How I Came Up to See Mae West One Time, Got her Floor Lamps and Something Else

How Mae West looked about the time we met in her apartment, where she is pictured. She was then about 85 years old.

I once came up to see Mae West sometime.  And  I got her floor lamps. And something else. Having just been through an exhausting inventory of all the things I’ve inexplicably bought over the years and August 17 being her 119th birthday makes today an ideal time to reflect on the woman I came to think of as “Great Aunt Mae.”

I first heard the name Mae West because a kid in our neighborhood had a turtle named after her. Then my family went to Montreal and we stopped at a grocery store where they sold snack cakes called “May West.” When we returned home, at a Sunday dinner, I told my grandmother about the snack named for the turtle.

Mae West in her prime.

My grandmother explained that both the turtle and the snack were named after a real person, an actress from the 1930s and recalled how much she loved laughing when she went to see her movies back then. Lucky enough, another relative there that Sunday was my Great Aunt Antoinette, a hardworking, lighthearted blond woman who was a born storyteller. “Annie” as her friends called her, was a cut-up and did a dead-on impression of Brooklynite Mae West. Long before I ever saw a Mae West movie, my impression of her was, literally and figuratively, familial. In truth, they could have been twins.

Some of the novels Mae West wrote, either adapted to or from her stage and film scripts.

I tried reading about Mae West, but while her autobiography was listed in the card catalog in our local public library the book was suspiciously never on the shelf. Oddly, however, the librarians had overlooked Babe Gordon, one of her racy 1930s novels, with themes of racism, sexism, corruption, addiction and murder. I checked it out and was able to eventually buy my own copy and several other novels she’d authored. Still having never seen her in an old movie on television’s proverbial late, late show, I found her writing style to be pithy, biting, and astutely observant about human nature. The storyline was easy to follow, well-structured, foreshadowing later events deftly. In an Amish Country, Pennsylvania flea market of all places, I later came across some old magazines she’d written articles for, and bought them. What she wrote made her seem to me a downright philosophical genius. addressing the folly of human nature. She wasn’t a hard person, but she had a jaundiced eye.

I eventually saw some of her movies, and liked them but to me she was always first and foremost of interest as a compelling social commentator. She saw aspects of situations others failed to perceive and gave dimension to the type of characters (prize fighters, prostitutes, saloon owners) others ignored.  Somehow, I took odd pride in her wisdom. I had even written a school play about her. All systems were go until the Mother Superior principal canned the deal as inappropriate entertainment for a Catholic grammar school.

Not long after this, I had my first full-on experience with that phenomena known as “zeitgeist.” All of a sudden it seemed Mae West was often in the media. Well into her 80s, she was coming back “ta’pitchas,” as she put it, meaning she was making another movie, a fact chronicled in news items and photos tied to the production of what would prove to be her last film, “Sextette.”

The Chicken of the Sea Mermaid and….her inspiration?

Something of an amateur kid sculptor who made clay figures of people I liked and then sent them as gifts, I made one of Mae West, posing her as an advertising logo character stuck in my mind after passing my mother’s  food cupboard. It sure looked to me that Chicken of the Sea tuna fish had modeled its blond mermaid on their label after her. So, I sculpted a statue of her as the original Chicken of the Sea mermaid, and sent along a copy of the label. Having read that she was litigious in protecting her Persona, I hoped it wouldn’t tick her off.

A note from Stanley Musgrove.

To my knowledge, she never sent her lawyer or “friends in Chicago” to scare Chicken of the Sea, but I did receive a thank-you note from her secretary as well as a  short, brief note of the sort that can make a kid’s head pop. It was from Stanley Musgrove, her agent. He said if I was ever in Los Angeles, Miss West wanted me to “come up and see her sometime,” so she could show me that she’d put the statue on her piano besides a nude marble statue of her by a distinguished sculptress.  Zeitgeist again: I was coming to California in a few months, my parents then planning our family’s first trip to the Golden State. I told them that when we got to Los Angeles, I would be visiting my new friend Miss West. I did not tell them about the nude statue. I wrote Musgrove back, saying I’d be coming to California that summer. He responded with a second note saying I should call him and he’d try to arrange a meeting with her. Good ole Stanley came through for me.

