Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THE TWO THAT GOT AWAY

Since February is Oscar month, I've decided to rehash some of my old Hollywood stories.

 MAE WEST



MARIA RASPUTIN


Ask me if I ever met any famous people when I lived in Hollywood.

Did you ever meet any famous people when you lived in Hollywood, Jon?

The answer is yes, definitely, but I tend to shy away from name-dropping. I've written about a few of them on previous blog posts - - such as John Wayne, Cher, Ronald Reagan, Groucho Marx, Van Cliburn, Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers, Shelley Winters, Raquel Welch....

Hey, Jonathan, you're not exactly too shy about name-dropping.

Hell, if you've got it - flaunt it. I haven't even mentioned the porn stars yet.

The great thing about Hollywood (at least when I lived there) was that it was fairly easy to cross paths with famous people and/or extremely colorful characters who knew famous people. The connections were everywhere. And it was easy to learn things through endless proverbial grapevines: a friend of a friend.... delicious Tinseltown gossip..... I loved it.



How about the two that got away?
Two people who were actually listed in the L.A. phone book. Two people who I desperately wanted to meet but never did. Actress Mae West and Maria Rasputin ( the daughter of Grigory Rasputin, the infamous Russian monk).

Maria Rasputin was a colorful character in her own right - a cabaret dancer, governess, and long-time lion tamer with the Ringling Brothers Circus. She soothed the wild beasts with her mesmeric eyes.

She was indeed listed in the phone book (trust me, there aren't many Rasputins in the white pages....). She lived in obscurity in a modest place near the Hollywood Freeway. I staked out her residence several times hoping to get a glimpse of her, but I never did. She was in her late 70's then and died a short time later.

Since she was in the phone book, I regret not calling her. I was a helluva lot more brash in my youth than I am now. But - - let's be rational here - - what's a great opening line when you want to talk to Rasputin's daughter? 
"Hey, I was a big fan of your father"......?? 


Maria Rasputin

Mae West. Film star legend. Hollywood icon. I was an immensely huge Mae West fan back then and wanted to meet her, but she was already in her 80's and led a reclusive life.

Ironically my friend and fellow musician Anton had met her (I wrote about Anton in a previous post - - his sister Clara wanted to marry me).

Anton's mother was doing some sort of Hollywood charity work and Mae West was involved. They were both invited to West's apartment. Anton, who was quite young at the time, had never heard of Mae West and wasn't particularly impressed. He remembered that the apartment was decorated entirely in white (quite accurately) and he said Mae West was very alluring, even at an advanced age.


Ravenswood Apartments on Rossmore
long-time home of Mae West 

Mae West had lived in the same apartment building for over forty-five years - - in fact she had a lifetime lease. It was called Ravenswood and is located on north Rossmore, only a few blocks from Paramount Studios on Melrose (where she had worked in her heyday). Incidentally, West's apartment number was 611.

 I initially thought that Mae West owned Ravenswood, but she didn't. Ravenswood had been built by Paramount Studios in 1930 and had once housed such famous residents as Clark Gable and Ava Gardner.

One day I was driving and my car broke down directly in front of Ravenswood. It hadn't dawned on me where I was until I looked up and saw the big Ravenswood sign on the roof.

Holy crap! Mae West lives here! I was astonished and delighted that fate had unceremoniously dumped me right in front of her abode.

There's no satisfactory resolution to this story because I never did meet Mae West. I did my best to get a glimpse of her but to no avail.

Yes, she was indeed listed in the phone book and had been for many years. When she was younger she actually answered the phone and talked to her fans (imagine any movie star doing that nowadays!).

And yes, I dared to call Mae West's phone number several times. I talked to her long-time companion Paul Novak, who was a former body builder and had been one of several muscle-bound pretty boys featured in West's Las Vegas show. Novak was thirty years younger than West. It was rumored that they had been lovers, but I have my doubts (for reasons that I won't disclose here). Paul was kind and easy to talk to. He told me that Mae was very deaf and no longer spoke on the phone (I already knew that, because I'd heard of all the trouble she had while making the movie Myra Breckinridge).

Like a sappy jackass, I wrote a humorous poem and fan letter and sent it to Mae West. Paul said that he'd make sure she got it. She did. Within a few days I received a letter and signed photo from Mae. I still have it.

Mae's photo is presently packed away with a lot of my other Hollywood momentos. Fortunately, it's one of the few things the movers didn't "lose" when I moved to Tennessee.
Mae West, in later years, with Paul Novak
(Paul is on the left) 


Unrelated note: Blogger is giving me enormous trouble with my font sizes again. I had to go through hell to make this post readable.





26 comments:

  1. What great stories and thank you sharing!!! I am HUGE FAN of Mae West. From my understanding she was once the richest woman in America. And also, I believe people aren't aware just how smart and intelligent she was. She was a pretty good business woman, but if I understand correctly the same movie studio that made her also raked her over the coals. She lost a lot of her money, but don't know how true that was. I too loved that she was an apartment dweller. Could you imagine a sat these days doing that? I do believe I have some Mae West in me....some days.

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    1. Everything you've said about Mae West is true. Unfortunately the movie studios back then were notorious for shrewdly financially screwing their stars - especially the actresses. West was indeed a good businesswoman. When the later owners of Ravenswood (not Paramount) were in financial trouble, Mae West generously bailed them out. That's how she got her free life-time lease.
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    2. Wait, don't monks take a vow of chastity?

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    3. A lot of the Monks and "holy men" in Imperial Russia secretly had wives and children. I've read that Rasputin wasn't a real Monk, anyway - he was just an imposture

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  2. So near ...

