My bestie Alan Ishii introduced me to Mae West, with a new year’s eve screening of I’m No Angel. We texted about it afterward. Turns out, Alan knows quite a bit about Mae West! With his permission, I’ve reconstructed his texts, below 😊

Something important to keep in mind, with Mae and Marlene, they were in on “the joke”, and building themselves up to a 50 ft. tall love goddess was done with the utmost awareness of how silly it was,

I think it’s easy to miss the “self-mockery” angle

Garbo did not have that. I don’t think Bette Davis or Joan Crawford did, either,

I mean for example, the opening lines of I’m No Angel, “Is that elegant, or is that elegant?” — and Mae being an intelligent woman and knowing full well that she is anything but elegant,

Elegance: the state of beauty not where you have added enough, but where you can take away no more — my 90 year old piano teacher’s definition of “elegance.”

Outrageous! was a movie by a drag queen who was Mae West’s assistant. There’s a very interesting scene where he hooks up with a handsome stud, And at the end, the stud is like, “You know, I didn’t have sex with you for free???” — and the drag queen is embarrassed, hands him some money, realizes he could never attract someone that handsome, pays him, and they part ways,

It was an extremely vulnerable, self-aware scene.

Anywho, I think if you REALLY look into Mae West’s films, you can see a similar vulnerability/self-awareness in her persona,

Also, something Craig Russel (the drag queen who wrote/starred in that movie who was Mae’s assistant) noted, Mae West’s persona is extremely complicated. All the great stars were! I don’t think you really see that any more

This really puts Mae West in context:

Understanding the Mae West persona: in the 1930s, Keiichi Takasawa described Mae West as the greatest proponent of this very, very complicated Japanese aesthetic — Iki

The Wikipedia article has a confusing description of it. It is intent, style. Coquettishness. Laboring to make something effortless. Profoundly unnatural.