The conversation that transpired that day in August, 1977 when, accompanied by my California cousin Patti, I met Mae West warrants a separate story, which I will someday write.  I do remember reminding myself I better remember everything about it. Although she would not let me bring a camera to have us snapped together, I was left with a distinct and strong impression. She stood erect with a certain dignity, her large, clear blue eyes first warily observing me as I asked questions, and then widening in open warmth and engagement as she responded to each with gentle humor.  When I first thrust my hand to shake her’s and said, “How do you do?” she even seemed modest  until her plump fingers grasped mine and she rolled her eyes, chortling, “How do ya do what?” (Later, sure enough I heard her respond the same way to that rote greeting on a television show. She had that bag of quips always at the ready). There was nothing formidable about her at all. “Reservedly maternal,” is how I’d characterize her vibe.  She was, in fact, a dead ringer for Great Aunt Antoinette. After that day, I never thought of the actress as anything but “Great Aunt Mae,” a bit of a double-entendre in homage to this master of double-entendre.

Mae Wet’s autographed picture for me.

A few months later,  she thoughtfully sent me a Christmas card and an autographed picture (retouched to the point where her eyes, nose and lips just float in white space, God bless her!) I speculate that she sent it to perhaps compensate  for my obvious disappointment when her partner Paul Novak gently shook his head no at the sight of a camera in my hand when I entered the apartment.

So years later, in 1994, when I heard that Christie’s would be auctioning the contents of her apartment, I was curious. A bit too curious perhaps, because I placed the winning bid on the pair of floor lamps that had been in her living room for decades.

Mae West in her apartment living room, about 1933; the floor lamp I now have is at far left.

She had moved into the Ravenswood Apartment Building on Rossmore Avenue when she first came to Hollywood in 1932 and she died there in 1980.  The gilt-painted white rococco-style furniture never changed. Myth or not, I was told by a movie buff  that the lamps were among used Paramount Studio set pieces initially bought from a movie set wholesale outlet and had once appeared in a Rudolph Valentino film. More meaningful to me was that the lamps were in the living room when she and I met.

Mae West’s floor lamps took a journey to four corners of the country.

Inheriting the contents of her Hollywood apartment and San Fernando Valley ranch, her nephew John West shipped them to his home area of Seattle, where they were donated to a charity, intended to be sold at a a fundraiser. It never took place and it all sat in a second-hand store basement. Eventually, Christie’s arranged to auction the estate and transported it all to its New York show rooms. After I won the lamps, my father went to retrieve (“You paid how much for this crap?!”) and send them to my home in Washington, D.C. When I moved to Los Angeles they came with me.  Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Washington, and back to Los Angeles. Finally, Mae West’s floor lamps were in my living room, only seven blocks away from the Ravenswood where they stood for almost fifty years. Unsure of where they fit best in a house with oak  furniture, I think about keeping one and selling one though I hesitate to break up the old team.  Who else would buy Mae West’s floor lamp anyway? I admit that both, about five feet high, are now in the garage.

Mae West’s floor lamps…now in my garage.

A  more modest item she once owned, however, holds greater personal value. On a trip to San Diego in the early 90s, I was walking along a storefront when I glimpsed an old theatrical poster in a window. It was for the play Mae West wrote and starred in, and with which she’s most associated,  Diamond Lil.  I went in.

Mae West’s religious medal.

Turns out that tons of her non-furniture  items in storage had also been inherited by her nephew which he’d arranged to sell through this consignment shop. I bought the contents of literally two desk drawers, a random grab-bag of  items such as pins, a comb and brush set, a religious medal worn on a chain stating, “I am a Catholic. Please call a priest in case of an emergency.” At  the bottom of the heap I spotted what looked like a tarnished  metal stick. It had a small loop on the top portion which unscrewed.

Mae West’s brass fountain pen.

I had no idea what it was, but the scrollwork on it seemed to mark it as quite old, perhaps from the 30s or 20s. And finally, I unscrewed the top to discover a jagged piece of untarnished metal. It was Mae West’s fountain pen, perhaps used to sign pictures, or perhaps to write or edit one of her novels, play or film scripts, the material vessel which output her irony, wit and astute observations about the way people behave.  For me, that fountain pen captures the essence of Mae West. None of these trinkets have much monetary value at all, I’ve discovered. But to me, having the pen which set down such wit is worth a million.

