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COLUMN SIXTY-EIGHT, FEBRUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

COMPLAINT!

Subject: MAE WEST
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 16:26:46 -0600
From: "planet9" <planet9@rocketmail.com>
To: <info@blacklistedjournalist.com>

In regard to your website concerning Mae West.  She was not nearly 50 years old when she hit Hollywood, she was 38!  Please correct this at once!  It is insulting to the legend!  

Ray
~Resign as general manager of the world~  ##

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REG HARTT, AUTHOR OF THE MAE WEST STORY, REPLIES TO THE COMPLAINT

Subject: "She was nearly fifty."
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 07:06:48 -0500
From: "reg hartt" <reghartt@hotmail.com>
To: planet9@rocketmail.com

Dear Pluto (Planet 9),

I was well aware, when I wrote the piece that set you barking, that Mae West, in terms of years, was closer to forty than she was to fifty.

What you, it seems, are unaware of, is that the motion picture camera adds not only ten pounds but also ten years to the person being photographed.

Movie heroines tended to be young women in their teens and early twenties. Mae West was closer to fifty than to twenty.

In the eyes of an industry prone to exaggeration Mae West was fifty, overweight and of no possible interest to the motion picture going public. She was a novelty.

The words were written with an eye towards the deeper truths that lie below the surface.

The point, however, was not her body but her mind. She was possessed of a sharp wit, a natural intelligence and a keen eye.

Had she been content to conform to Hollywood  'legend" she would have done her scenes in NIGHT AFTER NIGHT (her first film) without argument, taken her money and gone back to New York.

And that would have been the last the movies heard of Mae West.

That is, if she had been content with the "legend".

For what is clear, from the many books about her, is that the Mae West of the New York stage and the Mae West of the movies are two different people.

She knew she had gone as far as she could on the live stage.

She also knew that the movies offered her a chance that she had to seize.

That she did so vigorously seize that moment and trust in her instincts that Hollywood was wrong and she, a child of the New York streets, was right is to her credit.

I have found it rare that legends are not an insult to the truth.

Legends are for acolytes and fans.

Acolytes  and fans are like back seat drivers in a car.

I wondered what caused Mae West to have a stroke as she neither drank nor ate to excess nor did she abuse her body with drugs.

But what she did do was  play the MAE WEST character on stage and off for nearly all of her life after the death of her manager, Timothy because that is what her fans demanded of her.

Every performing artist lives for that moment back at the hotel, away from the fans, when they can just put their feet up and be human.

Mae West lived with her fans twenty four hours a day at the end.

That was a helluva strain. Eventually it proved more than she could bear.

But that is the price of having fans (short for fanatics) around.

Al Aronowitz is a man who has always had a keener eye and ear for the truth than for the legend. That is why he is, as you obviously do not know, Ray, a legend.

It is also why he deserves to be one.

It is why Miles Davis quietly paid the bill for his wife's funeral after she died of cancer and why the late George Harrison gave him part of an album and why many, many more both famous and unfamous, salute him.

From the hysteria in your letter you are either very young and thus without experience or else a man whom life has passed by. I hope it is the former and not the latter for the former means there is yet a chance for you to get a life.

Charles Baudelaire, as Mae West was later to do, challenged convention. These are his words for the fan:

WHICH ONE IS GENUINE?

"I once knew a woman named Benedicta, who infused everything with the ideal. When one looked into her eyes one wanted nobility, glory, beauty, all those qualities that make us love immortality.

"But this exquisite woman was too beautiful to live long; she died in fact shortly after I met her, and it was I who buried her one day when spring was waving his encensoir even through the cemetery gates. It was I who buried her, well encased in a coffin made of a wood scented and eternal as the treasure boxes of India.

"And while my eyes remained fixed on that spot where my jewel lay entombed, I saw all at once a tiny human being much like the dead woman, doing a bizarre dance, violent and hysterical, on the loose earth. She howled with laughter as she spoke: 'This is me! Benedicta, as she is! I'm trash, everyone knows it! And the punishment for your stupidity and your blind head is this: You'll have to love what I am!'

"I went into a rage and said, 'No! No! No! No!' And in order to give strength to my no, I stomped the earth so fiercely with my foot that my leg sank into the freshly turned earth up to my knee, and like a wolf caught in a trap, I am now tied, perhaps for the rest of my life, to the grave of the ideal." (Translated by Robert Bly).

The ninth planet, your "nom de guerre" is named after the Greek god of the dead, Pluto.

Unlike the perfection of the ideal the real always has a touch of squalor.

In the past the gods and goddesses of the theatre were able to haunt only the memory of those who knew them in their time.

In our time the living are haunted, through the "magic of the movies," by the dead which is why in France a film showing is called "Une seance du cinema."

Leave the dead.  

It is the living who demand our attention and our best.
-Reg Hartt.  ##

* * *

AND, ON SECOND THOUGHT. . .

Subject: Mae West
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2001 17:41:01 -0500
From: "Reg Hartt" <reghartt@hotmail.com>
To: <planet9@rocketmail.com>
CC: "al aronowitz" <info@blacklistedjournalist.com>  ,"reg hartt" <reghartt@hotmail.com>

Dear Ray,

The first Mae West movie I ever saw was a battered 16mm dupe of SHE DONE HIM WRONG. The year was 1968.

