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Dec 13, 2011

Mae West Style + GIVEAWAY!


She wasn't thin, she wasn't young (not at the height of her fame anyway), and she wasn't particularly beautiful, yet there's no denying that Mae West was a true sex symbol in her day.

What do you make of Brooklyn-born Mae West -- actress, playwright, singer, comedian, sexual trailblazer?


Many excellent biographies of Mae West have been written in the last decade and she wrote her own autobiography in the late Fifties, Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It.   Outspoken about female sexuality (and sexuality in general), she was a feminist before feminism had a name.  And yet, especially toward the end of her life, she seemed trapped in the campy caricature she herself had created -- the raunchy, ever-sexually-available woman.


Apart from her movies, the best of which were made in the Thirties for Paramount, she's best known for her endless witticisms, among them,  “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere,"  “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted,""It's not the men in your life, it's the life in your men," and  “When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better. ”

Mae started performing around 1900 and was still performing in the Nineteen-Seventies!  To see Mae West in her last film, Sextette, however, wig piled atop wig, is to watch someone who seems to have lost perspective on how they come across.   In her mind, she never changed -- which in one way (her taste) was true, but in another (her allure) was terribly false.  I guess you can argue that it's heroic that she never dropped the mask in public; I'm not so sure.



I love Mae West, and in her early films she seems more like a real person than the lip-smacking, hip-rolling stereotype she became.  Before the so-called Hays Code in 1934 forced her to censor her more explicit material (which she wrote herself) she was one-of-a-kind bawdy.  She was still one-of-a-kind after 1934, but tamed, she was much less fun.  She eventually stopped working in films to perform on stage in successes like Catherine Was Great (she played Catherine).  She also had a touring stage show with loincloth-clad musclemen and was an occasional guest star on TV (Mr. Ed), usually playing herself.  Her return to films in Myra Breckinridge in 1970 was a big comeback for her, and she was back in the limelight till the end, recording albums of rock music (The Doors!), giving interviews, and promoting new projects.



Mae nearly always appeared in spangly Gay Nineties-inspired gowns or variations thereof -- many designed by Paramount costume designer Edith Head -- that showed off her hourglass figure.  Ostrich plumes, sequins, and huge hats were all part of the look that she stuck with throughout her career.   She wasn't a tall woman, and she wore shoes like these for extra height, hidden under her gown.  Can you imagine?


I have a wonderful Mae West giveaway today for all you Mae West fans out there, the Mae West Paper Doll book by Tom Tierney.  It's full of beautiful color illustrations (and detailed information) of many of her most famous costumes from stage and screen, as well as biographical information about Mae herself.









If you'd like to be considered for the Mae West giveaway, just leave a comment below before Wednesday at midnight, EST.  I'll announce the winner on Thursday, December 15, and will try to ship it out to you in time for Christmas.  (If you want to comment but don't want to be entered in the giveaway, just let me know.)

What are your thoughts about Mae West?  Do you find her inspirational and empowering, or embarrassing?  Role model or relic?

Do tell!

Here's Mae still going (semi) strong, somewhere in her mid Eighties, speak-singing Captain and Tennille as only she could.

39 comments:

  1. She was one of the few icons with a bust. I appreciated that she had a bust, though I didn't relate to her particular style. ;)

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  2. Does the first 'men in your life' in the quote refer to the quality of the men or to the quantity?

    Anyways: she nailed it in the second part.

    Oh, and count me out for the give-away. Let's give the 'even bigger' fans a proper chance.

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  3. Omg!! I would love to try and make these frocks based on this book. My old bernina needs a bit of a working while I am on holidays :) love your blog. Inspires me quite alot

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  4. I love the old Mae West movies as well.The best part of my morning is when I sit to have a tea and read your blog, Peter. You're awesome!

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  5. Wow! I loved Mae, but I fear everyone turns into a caricature eventually. Oh well, I guess we should embrace it!

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  6. I only knew her from the disturbingly awful appearances in her last years, until I saw re-runs on television of her 1930s movies. Wow! She was great. The double entendres were still gut-bustingly funny. Her comic timing was impeccable. She had a 19th-century face and figure (if you know what I mean). "Pocket Venus" describes her best. On the whole, I am a Mae West fan.

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  7. This is fabulous! Where can I get me some of those shoes? I'd hide them under the *&$*@(& *#&&(*$# skinny jeans...

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  8. I had a favorite great aunt (great grand aunt?) when I was little that reminded me of Mae West. Aunt Anna was that wonderful flamboyant woman that other family member were embarrassed by/jealous of for her outspokenness and her ability to live life on her terms. I, as an impressionable child, absolutely adored her.

    Thanks for the chance to win, that looks like an awesome book!

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  9. She was great and will never be equaled. We need more like her and Lady GAGA.

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  10. She was a true inspiration for her time when she did what she wanted.. No fear or retreats.

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  11. Wow, that "Love Will Keep Us Together" clip is hilariously awful. So *not* representative of Mae West, except, I suppose in that she makes Dalton look silly & she seems to have the upper hand ;-) That's what I loved about her movies when I saw them as a little girl -- even tho' she was clearly a sexual creature, she was always in control, she had the power, she picked & chose her men, & she said "when" or "yes" or "no." She wasn't a cliche sex kitten that got used by men. She used them!