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45 replies »

  1. Such Mae-morabilia! I’m pea-green with envy… and I’m still trying to find just one person to link Mae and Mao! Her story of meeting Ho Chi Minh in London doesn’t match up with actual timelines, so maybe she met Kissinger in a club somewhere.

  2. Great article Carl – but you can’t miss out the central feature i.e. your first impression of Mae and the Ravenswood apartment and most of all, what transpired during your meeting with her! You are such a tease! 😉

    • So glad you liked it – but the reason I left that out was because so many of my blog pieces are far, far too long. So I’m trying to be my own boss too – as in editor, and say ‘hey, ok, so what’s this story about, it can’t be all over the map’ – I will eventually write about it, but I hope my affection and respect for her came through. I really find her eye on human nature to be so wise.

  3. Hi,
    if you are interested in selling one (or two) of the lamps please l would love to buy them.

  4. She was a fabulous, eccentric Legend. Truly incomparable. Her rapid-fire delivery of comments seems similar to Groucho Marx. Of all the celebrated women you have met Carl, I can’t think of
    anybody, dead or alive as colorful or exotic as Mae West.

    I must say I was surprised and delighted to find her on your blog. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve discussed high-minded ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Ford. Suddenly Miss Mae
    arrives on your stage, and she just tears the place apart. How I loved her outrageous sense of being. At age 63, I wished I could have had more of Mae West in my life.

    Thanks for bringing her out, even if just for a little while. I sure enjoyed this piece, and I hope you do share your first impressions and thoughts about her with us.

    • You are really such a conscientious and close reader and there is nothing greater that I can receive in response to this work here than reactions like your own. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with whatever I might write here is not important compared to hopefully conveying a broader human context to people and events we all assume we know already. So thank you very much for that. I would say that in her own unique delivery, Mae West was every bit as “high-minded” as Eleanor Roosevelt in that she had core values and principals about fairness and justice – I think it was a reason for her mass appeal during the depths of the Depression – and I also think her plays and novels display this more than her films. The difference with Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Ford is that they focused on the currency of their world – legislation that impeded equal access to opportunities based on gender and race, Mae West skewered the hypocrisy of human behavior on these matters, and that was a matter of using entertainment and humor to open the eyes of her audience and perhaps begin to change their attitudes or at least make them conscious of their silent assumptions about others different than them.

      And she did it with a delivery she created into her own unique language – so much of what she said was coded, whether she intended that or not. For example, your saying “at age 63” implying like it is late in the game to have “more Mae West” in your life, but remember that line she had – “It’s not the men in my life that count, it’s the life in my men.” I think its as much a statement about not seeking false value in what appears on the surface or what is easily quantified – like the numbers of our ages – but rather to recognize the more satisfying depth fo what we experience and explore internally, how we animate those numbers. Maybe there’s a ilittle red book that needs to be published called, “The Sayings of Chairman Mae.”

  5. I have an exsquisite silver dish of Mae’s. It is inscribed to her and was given to her around 1934. It must have been very dear to her as I was lucky enough to find pictures of it in her ravenswood apartment — always in the same spot.. For a maverick who contributed to change and advancement in our culture, she aparently didn’t like change in her personal environment. Your article is great. Keep ’em comming!

  6. I have an exsqusite dish of Mae’s that is inscribed and given to her around 1934. It must have been very dear to her as I was lucky enough to find several pictures of it in her Ravenswood apartment–always in the same spot. For a maverick who effected much advancement and change in our culture, she apparently did not like change in her personal environment. She was a great talent and is one of our world’s most underated and unsung Icons. Your article is great. Can’t wait till the next one.

    Oh – also, thank you for subscribing – I greatly appreciate that and am trying to point out to lots of close readers who respond on Facebook that subscribing to the blog is the greatest help – so thanks.

    • Thanks so much Dan for your reaction. And I do think you are right about her not wanting her personal environment changed – but we’re all trained to naturally presume things about something like that, namely that it might represent stagnation or refusal to acknowledge change and time passing, but there’s more to it – at least I think. She knew very early on who she was and what she liked and there was no practical reason to change it – no need to bother, to needlessly spend money to change what she liked just for the sake of changing it. I think when you look at the way she adapted herself over the years to emerging entertainment venues – from dramatic “sex” plays to staged musical comedy to film to radio to live Las Vegas act, to rock and roll albums, even learning to play the sitar, she knew what was up and stayed current without compromising her essential self. In many ways, I find Mae West to be the most socially and politically interesting in the late 60s – despite all the jokes about her as a “dirty old lady,” and so forth,

      • AND she wasn’t afraid to alter her own appearance over the years. In every decade of her life she had a different “look” which up until the 60’s reflected the style of the times. After that she really only modified her 60’s look but it suited her personality, I think. Latterly, she also took to wearing pants suits (after Edith Head designed her a few for Myra) which was quite a departure for her. So she was very far from being preserved in aspic in my opinion.

        Great comments on your piece – you must be very pleased, Carl.

        • Yeah, agree and it’s funny how now I can’t think of her as a real person other than how she looked in the 60s, and 70s but obviously that’s drawn from when I read about her in the news and the big moment when I met her – as opposed to the “historical” period from the 20s and 30s

  7. Thanking you for your response, Carl. She is one of my very favorite characters and so worthy of writers like you. The last time I “encountered” Miss Mae, was when I went to see “Dirty Blond” on Broadway. Even in our more “permissive” society, she can still provoke. I would love to “reanimate” her & set her loose on a long list of political & cultural hypocrites!

    • We are in accord 5000 percent. I had at one time written a documentary intended for PBS about Mae West’s social and political impact but it was stalled in the search for the best narrator. I believe Madonna would be an intelligent and appropriate host. I promise you I do have at least three more fuller stories I intend to post about Mae West. I will give you one nugget of a story, however, which I will use in one of them. Although she was a patriotic supporter of the men in the armed services during World War II and a decided foe of the Axis, when a snide interviewer pressed her at that time or just shortly thereafter about whether the content and issues she took on in her plays and films were not in fact a form of obscenity, she turned unusually hostile and serious, responding in a very un-Mae West like manner with one crisp line: “The greatest obscenity is war.”

  8. It’s too bad we did not know more about the Mae West who had serious, heartfelt concerns. Then, again, we never asked her! I think Madonna would be a wonderful narrator. I have lots of respect for her. Madonna, in my humble opinion (smirk) is probably one of most cultured of pop singers. I understand she has quite a beautiful art collection, one of the largest private collections of Frieda Khalo’s work. I have heard other notables compare Madonna’s sensibility to Mae West. I hope Madonna appreciates that as a compliment:)

    I have always wanted to get my hands on some of those early published plays of Mae West’s. It would be wonderful if somebody would do an historical novel of Vaudeville/Ziegfeld era. Lots of wonderful decadent pleasure seekers who were also interesting people. We have captured the “hippy-60’s counterculture” in history books, movies etc. But the Bohemian culture of NYC at turn of century thru 1930, could use some more embellishment. I did volunteer work back in 1980’s/early 90’s, working w/drag cabaret in midwest. She was just as “hot” then as she was in
    1920’s/30’s. The “queen” in a review who “got to be Mae West” was always the BEST!! I am delighted to see Burlesque making a comeback, maybe one of her plays can get a good revival

  9. In re to Mae West’s style/appearance. I agee that she kept her looks commenserate with her own tastes. I
    recall, as a Boomer, going from Be
    e Hives/Boufants to severe Sassoon “blow-dry” cuts, softened slightly by shaggy cuts (think Jane Fonda in Klute), into preppy looking bobbs. I can’t see Mae West being true to herself staying current, if that meant giving up big hair & a honky-tonk woman look.

    Fortunately, at turn-of-century for yr. 2000; women were given more choices. It seemed the fashion industry leaders no longer had the grip on women they once did. The word “indie” came about
    and, hopefully, will remain. Allowing every woman to develop her own look.

