Mae West

  1. Ruth Langston, Daredevil Jack, 1920.     The Baby Vamp of the burlesque circuit turned down her first movie offer – Jack was Dempsey in the 15-episode “serial with a thousand punches” – to try out vaudeville on the Plantages theatres. “When caught between two evils I generally pick the one I’ve never tried before.”
  2. Helen Morgan, Applause, 1928.    Rather obvious choice for a burlesque star  called  Kitty Darling.  Although West would have probably named her Pussy… The rather demure  (and indeed, operatic) Ann Blyth was MGM’s  surprise choice for The Helen Morgan Story, in 1956. 
  3. Constance Bennett, Sin Town, 1941.    ’Twas a Western  boom town, ripe for con men. “Marlene Dietrich was supposed to be in it,” Bennet’s co-star Anne Gwynne told Mike Fitzgerald. “But when she read the script she turned it down. She and Brod[erick] Crawford were having a fling at this time. She wanted to work with him but the character she played lost Brod to me until the final reel when he goes back to her and I land Patric Knowles. So, unfortunately, she didn’t appear in it. Then, Mae West turned it down for the same reason. Constance Bennett, who was getting a little long in the tooth, didn’t have any qualms and played it to the hilt.”
  4. Lucille Ball, Du Barry Was a Lady, 1942.   The film of Cole Porter’s Court of Louis XV was always aimed at Mae. And it showed. “With vulgarity from the lesser lavatories,” said Time magazine. Enough so to have  Ginger Rogers and Ann Sothern fleeing the coop, when… after a knock on his head,  Red Skelton dreamt he was Louis XV chasing after  Madame Du Barry. You hadda be there! 
  5. Gloria  Swanson, Sunset Blvd, 1949.     Director Billy Wilder’s first choice  (for what he kept under wraps as A Can of Beans) was indignant. “I’m too young at 55! It’s for an older woman. And Bill Holden would’ve been too tired to leave me.” George Cukor (who saved the project by nominating Swanson) said there were too many similarities between Mae and Norma Desmond.  For example? “Mae lived with a man who, unknown  to her, not only answered her fanmail for her, but also wrote it.”
  6. Mary Beth Hughes, The Ox-Bow Incident, 1942.   Director William  A Wellman loved the book(by Walter Van Tilburg Clark.  But Paramount  producer  Harold Hurley had the rights and  the absurd idea of turning the grim drama about the lynching of three innocent drifters in the Old West into a Mae West vehicle… as a saloon chanteuse -hostess!  MBH was a natural redhead turned into a Hollywood blonde.  
  7. Marjorie Main, Belle of New York, 1952.   “Fred [Astaire] never worked so hard,” said MGMusicals director Charles Walters, “but the leading  lady [Vera-Ellen] was like a piece of  putty.”  Wanting  some extra pizzazz, Walters asked for  West and “the studio fluffed it.”  Ma Kettle  – the gay Main – finished  up as Mrs Hill.
  8. Ginger Rogers, The First Traveling Saleslady, 1956.    Travelling for her Gillroy Corset Co.  So, obviously,  the Western was intended for West. (This was Clint Eastwood’s eighth movie).
  9. Rita Hayworth,  Pal Joey, 1957.    Opposite Marlon Brando!  “A sorta Diamond Lil meets Stanley Kowalksi drama,” she called it. “It would have been the camp classic of all time,” said Joseph Mankiewicz of fellow director Billy Wilder’s plan. Marlon visited Mae in her home-cum-shrine-cum-museum, stayed the night – she believed in sex at least once a day  – to find out if she was  just another drag queen. The verdict: “She’s a male chauvinistic pig but all woman!”
  10. Ethel Merman, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, 1962.    Producer-director Stanley Kramer’s movie was stuffed full with stars – mainly comics. Not all agreed to join  the party, being terrified at the prospect of working with the great Spencer Tracy.   Sophie, the Russian-born burlesque queen and her screen equivalent, Mae West, were  sought for Mrs Marcus.. finally given to the Broadway queen.  When Groucho Marx was asked  play a cameo, he said it was … Mrs Marcus!

  11. Ethel Merman,  The Art of Love, 1964.    Co-producer Ross Hunter wanted Mae West as  Madame Coco La Fontaine.  Sure, she said, as long as I write my own  lines. No, said Hunter, stupidly – and  immediately callwedanother Broadway icon… to join James Garner and Dick Van Dyke as, according to web critic  Derek Winnert,   “two nimble American rascals [who] turn Paris on its ear!!!
  12. Barbara Stanwyck, Roustabout, 1964.    Po’r Elvis! As if it wasn’t bad enough that Stanwyck was 57, ole Mae was 72… according to her!
  13. Lucia Bosè, Fellini Satyricon, Italy-France, 1968.   Fellini and Mae West, now there’s a thought…!   He desired some of his most cherished Hollywood stars in his ancient Rome extravaganza.  Mae, Jimmy Durante, Van Heflin (surprisingly), Boris Karloff and, of course, Groucho Marx headed his dream-wish list but they all felt too old for galivanting around Nero’s licentious  Lazio.  Bonnie and Clyde’s driver, Michael J Pollard Pollard, was much  younger, of course, but  he still stayed away.
  14. Barbra Streisand, Hello Dolly! 1969.   An early, genial idea from stage-screen producer David Merrick. “Streisand had the unmitigated gall to imitate me,” said Mae after seeing the movie.  “She needs a little sex quality in  there and she knows imitatin’ me is  the best way she can  get  it. She didn’t even bother to ask if she could….” And so Mae, surprisingly,  made just 13 movies across 45 years.


 Birth year: 1893Death year: 1980Other name: Casting Calls:  14