MAE WEST: A Biography by George & Stanley Musgrove Eells

MAE WEST: A Biography

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What actually went on in that mirror-ceiling-ed bedroom? How old was she? And how'd she arrange to keep looking so young? Well, those old questions about Mae West--among others--are only half-answered here, thanks to considerable research, lots of guessing, plus half-convincing interviews with Mae's old flames; and readers primarily interested in Mae's talent will find better discussions of it elsewhere. But, for celebrity-watchers, this hard-working, somewhat sleazy, far-from-worshipful star bio will probably serve well enough--though the overall effect is awfully depressing. ""The self-enchanted Mae was willing to sacrifice any relationship to stay ahead of the pack."" So the authors follow Brooklyn-born Mae (circa 1893) through her long, determined, solo/duo years in vaudeville; to semi-stardom at last, introducing the shimmy to B'way in 1918; to her 1920s notoriety as the prosecuted playwright/star of plays about prostitution and transvestitism (""to the good of all,"" she ""fought police censorship to a draw""); to Diamond Lil (wherein she ""became an authentic star on the legitimate stage instead of a freak attraction"") and Hollywood. And throughout, while correcting many of the errors in Mae's autobiography and finding some mutual dependency in her alliance with manager Jim Timony, Eells & Musgrove take her sexual persona at face value: narcissistic, insatiable, happy to use one man after another (including one soon-abandoned husband). Some of the detailing in this regard is coy and vague: there were ""several fulfilling private sessions"" with Jack Dempsey; Mae and George Raft ""fulfilled their desire--one way or another--in her dressing room."" And some is provided by aged musclemen (Mae preferred rough, beefy, broken-nosed types), who don't sound entirely trustworthy. But the background on the shaky production histories of Mae's movies is solid (on Little Chickadee, ""the consensus. . . is that jealousy lay behind many of Mae's charges against Fields""); so is the account of her later career--stage tours, nightclubs, clever self-promotions, two disappointing film comebacks. And there's due attention to her mysticism, her image-preservation, her ""paranoia,"" and the longtime devotion of her last bodyguard/lover. Lots of data, then, along with lots of quotes from all and sundry; but the Mae West here is neither the infectious dame of myth nor a fully-drawn human being--and only undemanding fans will be happy with this somewhat dreary, largely speculative compromise version.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow