It's time for another trip back to the Sgt. Pepper. Mae West, one of a few sultry blond bombshells on the cover had a long and storied life unlike many of the others on Pepper. West stands tall in the back row between Aleister Crowley and Lenny Bruce.
The widely reported story of how she initially refused to be on the cover (stating that she would never be in any Lonely Hearts Club) and her subsequent change of mind after a personal plea suggests that her inclusion was important to the Beatles. The fact that she gave in to Beatley sweet talk is not surprising, but the biggest hurdle might have been getting her to allow her likeness to be in the same photograph as W.C. Fields.
Although the one movie they made together "My Little Chickadee" was a big hit, they apparently hated each other so much that they refused to film scenes together. Another person in that back row was Edgar Allan Poe, but the only connection I could find between Mae West and Poe is that Mae's California house was in a place called Ravenswood.
Most people think of Mae West as a movie actress although that career was pretty much over long before Sgt. Pepper when she only had 10 movies under her bra, I mean belt. She was ahead of her time as a writer of some risqué plays such as "Sex" and "The Wicked Age." Her most controversial work as a writer was a well known play about homosexuality called "The Drag." Mae had some progressive ideas about sex, but her views on homosexuality are not generally embraced as politically correct by today's standards. Still you have to wonder if her sympathy regarding homosexuality had anything to do with her inclusion on the cover. Back in 1967, there was a significant amount of talk that Paul, the only unmarried Beatle at the time of Sgt. Pepper was homosexual. This was not a completely unreasonable conclusion when you look at some of the people that Paul was hanging out with in the mid-sixties. Aside from having many individuals who died young, violently or suspiciously, the Sgt. Pepper cover also has several individuals who were believed to be homosexual or portrayed characters who were (e.g. Tony Curtis in Spartacus).
Despite the fact that Mae West was no longer a big movie star/sex symbol by the 1960s, there are some interesting Beatles connections that occurred after that. She did a cover of the Beatles tune "Day Tripper" during her minor recording career.
In 1970 she played Leticia Van Allen in her eleventh movie, "Myra Breckinridge." The film starred Raquel Welch who had just appeared in "The Magic Christian." Rex Reed, one of John Lennon's neighbors at the Dakota was also in the film.
Her last film was "Sextette," released in 1978 when Mae was still strutting her stuff at age 85. It was surreal seeing an octogenarian stealing lines from films she made a half century earlier such as when she asked a gangster portrayed by George Hamilton, "Is that a gun in your pocket or are you happy to see me?" The film featured a small part by Ringo Starr as movie director Laslo Karolny. Another important role in the film was played by Tony Curtis who was with her on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, just below W.C. Fields. The music in the film includes Lennon-McCartney song "Honey Pie" along with McCartney favorites "After You've Gone" and "Baby Face."
Six years after her death, Paul McCartney immortalized her in the song "Move Over Busker" from his "Press To Play" album.
Well I Was Hanging Around For A Miracle,
Struggling With A Rhyme,
When I Saw Mae West In A Sweaty Vest,
And I Said I'll Come Up And See You Sometime.
She Said Move Over Busker, Don't Bang Your Drum
Move Over Busker, Your Time Will Come. - From "Move Over Busker" by Paul McCartney
"Sweaty vest" was an interesting choice for that struggled rhyme. Wiki states, During World War II, Allied soldiers called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from Cockney rhyming slang for "life vest" and partly because of the resemblance to her curvaceous torso.
So what is the Beatles fascination with Mae West? I wonder if it has anything to do with the stage role that she kept returning throughout her career based on her 1928 play. She was so popular in the role that many people would refer to her by its name: DIAMOND LIL