Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mae West

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


MikeNL said...

wow taf!


but what does the Y mean on the RAM album & on the background of paul's youtube promo video?


Anonymous said...

I've long held that one of Paul's secrets was being gay.

Would you care to sit with me
For a cup of English tea
Very twee, very me
Any sunny morning

What a pleasure it would be
Chatting so delightfully
Nanny bakes fairy cakes
Every Sunday morning

Miles of miles of English garden, stretching past the willow tree
Lines of hollyhocks and roses, listen most attentively

Do you know the game croquet
Peradventure we might play
Very gay, hip hooray
Any sunny morning

That pretty well sums it up.

There's been a fair amount of talk about the Sgt. Pepper drumhead used in the LOVE TV interviews. When mirrored, it didn't say HE DIE. It said HE BIE. I can't believe those fools on the NIR forum couldn't piece together what that meant.

John told us a few times, too. PAULythene Pam- she's so good looking, but she looks like a man.

Tara Browne, the Guinness heir who died in a car crash in 1966, was purported to be Paul's lover. His death inspired A Day In The Life, and the funeral appearance of the Sgt. Pepper cover may be in tribute to him.

Anonymous said...

Paul's Autobiography actaully says that L.i.l.y stands for Linda I Love You, surely someone would have worked this out by now?

Anonymous said...

From a psycological report on Lennon and Paul is Dead:

"John Lennon exhibited an interest in death for his entire life. This may stem from the way that death touched his life from almost the beginning of his life; his uncle George Smith died when Lennon was fifteen, his mother Julia was killed by an off-duty police officer who hit her with his car, his best friend Stu died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962 after leaving the Beatles to pursue an art career in Hamburg, Germany. Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, committed suicide in 1967 - Lennon may have been responsible for the “Paul Is Dead Hoax,” a series of bizarre clues that surfaced in the Beatles’ songs that suggested that Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by an imposter.

Excepting the “Paul Is Dead” theory, these important figures in John’s life were all taken from him by death, and this fueled a fascination with and fear of death. One of Lennon’s greatest fears was of cremation, he feared cremation so much that he considered writing a protest song against the procedure (Goldman, 690). Lennon, though he did display an interest in death, wasn’t totally consumed by such an interest, and Fromm would likely not consider Lennon’s interest to be neurotic."


Tafultong said...


The "Y" could be the Aries (Ram) symbol as was suggested here. Plus, there have been so many Lils and Lilys, maybe it's just that the two are interchangeable.

Her name was Ma(e)gil and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.

Tafultong said...

Anonymous said...

Paul's Autobiography actaully says that L.i.l.y stands for Linda I Love You, surely someone would have worked this out by now?

Of course. And that remains the most likely and most plausible of the alternatives. Where exactly does Paul's Autobiography say that?

Anonymous said...

*Biography, and I'll have to look it up for you as I read it a few months back, but don't you think that is all it means?

Tafultong said...

Anonymous asked...

...but don't you think that [Linda, I love you] is all it means?

I have already given that, but I wonder about the sheer frequency of Lil and Lily references that I have found during this investigation.

I should also add "Her name was Magil and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy [Shevell]."

I had a feeling that the L.I.L.Y. thing was not in "Many Years from Now" which is the closest thing to an autobiography. Do you remember which biography it was? I have never seen any quote from Paul that addressed the meaning of "L.I.L.Y."

Anonymous said...

Vince, here.
I'm just here to complement you on your blog!

You're keeping the idea alive, AND teaching those who may not know little odds and ends in Beatle-history.
I remember scouring through the faces, as a kid, and I'm sure MOST of the world's youth have no idea who Mae West is.

In a non-related subject, those of you who enjoy comedy might want to check out the season opener of "The Venture Bros." THIS SUNDAY. Comic/Adventure/Occult satire,lots of 'pop/uderground/cult' refrences.
Check it out. Sundays on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

Anonymous said...

I'll do my best to find it again, I read it at a libary around Christmas time but as soon as I do I'll drop you a line, you're right it's not "Many Years From Now", I'm looking it up now; but as far as memeory serves I'm sure he put a Lily reference in to her on the Ram album, I'll get back to you as soon as I get hold of the book again.

Tafultong said...

Thanks Vince. I appreciate the feedback and the link.

Tafultong said...


Yes please let me know if you find that Biography. The main thing I would like to confirm is if the statement was an actual quote from Paul. Thanks.

JoJo said...

The "English Tea" lyrics don't suggest much, what, because the word "gay" is used? Paul was using antiquated words like peradventure, which suggests the word "gay" was intended to be interpreted in a similar way.. (it used to mean happy) My theory on this song is that it's a portrayal of a scene or scenes in Alice In Wonderland. (flowers, tea party, etc)

Now is the Pepper cover in part a tribute to Tara? Readers of NIR may have heard the theory of what the hyacinths represent. "He Bie"? Nah.. Too heavy handed and obvious.

Tafultong said...

Hey jojo,

Thanks for the contribution. I tend to agree with you about "English Tea." However, I do think the homosexuality issue deserves study, especially concerning Tara Browne. Plus, I have always been curious about the unusual arrangement of Paul living with Jane Asher's family. To read "Many Years From Now" you would come to the conclusion that Paul and Jane didn't spend that much time together.

A lot has been made of the "He Die" -- "He Bie" issue. That is most likely a matter of not getting the lettering quite right. The process is so different now than it was in 1967, it's not a big surprise that the mirroring effect would be lost.

Although, I did find it interesting that when I googled the phrase "He Bie" THIS was the first thing on the list. You just can't get away from Sgt. Pepper!

mojollikins said...

Again back to the LSD which, brings me to another theory, that this whole "death" may very well be a "spiritual allusion due to the "awakening" that occurs when the use of psychedelics is partook. haha is that a word? I am not sure but it looks good and so does your page.
Taf, I wonder if you would be so kind as to e-mail me at the addie I have posted here. I would like to ask you for a tiny help??? I would be ever so grateful!
Mojo L. Likins. :)

Tafultong said...

Hey Mojollikins,

Go ahead and email me at my name at yahoo.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe there was a time in history when Mae West was considered "sexy". There's your Illuminati-Satanism-Book Of Revelations right there!

Jurgen said...

Incidentally, check out that whole Mae West album - her version of Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" is much more convincing than the bard's own version. Really (ahem) nails the double entendres.

Tafultong said...

Jurgen said...

Incidentally, check out that whole Mae West album - her version of Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"

I'm going to have to track that down.