    • What statements about themselves in the world that people seek to convey with their appearance, whether they do so consciously or not, is such a part of politics, entertainment and really all forms of enterprise when what those people symbolize is part of the product being sold, and I think by the late 60s Mae West was really asserting herself as Godmother of the Sexual Revolution from her advocacy through her plays and so forth in the 20s, so she really did made a radical change in how she looked from the 50s to the 60s. I suspect that at least one of the visits she made to the USC campus where she was thrust into the world of college students may have led to this., as well as her going around to some of the retro pop stores in Hollywood, might have given her ideas for how she wanted to change how she appeared – and it also led to her working in film again. I don’t think anyone offering advice could make her do anything she didn’t want – nobody better directed and managed the Mae West brand better than herself. She also started wearing pants – which was really seen as an important statement being made by women in that era – I remember one of my grandmothers did this and the other did not!

  10. Hello Carl
    Thank you for your wonderful birthday tribute to Mae West. She was a unique individual who carefully honed and polished her public persona, which still is able to elicit reaction 30 years after her passing. It is interesting to discover various stories of how her possessions travelled from Los Angeles to Seattle and then on to the Butterfield’s Auction held in NYC in 1994. Amazingly many items of West’s property have even returned for periods of time to her Ravenswood Apartment lair where she held court for several decades. It’s almost as if she was on a Vaudeville Pinwheel Circuit again, her spirit entertaining people from town to town. Thanks so much for posting your recollections. And by the way, on a recent trip to Ottawa, Canada I discovered that the delicious round chocolate confection known as “May West” is still being manufactured.

    • Thanks so much for your fun observation. It is amazing how after almost 20 years since her death and 80 years since the height of her popularity, Mae West continues to inspire, uplift and encourage people from all walks of life. I know a right-wing conservative older man who worked for a President who is just crazy about Mae West still, he goes on and on about how she gave his father a sense of confidence during the Depression and how his father “used” Mae West to stand up for himself. It’s really quite a legacy. And few people even know what a generous human being she was in private to people in need.

    • That’s a nice way to look at it, Mark. I have one of her coats; when I took it to the dry cleaners and explained it’s history, a crowd of people formed around it to have a look and reminisce about her. And when I went to collect it, the owner of the shop had put the name “Mae West” on the ticket! So some of Mae’s possessions have also crossed the Atlantic!

  11. Is there any way to see the contents of Mae’s last will and testament.

    What was the value of her estate?

  12. She must have been thrilled to be known, rather than just be recalled, particularly by a young person.

    Mae West was a realist and a fantasist. So ahead of her time about sex yet, in her later years, seemingly unaware that her sex appeal had evolved (devolved) into camp. I wonder if she was in on the joke. I hope so. It seems that you gave her the gift of respect and admiration that she so deserved–a real mitzvah.

    I would rank her alongside Groucho as one of our great movie wits, with the further distinction that she wrote her own best material. I don’t recall in what movie, but she dealt a blow to racism when, reclining on a chaise lounge, she ordered” Beulah” (played by Hattie McDaniel) to “peel me a grape”. Clearly, it was Hattie, rolling her eyes with disdain, who won the match without saying a word. And that’s precisely what Mae must have intended.

    As a judge, I have more than once reminded sassy counsel of Mae’s classic response to a real life judge who asked her if she was “showing contempt for this court”. This was in a proceeding following her arrest in Boston for staging an allegedly pornographic play titled “Sex”. “Your Honor, I’m doing my best to hide it” was her immortal response.

    • One thing she said with tremendous pride and no ego was how many young people, through the generations, loved her and wrote to her, many sending gifts of different types. It made her all the more appealing, humble actually – which is in contrast to the conventional take on her. Oddly, I think her egotism was for Mae West as a symbol of humor in response to human folly, and as a role model for living life as each individual’s nature inclined them to live. As far as her sex appeal as a person who’d lived long on earth (more commonly called old people or seniors….:), I truly believe that she did believe she had it and that it wasn’t a sad joke at all because the power of her mind to shape the quality of how she experienced life was so strong that she felt this was the truth and that she believed it. Most people will label this delusional, but if you really examine every human’s daily experiences as we all live, you begin to realize that every single element of living – even physical pain – is guided by how we psychologically chose to perceive it. Ultimately even what other people think and judge about another person’s perception of any given fact or experience (including the validity of a 80-something year old woman’s sense of her own sexual appeal) is experienced by how that individual choses to perceive it. That may encourage a feeling of both isolation and liberation but its true for every human. So, after that rather abstract little diatribe on “old” Mae West’s sexuality, I have to agree with your more pithy and well-stated observation of her as both a “realist and fantasist.” She never felt shame about always using her unique filters to live with reality as a fantasy. It also explains why Fellini mentioned Mae West and Jackie Onassis as his “favorite Americans!” Lastly, what’s a “mitzvah” – I can’t seem to find the translation – is it as in “bar mitzvah?”

