Courting Mae West

The play "COURTING MAE WEST: Sex, Censorship & Secrets" is based on true events during the 1920s when actress MAE WEST was arrested and jailed in New York City for trying to stage two gay plays on Broadway. Maybe she broke the law - - but the LAW couldn't break HER!

My Photo
Location: New York, New York, United States

native New Yorker

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mae West: Haunting Bridgeport

MAE WEST might have put the blame on Bridgeport — — but did she go back to bedevil a playhouse?
• • During the early 1920s, impresario Sylvestre Poli brought the Poli Palace to the Nutmeg State.
• • Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb and eventually renamed Loew's Palace Theater [1325 Main Street, Bridgeport, CT 06604], this landmark was the biggest movie theater ever erected in Connecticut — — and the largest among Bridgeport's 20-plus theaters. Poli's was actually one of two theaters built inside a single building (the other being the Majestic).

• • Despite the public's curiosity about the controversial vaudevillian Mae West, and her latest play "The Drag," Jim Timony could only manage to secure half a week at Poli's Park, which was then in use as a burlesque house in Bridgeport. It was a dreary and wintery Monday on 31 January 1927 when the Morals Production Company hoisted a banner over the trolley cars criss-crossing Main Street. Pedestrians were intrigued by this saucy announcement: "The Drag" by the author of SEX — — more sensational than Rain or The Captive!"

• • While they were lodging at the Arcade Hotel, Beverly West and Edward Elsner (Mae's sister and director) were arrested at 5 AM on 2 February 1927. Both the play and the arrest were the talk of Bridgeport.
• • Ghost-busting and career-boosting • •
• • Currently researching a local squad of spirit-chasing cops, whose haunts are the historic Bridgeport theaters, John Burgeson has alerted readers of The Connecticut Post to the intersection of ghost-busting and career-boosting aims currently afoot on Main Street.
• • Writing from Bridgeport, John Burgeson asks the famous question: When the ghosts that haunt Bridgeport's old Poli Palace theater get out of line, who you gonna call?
• • Why the cops, of course — — or, more specifically, the East Coast Paranormal Police.
• • Now, the newly formed ECPP might have a shot at fame. On Monday, a TV producer was in town to shoot footage of the ghost-hunting cops in action inside the Poli Palace and Majestic theaters downtown on Main Street, two long-abandoned, historic showplaces that score high on the creepiness scale.
• • "Today, we're doing a pitch tape for a new show we have in mind," said Rob Johnson, a production coordinator for Pangolin Pictures. "We understand that the Poli Palace might be haunted and Jim Myers suspects that there might be a poltergeist here."
• • Jim Myers, a 12-year veteran with the Bridgeport Police Department, is the man behind the ECPP, which has been getting help from one of the heavy hitters in the ghost-hunting business, famed psychic and Monroe resident Lorraine Warren.
• • Pangolin Pictures, which has three Emmy Awards to its credit, is primarily a producer of nature films for cable networks. These include "Tarantulas: King of Spiders" and "Jaws and Claws."
• • Johnson notes that while there are other ghost-hunter shows, Pangolin likes the fact that Myers uses "police training" to investigate strange occurrences.
• • "We think that's an interesting angle that will be new to paranormal shows," he said. "In 'Ghost Hunters,' they're plumbers by trade. Jim's group all have had police training."
• • On Monday, Johnson and his assistant, Gina Fitch, were busy shooting footage of Myers and his 11-person team as they explored the dusty innards of the Poli Palace and two attached buildings, the Majestic theater and the Savoy Hotel.
• • In 2007, the direct-to-video cop action flick starring Steven Seagal shot in downtown Bridgeport included scenes filmed at the Poli and Majestic theaters. The showcases continued screening movies sporadically into the early 1970s, long past their glory days as venues for elaborate live entertainment, and later for first-run Hollywood movies. Through the early 1950s, it wasn't unusual for movie stars to turn out on opening night to boost attendance.
• • While plans have been floated over the years to restore the theaters, nothing has ever become of them. Johnson hopes that the pitch tape, which will be about five minutes long, will be pedaled to the various cable channels, such as Discovery, National Geographic Channel, TLC, the History Channel and so forth. He said that it may take six months or longer for the channels to decide whether to proceed with the idea.
• • "It's just a quick piece to show Jim and his team, and what they can do," Johnson said, "and to show the network what it would look like as a series."
• • If a network picks up the idea, the ECPP would be central to the show, which would follow the team as it checks out various reports of paranormal activity up and down the East Coast, Johnson said.
• • Bridgeport City Historian Mary Witkowski, also interviewed Monday by Johnson, said there's no shortage of reasons why there might be strange goings-on inside the theaters.
• • Mae West: Is that you? • •
• • "First it could be the Golden Hill Paugusset [Indian] tribe, whose graves may have been disturbed when they built there. It could be Dutch Schultz, the rum-runner who was murdered in New Jersey — — he did a lot of business in Bridgeport back in the 1930s. Or, it even could be Mae West ---- she had performed here, got into trouble and spent the night in jail," Witkowski said. "Maybe she wants to get back at us."
• • Myers said he has 16 to 18 members in the ECPP, and all are trained in police work. "I actually come in here on a weekly basis because the city gave me the key, so I can keep an eye on the place," Myers said. "I've seen a couple of photos that were taken here that were pretty strange."
— — Source: — —
• • Article: "Ghost-hunting cops haunt historic Bridgeport theaters"
• • Byline: By John Burgeson
• • Published in: The Connecticut Post — —
• • Published on: 11 May 2009
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

