Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Becoming Mae West by Emily Wortis Leider

More than a biography, Ms. Leider’s book is a fascinating window to the lost world of burlesque and vaudeville, giving modern-day readers a tantalizing glimpse of the color, eccentricity, clamor, personalities, customs, and superstitions of those long ago show people and their journey from a time when actresses were often equated with whores, and those in the theatrical profession were regarded as “the offal of society,” and the “wicked stage” where they earned their bread and butter was seen as “the porch of pollution,” to a time when celebrities were feted like royalty and courted and fawned over by high society.

It is also a fascinating word-portrait that chronicles the changes of social mores, sexuality, and women’s roles from the 1890s to the late 1930s, with all sorts of fascinating facts and tidbits thrown in. And at the center of it all, the battles between the entertainment industry and censors who considered themselves crusaders against vice and were determined to keep America’s morals wholesome and pure. And in the middle of it all was Mae West, caught in the crossfire of bullets over what was considered indecent and morally corrupting on both the stage and the screen.

Even if you are not a Mae West fan—and here I have to admit I like her costumes better than her character—you may still find this book interesting; I myself was motivated to read it after reading the author's excellent biography of silent screen star Rudolph Valentino, and I am glad that I did. It is not a traditional from the cradle to the grave biography, instead it is a portrait of an era as well as a personality and how she honed her craft and created a persona that remains an enduring camp icon to this day. From start to finish, “Becoming Mae West” is a journey of the ups and down on the bumpy road to fame.

See Mae West in action on the silver screen in her most famous film "She Done Him Wrong"

Also available a five film box set

1 comment:

Daphne said...

That dress is something else!