funny.
“To the older fans I’m a nostalgic reminder of their past; I stand for a good time in a world obsessed by violence and I didn’t need Panavision or Cinemascope or Technicolor to help me woo the world. I did it with a gesture and an inflexion and in black and white,” she said.
“That’s talent honey.”
From ‘Mae West: An Interview and Biography, by Clive Hirschhorn.’