The enduring star who never won and Oscar

Mae West never won and Oscar, but her brand is more enduring than many who did. Today in 1979, she sold the bulk of her possessions at an auction held in Pontiac, Michigan.

Mae West was 84, had moved into an apartment and shipped 2,000 items, weighing 4,400 pounds from her Santa Monica home. Considering the mores of the times, she was the Lady Gaga / Madonna of her day, bucking the system, pressing the edge of the envelope and winning the admiration of Depression-era audiences in the process. She got her first movie contract at age 40, unheard of for a woman in the day. Wikipedia notes that, “When Mae West’s cinematic career ended, she wrote books and plays and continued to perform in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, on radio and television and to record rock and roll albums. She was once asked about the various efforts to impede her career, to which she replied: ‘I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.'”

The secret of Mae West’s success? She dialed into her audience and found a way to give them something unique that they wanted. Women of her day admired her liberation. Her ability to radiate allure was recognized by World War II pilots who named their life vests after her. She deployed brand across every medium of the day. One of the first true social media stars.

When she died, a little more than a year after the auction, she was still a worldwide brand. Careful investment advice made her independently wealthy but she never stopped working. Roger Ebert wrote, “Although her public image was often copied, it was an original when she created it. It basically took its form in her 1928 play ‘Diamond Lil.’ ‘I’m her, and she’s me,’ Miss West said, and made it a point to wear diamonds during public appearances. That’s how her autobiography got its title. Entering a nightclub dripping with diamonds, she heard a hat check girl exclaim, ‘Goodness! What diamonds.’ Mae West’s immortal reply: ‘Goodness had nothing to do with it’.”

Quick Takes:

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Today in 1998, Bo Diddley and Roy Orbison received Grammy Awards for Lifetime Achievements. Together they contributed 32 hit singles to the soundtrack of our lives.
This week  in 1987 – Frank Sinatra guest starred with Tom Sellick on CBS-TV’s “Magnum P.I.”, filmed on location in Hawaii where the summer wind blows every day. By the way, The Chairman’s “Summer Wind” was the last tune played on WCBS FM in New York when the station briefly dropped it’s oldies format.
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Today In History:

1950 “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar & Imogene Coca premieres on NBC Writers include Mel Brooks, Neil Simon & Woody Allen.

1956, Elvis Presley had his first national hit when ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget‘ went to No.1 on the Billboard Country & Western chart.

1957, Buddy Holly recorded a new version of ‘That’ll Be The Day‘, at Norman Petty Recording Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. The title being taken from a phrase used by John Wayne in the film ‘The Searchers.’

1964, The Beatles finished recording their next single ‘Can’t Buy Me Love‘, at Abbey Road studios, London, (they had first recorded the song on 29 January 1964 at Path Marconi Studios in Paris). They also recorded the B-side, ‘You Can’t Do That‘ and another new song ‘I Should Have Known Better‘.

1964, Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay] TKOs Sonny Liston in 7 for his first world heavyweight championship title.

1995, At a private party for 1,200 select guests on the closing night of the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic golf tournament, Frank Sinatra sang before a live audience for the very last time. His closing song was ‘The Best is Yet to Come’.


The First Dollar Bill

1862: Congress forms US Bureau of Engraving and Printing to print newly issued US paper currency, the United States Notes.
1901: United States Steel Corporation is organized under J. P. Morgan, Sr.
1956: Elvis Presley had his his first national hit when ‘I Forgot To Remember To Forget’ peaks to No.1 on the Billboard Country & Western chart.
1963: The Beatles release their 1st US single, Please Please Me.
1964: The Beatles finished recording their next single ‘Can’t Buy Me Love‘, at Abbey Road studios, London, (they had first recorded the song on 29 January 1964 at Path Marconi Studios in Paris). They also recorded the B-side, ‘You Can’t Do That‘ and another new song ‘I Should Have Known Better’.
1973: Stephen Sondheim‘s musical, A Little Night Music premieres at Shubert Theatre in NYC (601 performances).
1981: Winners at this year’s Grammy Awards included Bob Seger who won Best Rock performance for ‘Against The Wind’, Pat Benatar won Best female performance for ‘Crimes Of Passion’ and Christopher Cross won Best new artist and Best song for ‘Sailing.’
1990: On a BBC taped interview, rock star Stevie Nicks breaks down, saying that she will never have children & no man can stand her for long.
2016: Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller are honored by unite4:humanity for their work promoting awareness of and fundraising for Alzheimer’s research

