• Mae West Gone, But Won't Be Forgotten

    • Posted on Nov 25, 1980

    Mae West, the sexiest octogenarian who ever lived, died last week at 82 or 87 or 88, depending upon who you listen to.

    How many films do you think she made before 1970? Fifty, Eighty? A hundred? Get set for a shock: She made only 10 films before 1970—all of them between 1932 and 1943.

    She then retired for filmmaking for 27 years, and came back to do "Myra Breckenridge" and "Sextette" in the 1970s.

    Talk about an original! Name another movie actress who changed the face of the movies with just 10 films—most of which she wrote herself. Name another star who rescued a whole studio, in her case Paramount, with her 1933 films "She Done Him Wrong" and "I'm No Angel." Name another actress who was both a sex symbol and a comedienne. 

    The censors howled and raged at her double entendres, her never-still torso, her outrageous body. Her audiences, however, just howled. 

    William Randolph Hearst is supposed to have said, "Isn't it time Congress did something about Mae West?" Meanwhile, RAF pilots did do something about her: they named their inflatable life jackets after her, thus giving her permanent status in English dictionaries.

    Like so many originals, she's remembered now as much for her effect on the culture than for any particular work. But what truly sets her apart is how conscious she was of what she was doing.

    This may have saved her; Marilyn, Elvis and so many others lapsed into suicidal depressions and early deaths because they didn't know who or what they were behind their aging public masks.

     Mae West knew. Though she's remembered best for a few lines from her movies—"Why don'cha come up and see me sometime?" and "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie!"--a glance through- her autobiography reveals a strikingly honest and thoughtful mind.

    About censorship, she says: "I've never believed in going haywire on stage or screen. Obviously no medium of mass entertainment can be allowed to throw all restraint out the window. Strict censorship, however, has a reverse effect. It creates resentment on the part of the public. They feel that their freedom of choice is being dictated. They don't want their morals legislated by other than criminal law."

    On Hollywood life, she writes: "It was all the parties, all the record-playing, all the strong drinks in what the film people called a montage; one of those artistic arrangements of objects: bottles, faces, train wheels, clouds, all pumped full of music to take the place of real action, to advance the plot without telling anything true and honest in detail. Life elsewhere was real and slippery and struggled in the arms like a big fish dying in air."

    On W.C. Fields, with whom she made only one film, My Little Chickadee: "I never like to work with actors who drink on the job. They aren't dependable as a rule, and you can't tell when, inspired by some daffy alcoholic whim, they can ruin your performance...I think that under the grotesque ruin of a clown Bill Fields was tragically aware of the wreck he had made of himself."

    On her own private life: "I never felt I needed to saturate my public with every detail of my private life, and I kept the facts of my personal affairs, my romantic relationships strictly top secret, even keeping my public happy in the belief that I belonged entirely to them, by persistently denying for years that I had ever married."

    Finally, on her great life-long avocation, sex, she writes (in a letter to Alfred Kinsey, no less): "We should know everything about ourselves, but it is wiser (for sex's sake) not to know everything about each other. We should not be so exposed to each other, so common to each other, that sex becomes a mere commodity to be handed around like a pack of cigarettes."

    Her autobiography, revised when she was in her late seventies, ends with the word "Intermission." For Mae West, a remarkable and largely still to be appreciated woman, the show will go on.

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  • Good luck, Alicia—You’ll Need It

    • Posted on Sep 26, 1980

    Note:  ALICIA WITT, now 33, graduated from high school when she was 14, and has acted in some 55 films and TV series.  Wish I had predicted that too--but I at least noticed that she was destined for an unusual life.  That has certainly happened.  (11-16-2012)  


    Everyone knows some ante-raiser.

    You know, the secretary who cheerfully types twice as much, twice as fast as anyone in the office and makes good coffee besides? Or the athlete who breaks all the records, then says, “Ah, it wasn’t nothing,” and means it. Or the movie star who plays Shakespeare well.

    These super-secretaries, jocks, and stars inevitably make their colleagues feel inadequate. In general, they have fewer friends than most and find that though they might be respected and admired, they’re not liked because they up the ante, so to speak.

    Then there's little Alicia Witt. Alicia, you may have read, raises everybody enough so we all have to pay more. A lot more.

    You think you have a smart kid because he-she babbled “Muh-muh” at seven months? Alicia was “deciphering diaper boxes and world maps” at seven months.

                Are you proud of your 2-year-old because he-she remembered Uncle Wylie’s name? At 2, Alicia said to Robert, her father, as he came home, “Is thy name Robert a fair name? I’ll have no father if you be not him.” Shakespeare; she’d read it that day.

    Your five year old knows the alphabet? Little Alicia, now just 5, writes stories more than 20 pages long. She knew the alphabet, both phonetically and the letters, when she was 16 months.

    When Alicia was just under 3, a psychologist reported that she was intellectually at least 12. As her mother says, “A month for Alicia is like a couple of years for other children.”

    In a word, Alicia is a freak, or at least that’s how she’s going to be treated. For if people have trouble with super secretaries, what will they do with a super-everything like Alicia? Her teachers will slow her down, her friends will bore her, her parents won’t know what to do with her.

    And the rest of us will be reminded, because of her very existence, that our ideas about human intelligence have been too narrow. That’s hard to deal with because our own intelligence seems so much more limited than Alicia’s.

    Consider what may happen to Alicia:

    -       She could marry, have kids, grow old happily and live a good life.

    -       She could join a carnival sideshow as “Memory Woman.”

    -       She could become the 51st president, though she’s probably too bright to try.

    -       She could write poetry, novels and plays, winning three Nobel Prizes for literature.

    -       She could write treatises on theoretical physics, winning a Nobel Prize for same.

    -       She could become a career waitress at Barney’s Bar and Grille in her hometown of Worchester, Mass., becoming locally famous for her witty cracks about the food and customers.

    With a name like Alicia, she’s halfway there.

    -       She could join a nunnery to eventually become the first female Pope.

    -       She could become a revolutionary, turning against her parents and the system that turned her into such a freak.

    Given what I know of the world and Alicia, the answer to what she will become is simple: she’ll do all of the above, then die having lived a full and varied life.

     At 18.

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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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