Posts Tagged ‘Mae West’

On Oscar night, our happiness and delight for the winners vanish in comparison to the rage that we feel for those who went home with only a magnificent career and millions of dollars in the bank, but no award. We are only a few years away from what I predict will be called Participation Oscars being awarded to all who show up, so let us relish these last few years of cutthroat competition, boycotts, and fashion victims (shout-out to Miss Rivers).

Before they eliminate the barroom brawls of Oscar rivalries, perhaps we’ll see a few more categories added to the list, and therefore I propose an Academy Award for Best Movie Line. Below we remember a few of our favorites from movies that took home nothing more than a program on Oscar night . . . but don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars.

 

AnnaChr“You was going on as if one of you had to own me. But, nobody owns me, see; excepting myself. I’ll do what I please and no man, I don’t give a darn who he is, can tell me what to do. I haven’t asked either of you for a living. I’ll make it myself, one way or another. I am my own boss. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!” – Anna, Anna Christie (1930)

 

 

PublicEn“There you go with that wishin’ stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya.” – Tom Powers, The Public Enemy (1931)

 

 

KlondikeAnn“When I’m caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.” – Rose Carlton, Klondike Annie (1936)

 

 

DarkPass“You know, it’s wonderful when guys like you lose out. Makes guys like me think maybe we got a chance in this world.” – Vincent Parry, Dark Passage (1947)

 

 

TheRose“So what do you do when he comes home with the smell of another woman on him? Do you say, ‘Oh honey, let me open up my lovin’ arms and my lovin’ legs. Dive right in, baby, the water is fine?’ Is that what you say, girls? Or do you say, ‘Fuck this shit! I’ve had enough of you, you asshole! Pack your bags. I’m putting on my little waitress cap and my fancy high-heeled shoes, I’m gonna go find me a real man, a good man, a true man. A man to love me for sure.’ ” Mary Rose Foster, The Rose (1979)

 

 

NinetoFive“If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!” – Doralee Rhodes, Nine to Five (1980)

 

 

Clue“Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong, and disposable.” – Mrs. White, Clue (1985)

 

 

Heathers“Come on, it’ll be very. The note’ll give her shower-nozzle masturbation material for weeks.” – Heather Chandler, Heathers (1988)

 

 

LarryF“Now I have a message for all you good, moral, Christian people who are complaining that breasts and vaginas are obscene. Hey, don’t complain to me. Complain to the manufacturer.” – Larry Flynt, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

 

 

“He never spoke up to you, because you would never listen. I never spoke up to you, because I could never get a word in!” – LV, Little Voice (1998)

 

 

MSDTWHU EC005“You could stand there naked with a mattress strapped to your back and still look like a vestal virgin.” – Monica, 200 Cigarettes (1999)

 

 

Devil1“Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

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Until Jessica Lange emerged as the Supreme in American Horror Story: Coven, my life had lacked the presence of modern witchcraft, and admittedly this had gone unnoticed. For decades I have surrounded myself with my own coven of crafty conjurers, and it’s been quite some time since I have initiated any new members. Lange’s Fiona Goode is blessed with style, wit, and absolutely zero patience for those who attempt, unsuccessfully, to outsass her. Your welcoming to The Ticket Booth’s coven is long overdue, Fiona . . . please come meet the rest of the girls.

 

Jennifer, I Married a Witch (1942):

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Bolts of lightning probably followed Veronica Lake wherever she went, and Samantha Stephens can’t hog all the attention – I think we need more blond witches out there.

 

Endora, Bewitched (1964–1972):

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If Endora ever lost her powers in some freak curse or power outage, undoubtedly the fashion house that she would open to function as a mortal would lead her to world domination. Ah, Agnes Moorehead and her eyeshadow for days . . . the show hinted at some interesting points about prejudices that American Horror Story: Coven would violently incorporate decades later.

 

Carrie White, Carrie (1976):

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Since the late 1930s, witches tend to joke about the whole “dumping buckets of liquid on them” situation, but Carrie has no sense of humor when it comes to that kind of thing.

 

Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985):

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A blond witch at times, I guess . . . Jean Marsh’s demonic portrayal of Mombi and her habitual head swapping had children of the 80s hitting the fast-forward button just to make it end. I, instead, elected to rewind. A dear friend of Alice’s Queen of Hearts, this one.