Today’s Birthdays:

Gert Fro?be in Goldfinger

1873: Enrico Caruso, Italian operatic tenor (Faust), born in Naples, Italy (d. 1921)
1901: Zeppo Marx [Herbert Manfred Marx], American comedian and actor (Marx Brothers), born in NYC, New York (d. 1979)
1913: Gert Fröbe [Karl Gerhart Fröbe], German actor (Goldfinger, Lover’s Wood, Upper Hand), born in Saxony, German Empire (d. 1988)
1913: James ‘Jim’ Backus, American actor (Mr Magoo, Rebel Without a Cause, Gilligan’s Island), born in Cleveland, Ohio (d. 1989)
1918: Bobby Riggs, American tennis player (‘The Battle of the Sexes’, US Open 1939, 41), born in Los Angeles, California (d. 1995)
1928: Larry Gelbart, American television writer, playwright, director and author, best known as creator and producer of M*A*S*H, born in Chicago, Illinois (d. 2009)
1929: Tommy Newsom, American saxophonist and bandleader (Tonight Show), born in Portsmouth, Virginia (d. 2007)
1937: Bob Schieffer, newscaster (CBS Weekend News), born in Austin, Texas.
1937: Don Randi [Schwartz], American session and touring pop, rock, and jazz keyboard player (Nancy Sinatra), born in New York City.
1943: George Harrison,(Beatles -‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’; ‘Here Comes The Sun’; solo – ‘If Not For You’; Traveling Wilburys – ‘Handle With Care’), born in Liverpool, England (d. 2001)
1957: Dennis Diken, American drummer (Smithereens -‘Only A Memory’), born in Belleville, New Jersey.
1966: Tea Leoni, (Flying Blind, Madam Secretary), born in NYC, New York.
1971: Sean Astin, American actor (Goonies, The Lord of the Rings), born in Los Angeles, California

Much More Music:

1966, “Shake Me Wake Me” – Four Tops released this one in February and “Shake Me Wake Me” was nearing the top of it’s chart run this week in 1966. The On Top LP took advantage of the writing and production of Brian HollandLamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland and became one of the Tops most successful albums.  (Video)

1968, “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” – Georgie Fame. Released as a single in after Fame saw the controversial Hollywood Film, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, the tune reached number one in the UK on in January, going Top 10 in the US in March. Extra credit if you remembered Georgie’s other hit, “Yeh, Yeh” from 1964.  (Video)

1969, “Time of the Season” – Zombies  – The Zombie cannon consists of three significant hits:  1964’s “She’s Not There“, Tell Her No” in 1965 and “Time of the Season” in 1968. Written by keyboard player Rod Argent (The “Hold Your Head Up” guy) and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in August 0f ’67. Columbia A&R man and former BS&T member,  Al Kooper, convinced Argent to prioritize “Time of the Season” over the anti-war “Butcher’s Tale” which the band favored. (Video)

1972, “Living in the Past” – Jethro Tull. Another story about a tune that was released on the 1969 album Stand Up, but failed get traction until tour audiences fell in love with it. “Living in the Past” became a thing 3 years later, in 1972 when it became the title track of that year’s top 10 LP. (Video)


Today’s Quote Worth Re-Quoting:You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” ~Mae West

One for the Road:Weeds“, Brewer & Shipley’s second LP, was released in 1969. It was recorded at Golden State Studios in San Francisco and produced by Nick Gravenites under his the pseudonym “Nicky Gravy”. Weeds was a moderate success, the final track, Jim Pepper‘s “Witchi-Tai-To”, got a lot of FM radio play. Today’s trivia question: What was the name of the band that first released “Witchi-Tai-To”? Here’s the Answer.  (Video)


Thanks for listening!

Scott Westerman
Host and Producer – Rock and Roll Revisited
Author: Motor City Music – Keener 13 and the Soundtrack of Detroit