The Immortality Of Mae West

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Through Whitcomb I met Dan Price, a film archivist who dined with her once a week during the 1970s. “Her favorite movie was a two-and-a-half-hour composite I made of her best scenes,” he told me. She would pick him up in her limousine. “Whenever she got a new limo, she’d always give her old one to nuns. ‘I can’t stand to see a nun riding on a bus,’ she’d say.” She favored a Chinese restaurant in the seedy section of downtown Los Angeles, and “she’d make her entrance through the kitchen. It was funny to watch her with people. Walking across a room, she’d realize halfway there that she was being watched and go into her Mae West walk. She really didn’t like women, but she flirted with men right up to the end. If a handsome guy was around, she’d act all interested in him, and lie to him about her age, tell him, Tm 82,’ when she was 86.”

For the 47 years she lived in her apartment, she conducted all her interviews in her bedroom, with its imitation Louis XIV furniture, polar bear rugs, sprays of artificial flowers, nude paintings and statues of herself, and mirrored ceiling. She received journalists sitting up in bed in a glamour wig, stage makeup, and a filmy negligee, enjoying the psychological advantage it gave her. “You’re lyin’ there perfectly comfortable, and the guys are fidgetin’,” she said. In later years she criticized the graphic sex scenes in contemporary cinema. “The sex organs ain’t got no personality.”

She rejected anything negative about herself, always expressing complete confidence in her professional future. A boastful prediction she made in the 1970s sounds remarkably prescient in the year 2.001, now that we know how enduring a presence in our lives she is. “I will always be where the action is,” she proclaimed from her canopied bed. “You can count on that.”

True West: A Short Treasury of Quotations