 

Alex, Jane, and Sukie, The Witches of Eastwick (1987):

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With Pfeiffer popping up in here, maybe the list is filled with Goldilockses! The film that either ruined or enchanted the act of eating cherries also reminds me that, in fact, Cher is not a foot taller than Jack Nicholson. Why do I have that idea in my head as an uncontested truth?

 

Ursula the Sea Witch, The Little Mermaid (1989):

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It’s never easy to select only one villain from Disney’s powder room, but let’s go with the one who has “witch” on her birth certificate. I will never forget sitting in the movie theatre during a friend’s ninth birthday and thinking, “This isn’t how the story goes.” The 1975 Japanese anime film was “Mermaid truth” to me, and its Sea Witch had no motive other than to cause pain and heartbreak. Yes, when Ursula started singing, the truth was rewritten for me and coven admission was granted, but we all know that she stole her color scheme from her predecessor.

 

Miranda, Wicked Stepmother (1989):

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Because she’s Bette Davis, so shut up about it.

 

Miss Ernst/The Grand High Witch, The Witches (1990):

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Aside from yours truly, writers are a stubborn, picky, unyielding squad of artists who refuse to have their visions tampered with by any mortal, mere or miraculous. Therefore it thaws out our hearts to hear that Roald Dahl fully supported the casting of Anjelica Huston as his Grand High Witch. An offensive Oscar snub for both the actress and her makeup team.

 

Lisle Von Rhuman, Death Becomes Her (1992):

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She is the one who understands; she is the one who knows your secret. What we will never understand is the spell that she used to keep those beads in place for a PG-13 rating. Clearly the witchcraft of Miss Isabella Rossellini is one of our coven’s most advanced and mysterious. Maybe it’s genetic . . .

 

The Sanderson Sisters, Hocus Pocus (1993):

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The Internet machines have teased us with rumors of sequels and musicals, but alas, nothing. Damn, damn, double damn! Now if only I could find truth to the other rumors I’m hearing (or did I start them?) about Bette Midler and a biopic of Mae West.

 

Then, of course, there’s the original Supreme. I believe you’ve been introduced . . .

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Happy Halloween!

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Math and science classes taught me one thing: I hold dear those academic subjects in which questions can have more than one answer. From middle school algebra to statistics courses in college, every single math class was its own sliver of fire and brimstone for those of us who couldn’t focus if a word problem lacked panache. Remember those ghastly scenarios involving trains, joggers, rowboats, and loose change? Fine, so Train A is going one direction at a certain speed; Train B is going another direction at another speed . . . Seriously, what kind of boring I’m-going-to-fall-asleep-during-this-test storytelling do you math teachers call that? When it came to those lousy trains, I was concerned less about the time they would pass each other and more about a potential murder scenario involving Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman. And don’t get me started on those infuriating answers that had remainders. Frequently my tests were red-penned to death because I neglected to include that useless remainder, and inside I stifled levels of anger and frustration that I never knew existed.

When asked to name my favorite film, book, food, wine, or dwarf (it’s Doc, by the way), I’m known to provide different answers at different times. If these were never allowed a certain degree of variation, my list of favorites would be limited to the movie Splash (1984), the book The Grouchy Ladybug, and a dinner of Kraft Mac and Cheese and Dr. Pepper. All high quality choices, mind you, but I kept too many lists of my top “such-and-such” under lock and key for so long, leaving little room for growth. As a member of the book industry (an industry that this economy refuses to allow me to break out of and escape to a greener career), I’m asked often to name my favorite writer. Interestingly this never happens at work; at work we speak in metadata and rarely discuss books, and therefore it makes perfect sense that my new favorite writer comes from the film industry. Thank goodness the talents of Mae West came into my life, but when it comes to that broad, we all know that “goodness had nuthin’ to do with it, dearie.”

I fell asleep three times when I first tried to watch Night After Night (1932), not because it was a disappointing film, but because Mae West doesn’t sashay in front of the camera until we’re 37 minutes in. In her first film, West plays a supporting role and, as expected, steals every small scene she’s in. Determined to improve his social behavior to win the affections of the beautiful Constance Cummings, leading man George Raft hires a hoity-toity tutor (a character delightfully named Miss Jellyman) to help him improve his speech . . . fitting that Joe also owns a speakeasy. And when there’s a 1930s speakeasy with single men (or married men, or engaged men, or young men, or rich men), there’s Mae West. Her character bonds immediately with Miss Jellyman, and the two ladies get properly smashed on bottles of champagne. A fearless playwright who later conquered an industry of businessmen, Mae West provided additional dialogue for Night After Night and went on to write the original stories and screenplays for her future films. After her first few bottles of bubbly, Miss Jellyman asks, “Do you really think I could get rid of my inhibitions?” to which West replies, “Why, sure. I got an old trunk you can put ‘em in.”

