Every once in a while we like to dip into Goodness Had Nothing To Do With It, the book Mae West wrote about herself in 1959, and then updated 11 years later. Herewith a small sampling of her words of wisdom:
— After I’m No Angel, her 1933 romantic comedy opposite Cary Grant, Mae West became something of a worldwide sensation. She looks like the statue of libido, opined one critic. Said West: my personal life kept pace with my public one. I played as hard as I worked. I did not neglect my pleasures, but I did wish I had more time for them.
— On villains with facial hair: Only Gable and (Ronald) Colman could play good men with mustaches.
— I’ve never been able to sleep with anyone (!). I require a full size bed so that I can lie in the middle of it and extend my arms spread eagle on both sides without their being obstructed.
— Sex and I have a lot in common. I don’t want to take any credit for inventing it — but I may say, in my own modest way, and in a manner of speaking — that I have rediscovered it.
— Hollywood treated me well after I fought to establish myself, but I always held it at arms’ length like a would-be lover one didn’t fully trust.
But, tellingly, Mae saves some surprisingly blunt observations about the great W.C. Fields, her costar in the 1940 comedy/western takeoff My Little Chickadee. The picture has been heralded in the decades since its release among legions of Fields fans. Mae seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Prior to the filming of the picture, Mae had been absent from the big screen for at least two years. Thus, her pairing with one of America’s foremast male comedians was widely anticipated.
Turned out that although My Little Chickadee was a commercial hit, it was not particularly well received by critics. From the beginning, Mae — an experienced stage and screen scenarist — claimed ownership of the comedy. She writes that he picture was produced from my original script entitled ‘The Lady and the Bandit’ or ‘My Secret Lover’ , which I sold to Universal Pictures.
Bill Fields wanted the title changed to one that connected him to me, rather than to the masked bandit (played by Joseph Calleia). That seemed to make sense, so I changed the title to ‘My Little Chickadee.’
For the first three weeks of shooting everything went great, and everyone was happy. Bill was behaving himself very nicely.
Mae had worried about Fields alcohol problems, and inserted a clause in her contract specifying that should Fields show up on the set drunk, he was to be removed immediately .
The fourth week of shooting came, and Fields did indeed show up intoxicated. I had to invoke that protective clause, Mae writes. To complicate things, Fields had also requested additions to Mae’s script that would feature him exclusively.
They were simply exaggerated tales of his bouts with booze, said West dismissively. and didn’t affect the basic plot. All together, it was estimated that his contribution to the script amounted to 10 per cent of the 153-page screenplay.
Mae notes that partially because of Fields, My Little Chickadee has been seen over the years by hundreds of millions in theaters and on tv. Some people have gotten the quaint idea that I made more than one film with W.C. Fields.
No way, baby. Once was enough.