However bad the print was nothing could diminish the aura of Mae West.

I then bought superb 16mm prints of MY LITTLE CHICKADEE and I'M NO ANGEL which remains my favourite among her pictures.

That same year I read, for the first time, her autobiography.

1970 found me, at the invitation of a friend who returned to Toronto a few days after I arrived, in Los Angeles in a bordello (not an Italian dessert) just a stone's throw up the street from THE RAVENSWOOD apartments where Miss West lived.

One of the fellows in the house thought himself God. He gave me a pill used to knock out an elephant in a sandwich.

When I found out what had happened I composed myself by composing a letter to Miss West in which I wrote that she was a great revolutionary as any artist who goes to jail, as she had, for their art is a revolutionary.

I dropped the letter off at the front desk of The Ravenswood. I then found a park bench where I sat out the drug. It was a very interesting night.

A month later, on the eve of my return to Toronto, I received a 9"x12" manila envelope from Miss West which contained an autographed photograph of her from MYRA BRECKINRIDGE as well as an invitation to come up and see her.

I dropped off a note explaining why I could not accept her invitation.

When I arrived back in Toronto I discovered a letter from Miss West saying, "If you are out this way again, come up and see me."

As part of my film program at Toronto's Rochdale College (a place as wicked and wild as anything in Miss West's movies--the piece you read is from my book, THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED ROCHDALE) I ran all of Miss West's Paramount films many times.

I would not call myself one of her fans.

I will say that I am someone who loves her.

That is quite a bit different.

It was not until a few years ago when the new books began to come out on her that I realized the full extent of the compliment she paid me.

Miss West was terrified of people on drugs. I had written that I was on drugs in the letter I dropped off.

I then knew that in the month that had passed since she had received my letter she had had me checked out by everyone from detectives to her personal psychic.

I have the great pleasure of having a Tibetan Lama (who accompanied the Dalai Lama on his journey across Canada) as one of my friends. He claims that, yes, I am psychic altho I make no claim to be.

Miss West would be the first to tell you that more is involved in the choice of a name than we think. You did not just "pull the name out of the air because you liked the way it sounds."

Yes, I know saying she was almost fifty would infuriate her.

What you fail to understand is that that is what people were saying about her when she arrived in Hollywood.

Everyone thought she was over the hill except for George Raft (who brought her out mainly so he could re-kindle the romance).

And damn near everyone thought her too fat.

Do I personally think she was too fat? No.

But the movies have always been hot for women with young boy's bodies.

She was the opposite of everything Hollywood banked on then and banks on now.

Perhaps your fury blinded you to the gist of that piece. It contains nothing  but the deepest admiration and sincerest love for the way she continuously surmounted the obstacles she was faced with.

The movies are based on lies. Miss West lied through her teeth in her own book because she did not want to depress her readers with the truth.

Her book reads like it was a picnic for her from start to finish.

It sure as Hades, the place Pluto governs, wasn't.

The fact of the matter is that Mae West pushed the envelope in both her professional and private life and she paid a high price for it.

I push the same envelope. I wrote what I wrote and it stands. And I have been more than willing to pay the price that goes with standing our ground.

And if you do not like it, well, to borrow the words of my friend, the late Shamus Culhane (who animated the "heigh ho" sequence in Disney's SNOW WHITE), well, you can go perform an impossible sexual act.

Al Aronowitz was a crime reporter for THE NEW YORK POST when his editor sent him down to Greenwich Village to write a hatchet piece on some crazy young men who flashed switchblade knives, smoked pot and spouted poetry.

Instead Al wrote the first positive piece about William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

When I did my first show in New York (at the Thalia Theatre) Al introduced it.

He later took me around the town.

It was amazing to see one performer after another come up to our table to acknowledge Al.

He, as well, is a revolutionary.

And he, as well, has paid in full the price that goes with being our own person.

I cannot think of a better person to be the guardian of the universe.

It took guts on the part of Mae West to stand up to the world she lived in and to write the first plays about sex, homosexuality and racial integration. She was the first white woman to kiss a black actor full face on stage.

It took guts on Al's part to go against the wishes of his editor.

The day you begin to understand that is the day you begin to really get a life.

Don't, for Chrissake's, get the impression I am pissed off at you.

You have put your foot on the right path by admiring a lady whom Salvador Dali painted as the embodiment of freedom.

It would be awful damned hard for you to go wrong from there.---Reg Hartt.  ##

* * *

AND THEN AGAIN. . .

Subject: Mae West's age.
Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001 10:43:22 -0500
From: "reg hartt" <reghartt@hotmail.com>
To: info@blacklistedjournalist.com

www.bigmagic.com/pages/blackj/column27a.html

"She was nearly 50." change to "She was nearly 40."

It is a small change and the point is not lost altho it seems to be lost already on Pluto (Planet9).

He is certainly right in saying it would have made Mae West furious at first but I feel she would have realized on further reading she got not a slam but a kiss from me.

Best wishes for a great year and sincere wishes you are here for a few years more."Reg  ##

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