Never again would Mae West the actress play a supporting role . . . under no conditions would Mae West the writer dare to pen such a small part for her favorite film star. It’s simple math: West + West = Scorching Success.

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Go up sometime and see her: Add Night After Night to your queue.

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Dear 2012,

For the horror and wretchedness you threw at us in the last 12 months, I could peel you like a pear, and God Himself would call it justice. As satisfying as that would feel, it turns out that life’s good times were made that much sweeter by the bitterness of your reign. It’s with a smile that I reflect upon some of the highlights.

The year began with my falling deeper in love with Bogie in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Not too stinkin’ of a start!

The year ended a week ago, as I unwrapped not one but two copies of David Thomson’s The Big Screen for my birthday. Autumn brought me not two but three text messages quoting Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter: “Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.”

A summer visit from Dad brought into my life not four but five films of Mae West’s, a sharp and shapely woman admired by generations of fathers and sons for countless reasons.

Right before Thanksgiving, Olympia Dukakis reminded me of her limitless acting abilities in Elektra.

Two blessed friendships led me on trips to Hollywood, Dollywood and Graceland. Keeping me company on the road to each, Judy was right there for my entertainment, forgetting the words to “You Go to My Head” during every Carnegie Hall performance.

Idina Menzel walked barefoot on to the stage at Davies Hall and sang “Over the Rainbow.” A few months later, the San Francisco Symphony performed flawlessly the score of The Wizard of OzSandy and I each got a permanent, just for the occasion.

It was in my favorite restaurant where my favorite waiter told me Americans had elected in favor of protecting Big Bird . . . Michelle and I celebrated by ordering the chicken.

On October 6th, 2012, my love was justified, as no song lyric can touch the likes of “Rita Hayworth gave good face.”

And for all the other wonderful times and films that filled the year, I am grateful to you, dear and wretched 2012, for I predict that your successor will succeed where you failed.

Now be gone, before somebody drops a house on you!

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It may have started with Flo. She’s appeared and reappeared as different characters in my life, like a recasting of Darrin on Bewitched. As the baby of the family, I could not have done any better than Grandma Flo in the grandparent department. Quite the prince, I was over at G&G’s, hence the kitschy embroidered pillow that says “There’s no place like home except Grandma’s.” A writer of poetry who dreamed secretly of being a ballet dancer, Grandma filled me with ice cream, chocolate milk, and her “girl” cheese sandwiches, gorgeously sliced into six identical slices for my dainty little hands. Even when I assured her I wasn’t hungry, good ol’ Flo was pulling out the bread and slicing the cheese; there was only one answer to “are you hungry?” in that house. Apparently these sandwiches left such a lasting impression on me that, in high school—a time in one’s young life when no one acknowledges the existence of relatives—I was writing poetry about Grandma Flo’s grilled cheese sandwiches. I went through the adolescent stages like everyone else, but for me, feeling different never really felt unfamiliar . . . yes, I have a family, and I’ll write grilled-cheese-sandwich poetry if I feel like it!

Based on the amazing day I had with my dear friend Sandy—a day filled with fried eggs, heirloom tomatoes, and oysters for which she coined the phrase “very happiness”—one would never guess that I was the most picky eater a parent could raise. Aside from grilled cheese, I refused to eat anything unless it came with French fries, and even then the main course was up for discussion. At Bobby McGee’s, one of those funky little restaurants from the ’80s where the waitresses were charmingly rude, I fell head over six-inch heels in love with a waitress named Flo. A memorable (but possibly exaggerated) characters from childhood, Flo was as “kiss my grits” as a woman could be, and I like to think that wherever life has taken her, those grits have remained just as cheeky. Absolutely confident that she reciprocated my heartfelt devotion, I begged Mom and Dad to take me there as often as possible. It was perhaps my first lesson in how to charm waitresses (and waiters, later in life) into scoring free food and free drinks. Flo would bring me extra fries with side of sassy, and I learned then and there that people like Flo will eat you alive if you don’t give the sass right back to them. I was one of those students who learned life’s lessons everywhere but the classroom. Well, that is, except for one classroom.

