Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the first movie in which Mae West appeared, Night After Night (1932).
As you can see from the poster, she’s fourth billed in the picture, her presence there at all the result of her pal George Raft’s lobbying the studio (Paramount) on her behalf. Mae’s performance in the film is an object lesson for all of us: baby, when you get your big chance, do NOT blow it. West knew this was her one opportunity, and she picked up the ball and ran with it. She blazes across the screen as Raft’s ex-girlfriend Maudie, owner of a string of beauty parlors who gradually becomes fast friends with the gangster’s teacher, played by Allison Skipworth. The main plot is about Raft’s romance with a confused, depressed society girl played by Constance Cummings. Mae turns her minor role into a star turn, full of piss and vinegar. She’s determined to make her mark and she does. She re-wrote her lines to suit her character, and they’re hilarious. She’s only in a few scenes, but she made such a huge impression that she immediately got signed to a contract. Her first starring vehicle was the smash hit She Done Him Wrong, which rapidly made Mae Paramount’s biggest earner. Overnight she became one of the highest paid women in the country. But it all started with Night After Night. Here’s a clip.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.