Rumor has it the Devine Miss M – Bette Midler, is trying on the legendary Mae West’s designer girdle for an upcoming film biopic. Good Luck! I had my own encounter with the not so devine Miss West and “goodness had nothing to do with it!”
MARY JANE WEST was born in Brooklyn in 1893. She was only just over five feet tall and had curves in places where other women never even had places, she also had a wicked sense of humour. It wasn’t exactly what she said that got her thrown in jail, but the way she said it. Her famous quotes have been told over and over again . “It’s not the men in my life, but the life in my men.” And there were a lot of men. Mae preferred them to be muscular, she would teach them how to perform. And the reason there have been no “Kiss and Tell” stories from her lovers, is because most of them are on a life-long pension not to spill the beans.
Mae West was one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood and bought square miles of sand and desert which later became the San Fernando Valley. When Joe DeVito, a Hollywood publisher friend of mine asked me if I’d like to have dinner with Mae West, I thought he was kidding. “Sure I would, “ I replied. “I’ll go up and see her anytime.” …but Joe wasn’t kidding. He picked me up early one evening and we drove to a friend of his in the San Fernando Valley who was famous for cooking up gourmet dinners using his home grown organic vegetables. Miss West was notoriously fussy about what or who she ate and organic vegetables served up by a Gourmet chef was one of her favorites.
Since Miss West never smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol, we were all served carrot cocktails while waiting her arrival, enjoying the appetizing aroma wafting in from the kitchen . Suddenly there she was, no fanfare, no spotlight, the diminutive Miss West had arrived with Paul, her chauffer and handyman. Her towering blonde wig and a cascade of curls framed her famous face as she was escorted to a seat at the bar.
Mae West did more than sashay ─ she oozed along like a dainty porcelain dish of strawberry jelly ─ jingling in all the right places. She may have been the most famous person there that evening, but it was the host and his gourmet cuisine that was the star of the show. The famous Mae West could relax and enjoy a sumptuous feast. Nevertheless, she was still charming and talkative. I was introduced to her as an English journalist who could be trusted to never write anything rude or offensive. The legendary star then relaxed and told us about her first visit to Broadway when she was a teenager. She was with her mother, who was from a Bavarian-German Jewish family and quick to notice her innocent daughter was very interested in the sexy streetwalkers parading up and down the sidewalk in their ostentatious furs and feathers.
“Flittchen schlecht,” chastised Mae’s Mom. “They’re street walkers, they make money entertaining men.” Mae was immediately intrigued by their plunging décolletage and sexy swagger. It was an interesting profession to her, one that the enterprising Miss West would keep simmering on the back burner.
A week later, I got a phone call from Mae’s secretary. Would I like to visit Miss West at her Penthouse suite on Rossmore Avenue for a cuppa tea and a chat? Are you kidding? I was there with Belle’s on (This time she let me wear ‘em) The concierge escorted me to the private elevator and seconds later I was zooming skyward to the Penthouse. The elevator doors opened and I stepped into a blindingly white room. Everything was snow white ─ the carpet, the chairs and even the grand piano. A French maid dressed in a black and white showed me to a chair and then disappeared. Suddenly, the air was filled with a strong perfume and I realized Miss West was already in the room. She was dressed in a long white translucent housecoat, posing next to the grand piano. Was she for real? How did she get there? Did she silently descend from a cloud, a hole in the white ceiling? I was dumbfounded, lost for words, but she had achieved her goal. I was mesmerized, hypnotized, traumatized ─ so much so I cannot remember much of our conversation except it was about her latest film SEXTETTE.
She drawled on in her sexy come hither voice. I laughed and nodded blindly in agreement. The French maid served tea and Miss West glided around the room as if on wheels, pointing out a ghastly original Picasso, a copy of Michelangelo’s David with his original accoutrement ─ knowing Miss West’s propensity for the well-built muscular male , I was mildly surprised the petite David was still intact and hadn’t been transformed into Hollywood’s expectation of the modern stud muffin in wide screen Cinemascope.
I realized the visit was over when the concierge appeared at the open elevator. Miss West offered me her gloved hand and before I got to the elevator she had gone as mysteriously as she arrived. Was it all a dream? Later that day a Press Kit from the film SEXTETTE was delivered and enclosed an autographed photo of the famous Miss West, but I still wandered around wondering if it was all for real. A few days later I was shocked out of my trance when I read about Mae’s famous morning enemas, claiming they made her skin like silk and left her “smelling sweet at both ends.”
Without dropping names, I should mention my friend Liberace (I had given him many good write-ups in the magazines I edited) was showing Brian, my younger brother, and I around his mansion in the hills overlooking Sunset Blvd. The piano shaped pool ─ the twenty foot turquoise mosaic tiled bar with miniature grand pianos full of Liberace’s Hot Nuts to nibble on, as well as his crystal piano and gold lacquered pipe organ.
Upstairs in his wildly decorated boudoir was an imported replica of Marie Antoinette four poster bed. Adjoining the bedroom was a long closet with racks of his ostentations costumes. Lee even allowed my brother to try on the magnificent white fur coat he wore on the stage in Las Vegas. Brian was a hunky truck driver, but groaned under the weight of the white heavy bearskin and hundreds of rhinestones.
Finally, just as we were leaving, Lee unlocked the door to a secret room in the hall. It opened up into a cosy and ornate rest room. “This is my friend Mae’s private john,” Lee confided. It certainly befitted the image of one of Hollywood’s greatest legends. A wash basin with gold plated faucets, a huge gilded mirror and directly over the john was a sparkling Strauss crystal chandelier…which tinkled when she did.
Well folks, you know That’s Hollywood!