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  12. Love Mae West, oh yeah. As in: "When choosing between two evils, I always try to choose the one I haven't tried before." — Mae West.

    Yes to the giveaway! :-) I love paper dolls.

    Beth

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  13. I love Mae West movies. So funny. I heard they made two version of her dresses one that was so tight that they would lean her agaist a wall of furniture and antoher one when she needed to move. Enjoy your blog.
    Beth Conkwright

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  14. I love Mae West quotes, always have!

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  15. I remember seeing a film clip of Mae west surrounded by muscle men purring "all this meat and no potatoes". She was one funny lady.

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  16. I'm in for the giveaway! I love Tom Tierney paper dolls; I have quite a few. I've never seen a Mae West film, but have always enjoyed her style.

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  17. Can't BELIEVE those shoes. Especially the silver pair with the faux-toe above the real one! Amazing. Enter me in your contest, who doesn't need a set of Mae West paper dolls?!

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  18. Ewwww! Sorry, but that clip is embarrassingly awful - not even campy awful, just "squirm in your seat" awful. Why ruin your legacy of decades in show business with a send off like that? Friends don't let friends make parodies of themselves. Where were her so-called friends to stop her from doing this??? (And Timothy Dalton, I won't even go there....)

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  19. I really love her. To be cliche, I think she was ahead of her time, especially in the thirties. No one was quite like her and she exuded confidence. I always love her smirk and her "C'mon up and see me sometime."

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  20. Tomorrow's my birthday. A win would be great.

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  21. When I was little, I was always given a paper doll book any time I got sick and had to stay home in bed. It was such a treat. I still love them; I have Tom Tierney's 'Great Fashion Designs of the Twenties" on my bookshelf. Great inspiration!

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  22. Say what you will about Mae, she was some kind of real, even there at the end. I remember the stories that percolated from the set of "Myra Breckenridge" like they were yesterday - there was a feud between Old Sex Symbol Mae and New Sex Symbol Raquel Welch. They were both terrified of each other, of course. Mae didn't want anyone taking anything away from her, and Raquel (to whom Mae referred as "Rake-well") didn't want Yesterday's News getting in the way of her ascent.

    What is oddly touching is that Raquel has turned into something of an updated version of Mae. She's funny, self-deprecating, pulls no punches, and is defying the hell out of Time.

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  23. Mae West was incredibly funny and smart. Her movies and her quotes have stood the test of time and are as great today as they were more than 70 years ago. The clip was embarrassing for both West and Dalton, but we’ve all got to make a living, yes? No thank you to the giveaway, though. I’m trying to reign in all the “stuff.”

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  24. she was fabulous and earned the right to go out in any style she chose-even if it was the height of bad taste!!

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  25. She was great. Right to the end. Hope I'll be kickin' it like that when I'm 80!

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  26. I Love Mae West!!! I'm still trying to get my hands on a copy of her play "The Drag".

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment_stage_theat/2011/01/controversial-mae-west-play-the-drag-gets-reading.html

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  27. I loved Mae West. She was a smart businesswoman, too, buying up LA real estate. I, too, heard that she was leant up against a slant board between takes to rest as her dresses were too tight to sit down in. I loved watching her old movies on TV when I was sick and home from school. And the fabrics in those dresses aren't too shabby, either. Love the shoes! They're amazing.
    Heather

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  28. I'd like the Mae West paperdolls...thanks for the history on her.

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  29. Awesome, thanks for offering a give away and for your insights on a true individual. Mae West was obviously willing to sacrifice for fashion if those shoes are any indication.

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  30. I love Mae's embracing of her sexuality. I wish she would've embraced her shortness. WOO HOO FOR MAE!

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  31. I have loved Mae West almost all my life; my parents were fans and we used to sit around and watch her movies since I was very young. I think part of my fascination with the late 19th century (and in the clothing of the era) stems from some of her movies. There has been no one like her, before or since.

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  32. The older I get, the more I find women such as Mae West an inspiration! The inhibitions shrink, and the love of FUN GROWS exponentially. Unlike Mae, I am tall and "slender", and love to shake and shimmy my way to fun on the dance floor. And unlike Mae, I am the lucky mother of Laura Mae, whose blog Lilacs & Lace you've recently discovered. Now I've found you and am immensely entertained by you and this whole new world of blogging. The videos are a hoot--and you too are an inspiration! Would love to share those paper dolls with Laura Mae...

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  33. I was always a real Mae West fan and don't find the video with her and Timothy Dalton uncomfortable at all. I had an aunt who always brought the fur pieces out of storage when it was barely cooler than 50o, always colored her hair just a little too boldly, wore high heel shoes when she was probably a little too old to really walk well in them, and was never seen without her makeup, even if it was 7:00 AM. She died at age 91, having lived independently to the end, wearing a fresh coat of bright coral colored nail lacquer. She was my favorite aunt and I think of her often. I think everyone must have a "Mae" in their family and "aunt M" was mine.

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  34. How wonderful to see all these fans of MAE WEST here. I have a copy of Tom's paper doll book and it's terrific.
    Come up and see Mae, Peter, you honey!!! http://MaeWest.blogspot.com ---- don't keep a lady waitin'!!

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