Before eBooks came along and transformed me from a copy editor into a data processor (boring!), I was told that the sales handle is the most important part of selling an upcoming book. If you had to come up with a single catchphrase that not only summed you up but also painted the perfect picture of you, what would it be? With little effort I came up with mine years ago: “When I was four, I took my Bette Midler records to preschool for show-and-tell.” Fortune smiled on my flow of Flos, and between Grandma and Bobby McGee’s, a second Flo entered my life in the hippie  form of my first preschool teacher. While some teachers may have met a four-year-old boy and his impressive collection of Bette Midler records with a raised eyebrow, Flo instead pulled out the record player, and like a team of DJs, soon we had the whole class up ‘n’ dancing. Yes sir, from a young age I was determined to expose my peers to quality entertainment that existed long before we were all born. Thank you, Flo, for getting a kick out of me before I knew there was anything to get a kick out of . . . I’m forever grateful!

It’s not every man whose father hands him a DVD and tells him, “Oh you’re going to love Mae West!” When Dad was visiting a few months ago, we talked a great deal about classic films, current films (what’s with all the car chases?), my writing, his crazy mother, and the joys of wine tasting. When it comes to chatting about movies, we always have a little back-and-forth of “Have you seen” this one or that one. Somehow during brunch we got on the topic of Mae West, and I admitted shamefully that I just hadn’t gotten to her yet. We talked for a bit about the wonderful similarities between Mae West and Bette Midler, two of the brassiest lassies the world has ever known, and twenty minutes later I had a DVD set of five Mae West films, courtesy of Dad.

I’ve been through all five films, impressed and amazed that West wrote a number of the screenplays herself, but thus far my favorite has been I’m No Angel (1933). It’s not every actor who can throw out lines like “Beulah, peel me a grape” and remain lovable, sassy, and commanding within a span of four words. Usually I’m able to remember and recite movie lines on command, but this woman’s divinely dirty mouth delivers about ten zingers per second. West plays Tira, a lion tamer who agrees with little reservation to stick her head in a lion’s mouth . . . like her yet? Along comes the wealthy (and very young) Cary Grant, resulting in the hate, love, hate, love storyline that continues to hold our movie-going attention. But the romance fades away behind the talent of this woman who is described frequently as decades ahead of her time. I agree but in many ways, I feel Mae West was in the exact right place at the right time, saying all the wonderfully wrong things.

It turns out that Mae West, just like Bette, Flo, and Flo, has become a part of the past that brings my present its much-needed serving of sass ‘n’ class, often with a free side of cheese.

Add I’m No Angel to your queue.

During the second season of the television show Soap (1978), Chester Tate, played by Robert Mandan, surprises everyone by waking up after undergoing an experimental brain operation. To test his memory, Chester’s doctor asks him if can remember who he is, aided with a mirror that his wife puts in front of him. “Oh my god — I’m Gunga Din,” he blurts out, examining his turban-like bandaging. When the doctor tells his patient that he is, in fact, not Gunga Din, Chester turns his chin up to the mirror and confirms, “Then I’m Gloria Swanson.” Around the age of five or six years old, this was my first exposure to the madness that is the character of Norma Desmond and the masterpiece that is Sunset Boulevard.

While some films may take a few minutes to get off the runway, the opening of Sunset Boulevard — a title that I, for some reason, refuse to abbreviate with a “Blvd.” — had no trouble hooking me in the first two minutes. It’s in these couple of minutes that we see a dead body floating facedown in the pool of an old Hollywood mansion. But it wasn’t the body that strapped me to my chair; it was the angle of the magnificent shot. I’m guessing it was tricky and clever (a lovely combo) for the 1950s — the camera appears to be filming from the bottom of the pool, causing the audience to look up at the body and the blurred people standing around the pool’s edge. With William Holden’s voiceover to guide us, he takes us back about six months to let us in on how and why that body finally got the pool it always wanted.

If you’re sure that your knowledge of this remarkable film is limited to knowing only that it exists, there’s a good chance you know more than you think. Frequently called upon throughout my life to perform parts of movies for others, I grew increasingly frustrated when people misquoted movie lines. As I’ve aged (maybe not “matured,” but aged), I’ve come to realize that the frustration had more to do with my being asked to perform — let me quote the movie lines when I’m good and ready, would ya please? That said, if this blog does nothing else for the world, I hope it lends a hand with correcting an absolutely delicious line that’s been misquoted for 60 years. If you hear the words “close-up” and “Mr. DeMille,” hopefully some form of Norma Desmond’s famous words spring to mind. Without giving away the plot to those who have not experienced Sunset Boulevard, Miss Gloria Swanson, who plays Norma, ends the film with “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” And good gravy, she wasn’t kidding!