    Your mention of 'name-dropping' makes me suspect you read my mind. I've been meaning to ask each week, did any of these stars make a memorable impression (on you) ... as far as seeming to take an interest in you, as a person -- or those outside their inner circle?
    I've no personal experiences that would come close to yours, but I'll never forget the way Frank Gifford made me feel ... you know, like at that moment you're the only one in the room.

    P.S. - Wow. Those eyes!

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    1. To be very honest, I've never had negative experiences with any of the famous people that I've met. Most of them behaved professionally (the only way to put it) and were genuine human beings. Some, of course were nicer than others.

      The worst? John Wayne was a gruff, drunken bore both times (I encountered him twice). George Hamilton was a stuck-up snob. Burt Reynolds was fascinated with himself (and I suspect he's either gay or bi).
      The nicest?
      Joan Rivers and Sammy Davis Jr.
      And Ronald Reagan....who was never the monster that the Libs always make him out to be.

      P.S.- Whose eyes? Frank Gifford, Mae West, or Rasputin? I'll bet it's Gifford's....

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    2. Sorry .. it was Rasputin. :)

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  3. I figured out how to thumb my nose at blogger - I compose my thoughts in MS word, then copy-n-paste the text into my blog template. I just did this with my new post.

    mae was protected by "nature's bachelors", correct?

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    1. I'll have to try the MS route, because I'd love to thumb my nose at Blogger.

      "Nature's Bachelors"?

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    2. I should say a few of them were nature's bachelors, but not all....

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    3. k

      dr. spo uses that term when referring to himself.

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  4. I never did care for John Wayne. And for some reason I'm not surprised that HamiltonIV and Burt were stuck up. Maybe I can trust my gut feelings more than I thought.

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    1. I've discovered that gut instincts - in every aspect of life - are usually right.
      John Wayne could be downright nasty when he wanted to be. One positive thing is that he was totally genuine. His personality was the same on-screen as it was off-screen. He was ALWAYS John Wayne, cowboy.

      One little afterthought that might come as a surprise. Carol Burnett isn't quite as sweet and cutsie in real life as she is on TV.

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  5. Yet another fascinating post Jon from your Hollywood memories. I too was a Mae West fan. By the way, did you know the muscle man building to Mae's left was Mickey Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe (1955) who was born in Hungary and is the father of Mariska Hargitay (of the long running TV series "Law and Order") and for infamously the husband of that blonde sexpot Jayne Mansfield.
    Next time we're in California I'll try to look up the Ravenswood apartment building where Mae used to live. Pat and I have yet to encounter any Hollywood star, current or past. Lots of homeless folks though.
    Ron

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    1. A visit to Ravenswood will have to be on your agenda for your next Hollywood visit. It's located in a nice, quiet residential area (or at least it was when I lived there).

      I suspected that was Mickey Hargitay in the photo. Mae was really pissed when Jayne Mansfield married him. I have a few things that I'll mention about Hargitay in my next post (hopefully).

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    2. Jon,
      I will definitely make it a point to visit Ravenswood out next visit to LA.
      Ron

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  6. Terrific post, Jon. Since you were such a Mae West fan, you must have caught my referenc to "peeling grapes" in my last blog post. :)

    Anyhow, I just wanted to let you know I wrote a short, but brutally honest, review of your poetry book and posted it on both Amazon and Goodreads. Hope ya like it. (I thought I had your email address, but didn't find it after a cursory look, and am too darned lazy to keep looking...)

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    1. I did indeed notice the "peel me a grape" reference. I haven't read your review yet, but I certainly will. I trust your judgement and truly value your opinion.

      I still have my old AOL email address, which is: jayveerhapsody@aol.com.
      I'm considering getting a new email address, but I'll also keep the AOL one.

      I don't think I have your email address

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  7. Terrific post, Jon. Pleased to have Mae West's other compositional bookend identified as Mickey Hartigay. I puzzled over that face and thought it might be a young Clint Walker --Cheyenne Bodie-- who I believe is still enjoying retirement up in Grass Valley.

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  8. "Compositional bookends" - I like that.
    I had completely forgotten about Clint Walker. Did a quick search and discovered he is indeed still with us, at age 88.

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    1. Please don't show us a picture of him. I'd rather remember him as Cheyenne Bodie.

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  9. Too bad you didn't meet Mae, you could have helped her with her enema bag.

    (I hear she was big into enemas...)

    :-)

    -Andy

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    1. That's definitely one thing that I wouldn't want to press in my book of Hollywood memories....

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  10. Mae West was a genius. Because I was born and raised in Chicago (35 years!), I never got to meet any of the Hollywood elite. But I did somehow manage to strike up an odd phone/snail mail friendship with the great Quentin Crisp. His phone number was listed in the phone book, so I would give him a call whenever I was feeling depressed as hell. He was always very kind. I have 6 letters from him, and I have requested they be buried with me in my grave. Surprising info about Carol Burnett: I always loved her and her show. I guess we all wear masks :-)

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  11. Yes!!! I had heard somewhere (can't remember where)that Quentin Crisp was listed in the phone book. It's amazing that you were able to have a special friendship with Crisp, but I'm not surprised. He was reputed to be a caring and very genuine person. His letters are certainly something to be treasured.

    Mae West was indeed a genius and one of the most unique Hollywood icons ever. She was first class all the way.
    As for Carol Burnett - - she certainly isn't an ogre, and she does love her fans, but...well, I suppose everyone has bad days...

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