• • The arrest at the Arcade Hotel after "The Drag" is dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West." Beverly's drunken antics and Mae's strategies are featured in Act I, Scene 2. You can watch a portion of this surprising scene on YouTube.
• • The "scene of the crime" is still in business: Arcade Hotel 1001 Main St, Bridgeport, CT 06604; Tel (203) 333-9376.
• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" has attracted the attention of a theatre owner and Is now seeking a co-producer for a for-profit production.

Add to Google

• • Photo: Mae West
• • Poli's 1927 • •

Mae West.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Mae West: Diamond's Ira

In 1928, MAE WEST approached Ira Hands to stage her latest play "Diamond Lil" at the Royale Theatre on Broadway.
• • Born on 24 June 1872 in Geneva, Illinois, Ira A. Hards aspired to be an actor. After a round of performances, touring in regional theatres, the personable 29-year-old made his Broadway debut in "Don Caesar's Return" [1901]. He began keeping company with Ina Hammer, who was also getting cast in mainstage productions in Times Square, and the theatre couple married. In between starring in an acclaimed silent film version of "King Lear" and on Broadway, busy Ina Hammer branched out as a stage director and soon took on another role: as a real-life mother with a sweet newborn daughter.
• • In September 1928, as things were winding down in Manhattan for the beauteous Bowery queen Diamond Lil, Ira Hands escorted his daughter Ina Isola Hards down the aisle when she wed Lieutenant Gordon Philip Saville of the Army Air Corps. Things were going well for the versatile theatre pro, who had developed new skills: directing, dialogue coaching, and producing.
• • Booth Tarkington [1869 — 1946] was especially indebted to Ira Hands for directing his Broadway plays "Magnolia" [1923] and "The Intimate Strangers" [1921]. After Mae's arrest in 1927, Booth Tarkington was commisioned to write an article — — and "When Is It Dirt?" [published in Collier's, The National Weekly, on 14 May 1927] discussed the issue of censorship and government intervention.
• • Ira Hards did well enough to maintain a residence in Manhattan and a country house in Connecticut. He found time to establish his own stock company at the Westchester Playhouse in Mount Kisco, New York, and devoted himself to a group called Young Actors' Development.
• • Among the many highlights of his busy three decades long career in the theatre world, Ira Hards directed and staged the original 1927 production of "Dracula" (starring Bela Lugosi) that ran for 261 performances at the Fulton Theatre on West 46th Street. Coincidentally, Hards's Stage Manager for "Dracula" was Carl Reed, who became Mae West's producer for the ill-fated Broadway run of "Pleasure Man" (1928) at the Biltmore Theatre.
• • When Ira Hards died in Norwalk, Connecticut in the month of May — — on 2 May 1938 — — The New York Times referred to the 65-year-old as a retired producer who presented many Broadway plays. His wife Ina passed away 15 years later in 1953.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
• • The serious-minded comedy "Courting Mae West" by Greenwich Village playwright LindaAnn Loschiavo, set during 1926 1932, explores Mae West's legal woes surrounding "The Drag" and "Sex." Scenes in Act I dramatize Mae's interactions with her drag queen cast, the police raid on 9 February 1927, and the tense aftermath at Jefferson Market Police Court. Scenes in Act II depict Mae's involvement with "Diamond Lil," "Pleasure Man," and her ensuing legal turmoil.
• • Using fictional elements, the text is anchored by true events and has several characters who are based on real people: actress Mae West; Beverly West; Jim Timony; Texas Guinan; a news seller on Sixth Avenue and West 9th Street; and Sara Starr, based on the Greenwich Village flapper Starr Faithfull, whose death inspired John O'Hara's novel "Butterfield 8" and a dozen other books.
• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" has attracted the attention of a theatre owner and Is now seeking a co-producer for a for-profit production.

Add to Google

• • Photo: Mae West
• • April 1928 • •

Mae West.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,