“I am big — it’s the pictures that got small.” So tells Norma Desmond to Joe Gillis (played by Mr. William Holden) when they first meet at the beginning of the film. Miss Gloria Swanson’s portrayal of Norma, a silent film star whose career has all but faded away, is absolutely one of my all-time favorite performances. Determined to work again, Norma employs Joe to help her develop a script she has written, a script her delusional mind believes Cecil B. DeMille will jump at to direct. The first time I was old enough to understand the film (not just quote it), I remember spiraling into that universe of make-believe right along with Norma; one she creates for herself during a 30-year span of not knowing what to do with the remaining years. Escaping into a world in which Norma defines for herself what “classic film” should mean is an escape I can certainly understand! During a viewing of her own silent films, Norma rants about how the industry has changed with the addition of sound. “We didn’t need dialogue; we had faces,” she tells Joe before jumping up and swearing that she’ll be on that screen once again; that screen she was more than happy to criticize moments earlier.

Although Sunset Boulevard is told from Joe’s point of view, I never really find myself tagging along with him through the movie. I like Mr. William Holden, and I enjoy a number of his other films, but he was never really one of my favorite actors. My first exposure to him was on the episode of I Love Lucy (1955) when he gets a face full of pie moments after Lucy, Fred, and Ethel arrive at the Brown Derby (by the way, the Brown Derby restaurant chain was started by one of Gloria Swanson’s husbands — I love when my world comes full circle like that!). Rather than identify with Joe, I’m much more fascinated by the voice, mind, eyebrows, and wardrobe of Norma Desmond, who, in the capable hands of Miss Swanson, steals the entire movie. I always enjoy a little game of “what if” when it comes to film, so I find it amusing to hear that Mae West and Mary Pickford were considered for the role of Norma . . . wise choice, Paramount! The casting of Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s devoted butler is also an interesting part of the film’s history — 20 years before Sunset Boulevard, Mr. von Stroheim directed the film Queen Kelly (1929) which stared a then 30-year-old Miss Gloria Swanson. There’s that full circle again!

The wonderful problem I run into when writing about Sunset Boulevard is that there’s just too much to say. With all the cameos (Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, and Buster Keaton, to name a few), a bitter view of Hollywood (Louis B. Mayer supposedly asked Billy Wilder “How could you do this?”), and Edith Head’s costume design, I could go on for pages, just as many have! Schwab’s drug store makes a few appearances, with its wonderful old sign advertising “Breakfast, Luncheon, and Dinner” that never fails to tickle me. The always hardworking cigarette finds itself a new costume in the form of a holder that looks like a bent paperclip. Wound tightly around Miss Swanson’s finger, it’s one of the many accessories that positively made for Norma Desmond. As I venture deeper into the world of classic films, the names on the opening credits become more and more familiar. Aside from the credits themselves (my favorite is “Gowns by” so-and-so), the one name I really started to notice was Edith Head, who seemed to contribute to the costumes of every movie I watch. A woman I know little about (but will soon learn more), I always consider seeing Miss Head’s name to be a good sign, if my eye happens to catch it.

And then we come to the Academy Awards. If I were casting an Oscar ballot in 1951, I think I would have had a panic attack . . . and aside from the horrifying times I’m inside an IKEA, I don’t get panic attacks. A year that put the sensational Sunset Boulevard against the phenomenal All About Eve is a part of film history that makes my head explode. Norma Desmond and Miss Bette Davis’s aging theatre star Margo Channing are tied for second place on my list of all-time greatest performances by an actress. Just to keep you on your toes and hopefully faithful to my beloved blog, I’ll soon reveal who reigns supreme in the number-one spot. In addition to Best Actress in a Leading Role (which was awarded to Miss Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, a wonderful performance), the films competed in a number of categories, including Best Picture. As much as I love Sunset Boulevard, I’m happy that the Academy handed the Best Picture Oscar to All About Eve. Apples, oranges . . . it’s all wonderfully delicious dried fruit!

 

Academy Awards for Sunset Boulevard (1951): Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.

 

My Oscar Time Machine: I would have called Best Actress in a Leading Role a tie between Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis for All About Eve. Miss Judy Holliday is hilarious in Born Yesterday, and any other year, I would have been thrilled to see her take home the gold. But in 1951, my apologies to the talented Miss Holliday, I’m going to need that Oscar back.

Add it to your queue.