The Golden Age of Hollywood Movies 1931-1943: Vol IV, Mae West
Mae West was perhaps the most unique female actress of any age of films, in that she became the product of her mind’s eye. Neither the film studios she worked at nor her fans created her, Mae did that herself. In no single instance did an actress ever have such power. Mae established a persona of “forever sexy” but she did it solely with the illusion of being sexy. More
Mae West was perhaps the most unique female actress of any age of films, in that she became the product of her mind’s eye. Neither the film studios she worked at nor her fans created her, Mae did that herself. She dictated in what she appeared, how she appeared, what her dialogue was, and how her scenes were directed. In no single instance did an actress ever have such power.
Mae established a persona of “forever sexy” but she did it solely with the illusion of being sexy. And although she “talked the talk,” she did not “walk the walk.” Her double entendres were nothing more than sexual innuendos, and for its time was considered risqué and low-class. Her early acts were nothing short of burlesque, with her cooch (belly) dance evolving into the shimmy. However, although her dresses might have been skin-tight and slit up to her thigh, that was as far as it went. They did not have plunging necklines, see-though material, or any cut-outs. Mae’s philosophy was not to show it all but to give a taste of sex to the viewer and let their imagination fill in the details. This was very effective with audiences of the time and was much like early horror films, where you only saw a shadow of the monster and your mind filled in the details about how it actually looked.
For an uneducated woman who was likely not even fully literate, Mae developed an uncanny ability to manipulate word meanings. Her dialogue, which was almost always written by herself, is as fascinating to listen to today as it was almost 80 years ago and one can see why her die-hard fans attended each of her movies several times in order not to miss any of it (the laughter in the theaters would frequently drown part of it out). Only W.C. Fields was her equal in this regard, and it is to be regretted that they made only one film together.
Mae dominated whatever film she was in and audiences always got the “full Monte” when she was on the silver screen. Her snappy dialogue, her stunning dresses, her sexual movements, and her obscene walk kept viewers riveted on her and when she hooked them, it was for life. And as she aged, her fans always stuck by her, right up to the end. No higher tribute can ever be paid any actress than this.
Like many once popular actresses, Mae had stayed around too long in films, until her presence there became an embarrassment. However, she did have a solid core of fans who fondly remembered her “back in the day,” and they were always there for her. Her wit and style was unique and unlikely to ever be duplicated and for this reason she will live on long after those who read this are gone. Such is the immortality of a great entertainer whose unique style established a persona that will never be duplicated. Turn the page then and begin a journey through time to read about a life worth knowing about. There will never be another like Mae West.