      • Hi Carl: While I was trying to answer your question re meaning of word “mitzvah”, my finger somewhow slipped onto the key for your beloved pet, “Yeager”. Voila, there is the perfect answer. Mitzvah means blessing. As in Yeager was truly a Mitzvah in your life; not just a good, well mannered hunting dog, but a loving companion who brought you comfort and joy on so many levels. In turn, the work you are doing for the Weimar (forgive bad spelling) Rescue kennels is also a “Mitvah”. An act that goes beyond being a mere good deed; but something more profound. In this instance, reciprocating for the wonderful care that Yaeger gave you, during his lifetime.

        When I was a kid, my parents would choose the word “mitzvah” when trying to purseuade me to do something I did not want to do. Maybe manipulation is a better term; as in, “please do me a favor and call your Grandma to see how she is, PLEEZE, that would be a real mitzvah”. My grandma was a very difficult person, not easy to get along with. She knew how to “tweak” a nervous system so well, she could be worse than the electric chair! AS I grew older, I tried in vain, to tell my parents she was “not good for me”, that I was emotionally “allergic” to her. All to no avail. When an obligation is difficult to render, it becomes more even more precious a blessing.

        As I think of your wonderful work with this breed, I can’t help but think of how painful it must be to seperate yourself from the dog you’ve been taking care of. So, I hope you will give yourself a blessing soon, and get a puppy you can keep!

        • Thanks Susanne that does explain it well. And your generosity regarding my work with Weimaraners, or dogs in general – well, I waited a few days to think of a response just as generous to express my appreciation….and I have to rely on the good old “thank you” because it would take a chapter to express how much your observation and remarks mean to me. Thank you. It is definitely far too early and not currently the right circumstances for me to adopt another dog or even consider a puppy, but I am foster-caring and that provides tremendous satisfaction.

      • It’s come to mean an unsolicited act of kindness, a blessing– mitzvah as in “bar (or bat) mitzvah”. But, what do I know? I went to Catholic schools, including your own alma mater (I believe that’s what I read in your blog), Georgetown.

        You did something very kind, clearly implying by your interest that her work was relevant and valuable.

        She seems to be a bigger icon today than her one-time only co-star, W.C. Fields. Given how badly they got on while making their one picture together, I think she would have liked that. In any event, their “My Little Chickadee” is one of the worst-best movies ever and when I think of one I think of the other.

        Now, that would have been a fine subject to have brought up at your meeting–“Hey, didn’t you once date W.C. Fields?” I think you might have gotten those floor lamps much sooner than later! Best, John.

        • Thanks for that observation – but I think she would have hit me on the head with one of those lamps if I’d said that…..funny, you are right, most people do associate them together. And beyond even her film work as an actor, which I think was only like 12 movies – she had a whole previous life as a playwright and novelist, which is now so obscure nobody seeing her with W.C. Fields would necessarily believe that! Cheers – and thanks again for sharp analysis.

          • Thank you for all the work that you put into this great site! I had no computer last week and I missed my daily “fix”.

            W.C. Fields, or a least his screen persona, personified the philosophy that life consists of a litany of indignities made bearable by a little libation. Miss West’s attitude suggested that life was not so bad if you found the right hay to roll in. Both messages clearly resonated with audiences during the Great Depression.

            This is one of my favorites among your posts!

          • Thank you so much – seriously, sometimes it is really the fact that there are people like yourself who appreciate the effort which is sometimes all I go on to continue. Fields was such a genius – last year when my dog was becoming confined I watched all of his films in a row and found him to be hysterical – just that twinkling of his fingers when he became alarmed – and not a bit of dialogue. Brilliant. But alcohol really did kill him. But – that was his choice and I respect his right to do that, though I sure don’t understand it.

