MICHAEL ST. JOHN MEETS MAE WEST
(Excerpt from his book "Hollywood Through the Back Door")
UPON returning from an unbelievable trip to Atlanta, Georgia, there was an invitation to attend a reception at USC in honor of playwright Tennessee Williams. Karl Malden, Lawrence Harvey and John Voight were scheduled to be present. Producer William Castle, Paul Newman, Anne Jeffreys, Jean Simmons, Anne Baxter and Mae West added enough glitter to the room to impress anybody in the business.
The banter between Malden, Harvey and Williams was an eye-opener for those curious about their close relationship through the years. Tennessee made no bones about what had happened to him and Larry Harvey while filming in Ireland. if their descriptions of their sexual excursions together had been put into a motion picture it would had to have been rated XX. The more Karl Malden attempted to shut his buddies up the more Tennessee confessed his sexual adventures. It was quite an occasion. Shocking, delicious, but absolutely hilarious!
Before the curtain closed on the tribute, Bill Castle suggested he introduce me to Mae West for an interview. I really believed, as did everyone else, that she wasn't available to the press, but she surprised me. After our introduction, she invited me to her penthouse apartment on Rossmore in Hollywood, where we had an unforgettable time together.
When I arrived at Mae's apartment, I was met by Mark, her partner-bodyguard. He quickly announced that I had an hour with the legendary actress. When Mae finally made her grand entrance, she dressed completely in white and looked amazingly youthful and unbelievably stunning.
"Well, Michael," she purred, "you made it. Hope I didn't keep ya' waitin' long." When I heard that familiar speech pattern and rhythm, my entire body began to shake with utter excitement. All the characters I had seen her portray on the screen suddenly loomed in my mind. Somehow she sensed that I was one of those worshiping fans and quickly tried to put me at east. "Relax, sweetie," she insisted. "There's no rush. Anything good, I mean really good, takes time, if you know what I mean."
Mae had me so completely under her spell I had difficulty posing my first question. As I was about to ask about the time she spent in jail for lewd conduct in New York, she asked me how old did I think she looked. Oh, no! Why in hell did she have to ask a question like that! I knew she was in her eighties; what was I supposed to say? I managed to say she looked like a woman in her forties. Well, she was horrified! She made it very clear that most people believed she still looks at least twenty-five. My god, the woman is crazy, I thought. She looks fantastic, but twenty-five!
When I asked Mae how she managed to look so young, she said with great pride: "I take an enema every single day of my life. After I leave the bathroom, you can go in and fry an egg."
Quite early in the interview, I learned that Mae enjoyed talking about sex. She claimed that Cary Grant was a beautiful-looking man but was nothing to brag about in bed. "He was like a nice piece of jewelry," she offered, "Nice to have around your neck for an occasion, but I wouldn't want to make it a habit." When she mentioned Anthony Quinn she wouldn't reveal too many details, except that the actor gave her a night she would never forget. Mae was filled with sudden energy when recounting her wild, sexual excursion with a certain Black boxer of the thirties.
"He had seventeen orgasms." she told me with an absolutely straight face.
"Seventeen! How in hell did you know?!
"Easy," she continued. "Every time he had an orgasm, I put a mark on the wall."
It was such an incredible tale. She knew I would never forget it. And she was right. Prior to the interview I had been told that I couldn't have a tape recorder with me. Initially I resented the ban. But Mae was so unique, it didn't really matter, I could remember almost verbatim what she had said.
For many years rumors had circulated around the industry that Mae was really a man. I asked if she knew about this. Mae laughed and said she did. "You've got to expect things like that in this business," she reminded me. "But you can tell your readers that what I have between my legs wasn't put there by no surgeon. All of it is the real thing."
Mae and I talked long after the stipulated hour. And because she had enjoyed our afternoon together so much she suggested I call her dear friend Roddy McDowall for an interview.
As I left her apartment, I was in a daze. She had won my heart, my respect and I had come to understand what a real Hollywood star was supposed to represent -- everything! It was one of those magical times that made me understand why I was so fascinated with the business, and the people who make it what it is. It was an incredible lesson from a credible, well-seasoned teacher.