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Without “Talkies” There Would Be No Mae West


The silent film era ended with the birth of the “talkie” not long before Mae West become a Hollywood star. While audiences were enthralled by West’s powerful and confident sexuality, the main way she expressed it was with language. (“Any chorus girl in any Warner Bros. movie in the 1930’s showed more flesh.”)


- Hollywood makes its first talking film in 1926, with 'The Jazz Singer' and no one thinks that it's going to be, there's very little dialogue in 'The Jazz Singer,' no one thinks it's gonna be very popular, it's mostly singing, the synchronized sound and people love it.

- You begin to get a change, instead of having the very ethereal, beautiful-looking, romantic female or the little, perky little girl female or whatever, you begin to get women who are, you're going to hear their voices and they're going to sound tougher, they're going to sound cheaper, they're going to sound more abrasive or whatever.

You begin to get a different type of star because you begin to get a different type of movie.

You begin to get a level of realism that also existed in the silent film, but now you hear the sound of it.

You hear the machine gun.

You hear the talk of the streets.

You hear things and you get a different kind of star.

So one of the first things that happened in the sound era was that women and men, of course, who had distinctive voices, began to be really popular and, of course, that is very well illustrated by Mae West with her unusual cadence and the sound of her voice and the rhythm that she brought to things.

- In the late 1920s, a whole group of screenwriters and actors and comedians come into Hollywood with the onset of sound.

And sound is the crucial dividing line here because it's impossible to imagine Mae West without a sense of sound.

Because it isn't her figure that's attractive to you, but it's what she says, her wisecracks, her intonation, her insinuations, it's all verbal.

Her sexuality is verbal, not physical.

Any chorus girl in any Warner Brothers movie of the early '30s showed more flesh.

What was sexy and enticing and dangerous about Mae West is her voice, her language.

The famous wisecracks that she'd snap off to any guy who was in her vicinity.

So you need sound to have Mae West on screen.

Without sound, Mae West is neutered.


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