  13. I have a copy of Mae’s last will and testament. I also have Paul Novak’s contest of the will in which she only left him ten thousand. The will puts her total worth at the date of the will to be only one million. She left the bulk of her estate to her sister, Beverly West. Hope this helps.

    • Wow – what a find to have. In one of the more recent of books written about her – and there have been so many, which is quite a testament to her complexity, I seem to recall that she shocked some people by either leaving money or making a donation which alive on several occasions to Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. I know that she gave at least one of her old cars away to the nuns she saw waiting for a bus on block or so from her home. Thanks for the clarification – is there any provision for specific charities in her will? I know that caring for her sister whose alcoholism was never successfully treated was quite an act of patience and devotion.

  14. With all due respect, Madonna, who had never had an original or creative idea in her entire career, should not have anything to do with Mae West. Mae West was the Empress of Sex, while Madonna is the Queen of Shock Value and Vulgarity. To call her cultured is laughable. She is a pioneer of absolutely nothing. Mae West, jailed for 8 days in 1927 for her play “SEX”, was a pioneer on many levels. Madonna’s book “SEX” from 1993 had a close up of…things entirely unmentionable. She isn’t bright enough, witty enough or talented enough to do it the way Mae West did it. That ‘times have changed’ has nothing to do with it. While Madonna has blatantly stole her ever changing personas from Dietrich, Monroe, Bettie Page, I Dream of Jeannie, early Cyndi Lauper and more, with no credit given, fortunately she did not find Mae West interesting enough to steal from.

    About the fantastic lamps..the material on the shades appear light blue in the photos. West’s only blue decor would have come from her amazingly styled Santa Monica Beach house. Her rooms there had color themes: Most of them white with gold, but at least one was pink and one blue. At the Ravenswood (where she spent most of her time) she was pretty staunch about all cream-white and gold. She did allow a little light beige or shell-pink from time to time.

    • Appreciate your taking the time to write. In only one important sense were Mae West and Madonna Ciccone alike: not their work but the general public reaction to the nerve which they hit in the media. Without efforts to decode the origins of their expression nor a critique of the originality or quality of their work, newspapers, magazines, radio (and in the latter case, television) reacted with visceral attacks on both women for the messages each seemed to convey. So many of Mae West’s stage plays, besides the one she was jailed for, carried messages that threatened the power structure on issues of sexism and racism. Those lamps are well-documented as having been in her Ravenswood apartment building throughout her entire life there. The photograph in the article, also used in the auction catalog of her estate objects, shows one of the lamps with her there in 1934. (I did remove a few words about Ciccone’s book which you mentioned only because each word is picked up by web-crawlers and seem to sensitivity “rate” websites based on use of them, and also because a lot of grammar school kids use this website for research. Hope you understand). Thanks again for writing.

    • Hi Carl, it was just today that I saw the very negative comments on Madonna by one of your readers, Damon Devine. I sure don’t expect ea. body to like Madonna, and neither does she. But to say she never had a creative moment or cultured thought is very ignorant. I do not have time or patience to document this very talented & intelligent lady’s intellectual substance or potential, but it is there. She studied dance with Alvin Ally (sp?) troop, she lived with Keith Herring, one of the most prolific artists of late 20th cent.; she is said to own the largest private collection of Frieda Khaloe’s work. Her concerts are known for their highly original choreography, much of it very tasteful, though certainly risque. She gained admission to Univ. of Michigan @ Ann Arbor, one of the hardest Big 10 Schools to get into. She composes most of her own music. She has raised millions of $’s for AIDS charities. Her daughter Lourdes, who now has a clothing line with her Mom, is said to be a very nice, poised, and appropriate young woman, very different than some of the wild young munchkins getting press as Brat children of Stars. George Gershwin, she is not, but if he were alive,l’l bet he would have loved working with her! I am not trying to start flaming here, but I can’t let a one of my favorite entertainers be insulted w/out reacting. Why can’t people accept that we have different tastes in music, art, etc., instead of feeling obligated to do a charactor assault on people/entertainers they don’t like?

