Has there ever been a broad brassier than Bette Midler? It’s debatable, but Mae West definitely comes close. We’ll soon get a chance to compare the two tough-talking dames when the self-proclaimed Divine Miss M. plays the legendary screen siren in an upcoming film.
Noted for bawdy zingers such as “So many men, so little time!” and (my personal fave) “I’ve been in more laps than a napkin” (slip that bon mot into your next holiday party conversation!), she basically put the “bomb” in bombshell. After achieving success on Broadway in the roaring 1920s with her racy self-penned sex opuses, West headed to Hollywood to make a string of hit comedy films. She launched Cary Grant’s career and saved Paramount studios from bankruptcy. When her film career waned, she returned to the stage, always surrounded by a bevy of beefy bodybuilders and/or gay men, even singing on the Oscars with Rock Hudson. She returned to movies in the 1970s still cluelessly pushing the same sexy act on audiences with two lurid camp classics, Myra Breckinridge and Sextette, before her death in 1980. West’s penchant for shocking audiences undoubtedly paved the road to superstardom for other blonde provocateurs like Madonna and Gaga.
Potentially good stuff, right? However, it’s always a very slippery slope when one iconic entertainer portrays another. For every Barbra Streisand who won a best actress Oscar for her interpretation of vaudevillian Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, there’s a Lindsay Lohan who sunk to a depressing career low when she tried to impersonate Ole Violet Eyes Elizabeth Taylor in Liz & Dick. Below are a few reasons to look forward to this movie.
The film has a tony pedigree.
William Friedkin, an Oscar-winning director responsible for The Boys in the Band, among other classics, knows how to shoot a bitchy one-liner. He’ll helm the pic from a screenplay written by Harvey Fierstein (above), the outspoken genius responsible for dragtastic triumphs such as Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots. His source material is West’s candid 1959 memoir Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It. The movie will air on HBO, undoubtedly still giddy from the success of its sensational Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.
It could be a future camp classic.
The biopic will reportedly concentrate on West’s early years. The blond bombshell was 34 when she was thrown into the slammer on indecency charges over her risque stage show Sex and not quite 40 when she became a film star. Midler is currently 68 years old. In a way, this is fitting as the indomitable West refused to let old age deter her sex drive. Watch a clip from Sextette in which an 85-year-old West seduces future 007 Timothy Dalton while “singing” a Captain and Tennille hit here.
She inspired and stole from drag queens.
Charles Pierce (above), one of the last century’s most prominent female impersonators (and bestie to Golden Girls star Bea Arthur!), thrilled audiences with his dead-on embodiment of West delivering his signature take on zingers such as “If you’re gonna come up and see me sometime remember safe sex isn’t an affair with a locksmith.” it’s absolutely fitting that she was a drag staple since a persistent rumor claimed that West borrowed her best and naughtiest one-liners from an early 20th century drag performer named Bert Savoy.
Maybe there will be a big reveal.
This could turn into HBO’s version of The Crying Game. Another sex symbol, Raquel Welch, is convinced that West was a man in drag. The two icons clashed when Welch starred opposite West in 1970 as, ironically, the MTF title character in the disastrous adaptation of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge.
It has to be better than this.
Midler won’t be the first actress to play West. Ann Jillian starred in a TV bio in 1982 opposite future Streisand hubby James Brolin. And, holy shit, what do you know? There’s also Faye Dunaway, who portrayed the legend in a no-budget 2002 drama about evangelist Leroy Jenkins called The Calling, though sometimes known as Man of Faith. While La Dunaway still blames her ferocious turn as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest for the downward spiral her career took in the ’80s, she’s probably grateful that few (if any) fans have seen this bomb in which the Oscar-winner vamps and shifts her hips like there’s no tomorrow.