A day as Mae
“When I’m good, I’m very good. When I’m bad, I’m better.” I said as I woke up the other morning.
I had a dream that I was Mae West and had been working the room at a local cabaret. I thought how fun that would be, to be Mae West for the day…
I sauntered into my closet and started side talking to my self â€œWhat do ya need, kid?â€
My best sequin gown? Check. Old time corset to push the gals up? Check. Jewels for days? Check. Blonde wig? Check. Whole lotta attitude? Might have to work on that but kids, I think I can do it!
Well out of the closet and straight into the world of Mae West. A swift walk to the decanter for a shot of bourbon and I was out the door. The mailman looked as if he’d seen a ghost so I grabbed his cheek and said â€œIs that a package in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?â€ I closed his mouth for him, patted him on the bumper and shimmied down the block.
I was off to the subway to make my way to the old neighborhood where Mae was born – Bushwick, Brooklyn. As I walked down the platform, scents of the subway station summer heat filling my nostrils, cat calls ensued by beggars and business men alike as I swung my purse and snapped my gum. I caught the G to the L and while to sit was virtually impossible (because of the corset), almost everyone offered Mamma a seat. I guess blondes DO have more fun.
As I walked down the street amongst the neighborhood cats and hipsters I wondered what Bushwick was like in 1893 when Mary Jane West was born. It must have been a fabulous place to have produced such a smart and delicious woman like Mae.
â€œWelcome home Miss West!â€ a lovely elderly man yelled from across the street. I pretended to enter a building and turned â€œWhy don’t ya come up and see me sometime?â€ and gave him a big wink.
She was a woman who made a name for herself first in vaudeville where she was known as Baby Mae. She created a variety of characters, among them a male impersonator called Sis Hopkins. It’s said that Mae’s trademark walk was fashioned after two female impersonators of the time Bert Savoy and Julian Etinge.
I hopped in a cab and told the driver to take me to the center of everything – Times Square of course. I departed the cab (which was no easy task with that damn corset snapping my ribs!) and leaned in to pay the cabbie but he said â€œIt’s on me Miss Westâ€. How fabulous! As I turned away from the cab right in front of me was the Shubert Theater where Mae had her first leading role in a play. One which she wrote, directed and produced called â€œSexâ€. Critics panned the show but it was a box office success and also highly controversial (which is probably why it was a box office success! I think we know where Madonna learned some of her lessons!).
Naturally then it made sense to hop onto the Roosevelt Island Tram (in 1927 it was called Welfare Island) to catch a glimpse of where Mae spent 8 days incarcerated for â€œcorrupting the morals of youth” with that very same play. It was said she wore her silk panties and dined with the warden and his wife. Rather than hurt Mae all of the publicity only served to make her later plays like â€œThe Dragâ€ (a play about homosexuality),â€ Diamond Lilâ€ and the â€œConstant Sinnerâ€ huge hits. In fact so much so that it caught the eye of Hollywood which eventually led to a contract with Paramount.
For a brief moment I thought my Mae Day was going to come to a crashing end but then I thoughtâ€¦â€OH! What the hell. Damnit, I’m Mae West today!â€
So Mamma eased herself onto a plane bound for LA-LA Land…and while I was at it a little mile high club with the pilot to pass the time (as Mae often said… “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my menâ€). Landing, I made my way to 1560 Vine Street to polish Mae’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, given for her contribution to the film industry, in a career that spanned from 1933 with â€œNight After Nightâ€ and the best picture nominee, â€œShe Done Him Wrongâ€ to 1978 with the camp classic â€œSextetteâ€. As I buffed away a crowd formed and I ending up spending most of the day drinking champagne and posing for pictures with her fans, young and old alike.
By this point I was exhausted and my corset had started to loosen (how did the woman do it?) and quite frankly my best Mae West was getting a little ragged. It’s not easy impersonating a legend, even when you are a legend yourself! I grabbed the red eye back to NYC, a little bit tattered and worn and in need of some rest. I plugged in my I-pod and listened to three of Mae’s albums â€œWay Out Westâ€, â€œWild Christmasâ€ and her last, from 1972, a rock-n-roll album titled â€œGreat Balls of Fireâ€ (the pilot on this flight was a she and Mamma wasn’t feelin’ the lady love that day â€“ no mile high repeat to pass the time on the way home!). Those albums were fabulous fun and camp and dare I say an even better way to spend my time in the sky over the hallway between LA-LA and NYC.
In fact it gave me a second wind. I tied that corset back on with the help of a crazy looking stewardess named Steven, fixed my make-up and decided to hit one last place – The Cypress Hills Abbey in Brooklyn, where the West family tomb is located and where she was interred after her passing on November 22, 1980 at the ripe old age of 87. Such a grand place!! But of course it would be – not only was the lady herself grand in personality, charm and talent but she was also very grand in her earnings, at one point the second highest paid person in America, behind only William Randolph Hearst. What a life she had! I brought a single white rose and a bawdy poem to lie outside the tomb. I know she would appreciate the bawdy!
I fell onto the bed after commanding my wardrobe mistress Berna and my gay-iancÃ© MAN-ee to cut the strings of that corset and massage my aching feet. They fed me and fluffed my pillows and as I was about to fall asleep it dawned on me – we all have a little Mae West in us don’t we?! We all want to be sexy and loved. We all want to say things like “marriage is a great institution but I’m not ready for an institution.” We all want to get as much from life as it will give us. That’s why everyone loves Mae West. She had the courage to do what most of us only dream of trying. She dared to be different at a time when the risks far outweighed the benefits for women to do so and she rose above that to usher in a new way of thinking. Who can say where we might be now had it not been for someone like Mae West coming along when she did?
I know one thing kids â€“ while I could not hold a candle to the Fierthness of Mae West, being her for a day was a real treat. It brought out something different in me and beyond giving me an extra dose of courage, it revealed the beauty in people around meâ€¦and a new found crush on my mailman. I can’t wait for my next express package! Just Grand! Thank you Miss Mae West!
By MargOH! Channing