      • Susanne – You know how often I indulge my wordy thoughts here – well this time I will say only that the crystallization of fact which you generously provided is precisely the level of detailed information I lack a familiarity with but which a thorough response required – thank you very much. I entirely agree with your philosophy on using malice towards those whose public work do not speak to us. I’ve never felt any real affinity towards Marilyn Monroe’s movies, for example, but I don’t feel the need to denigrate her work or her, personally. In a similar line of thought, my admiration for those like, for example, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon because of their vision and intelligence and leadership does not require one to ignore their deficiencies and failures. Unfortunately, most of the world media believes that by casting complexity in black and white to establish an “either/or,” a “winner/loser,” a “blue/red” dynamic is the way to draw in the crowds and make more money and it trickles down into everyone’s thinking unless they resist it.

        • Thanks Carl for allowing me to indulge in a bit of flaming. I don’t know what gets into me, at times. Like Damon Devine, I find there are plenty of people in show biz, or public figures whom I just detest, and do not have the good manners to be quiet about it. There is something about Madonna that elicits a defensive response when I come across one of her critics. Perhaps, it’s because as a younger woman she was so rebellious & I loved her for it. Recently, I can’t understand why LadyGaGa does not have the grace to admit Madonna was an influence on her, & vice versa, Madonna should know that impersonation can be the ultimate compliment. I’m afraid you are so right about how “Powers that Be”, in PR work, like to manipulate these primitive responses.

          This past month for me, as a HUGE, supporter of Bobby Kennedy, Jr., was quite a trial, as I read these hateful, despicable comments about him, manipulated by the Richards family. I know you have other fans out here, who also like Bobby, Jr. I hope this tragic mess resolves itself so he can move forward again. You talk of folks being “manipulated” so as to get them into these barbaric postures, and I think what a perfect example that tragic event was, of a public getting into a gladiator mode. In re to MM, I recall enjoying some of her films, like “Some Like it Hot”, but I never got
          into caring strongly about her. We hippies had a word, “plastic” that best describes how I felt towards her. She is interesting to read, and write about, as a “real life & blood” person, I think she may have had very, very, strong armor. I don’t think she wanted anybody getting close to her. Being a clown was a safe hiding place for her.

          • Gosh, the public knows so little about their own kids or parents, let alone public figures. Good ole Mamie Eisenhower was once asked about Ike and she wisely said, “I don’t think you can ever really know a person. You can know your version of them, but not their own. And, after all, we all have a right to our own opinion about ourselves. We should leave it at that and let everyone do that for themselves.”

          • A great quote from Mami. She had to adjust to long periods of isolation w/out him. The comment U shared seems to reveal a very profound respect for Ike’s boundaries. I do like that one, it is a sign of a very classy lady as opposed to some “karp” who has to “know it all” & think they have a ticket to control of spouse.

          • I agree. She was a far wiser woman and more observant than many realized.

  15. Carl,
    I’ve wondered what happened to you. Still enjoy your first ladies book.I happened
    to drop in on the Mae West sale at Chiristie’s II by accident to get out of the rain late one day in
    New York. There were 12 telephone lines taking bids, and TV cameras from
    all the networks. Quite a show.A golden swan bed sold, but not the one in the movie
    version of Diamond Lil nor the one in Sextet. I’ve always wondered what happened to the original. Good wishes.
    Bill Seale

    • First of all, how fantastic to hear from such a distinguished writer and storyteller himself – the fellow who brought the ‘old’ White House to life for millions of people, opening their mind’s eye to how the old house and otherwise stilted figures in portraits were alive as we all were. And secondly, you just did it again fantastically in just a few phrases…describing so vividly the Christie’s auction of the Mae West estate….rain, ringing phones, the works. I’ve been living in balmy Los Angeles for over a decade now and don’t return to Washington as often as I once did – but I would surely love to see you again at lunch or supper or something. Thank you so much for taking the time to write – you’ve certainly given the world and generations to come a wonderful gift by having written the two-volume The President’s House. Cheers to you Bill.


  1. Mae West Nude, Getting Naked, Fighting Father Time…and Living « Carl Anthony Online: Presidential Pop Culture, Mythic Americana, Holidays, Legends, Pie & Dogs
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