She Always Knew How: Mae West, A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler
Finished: Mar. 11, 2009
First Published: Feb. 10, 2009
Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.
My first thought was, women need a Bill of Rights. "And then I thought, no, what women need is -- a Bill of Wrongs."
Comments: A very interesting biography of Mae West written by an author who interviewed West extensively near the end of her life. Mae West was a feminist before the word was invented, and a very racy character, who created herself an image based on sex that she always upheld in public. The book covers Mae's entire life from her parents up to and including her death in 1980. Mae lived through most of the 20th century and is a legend today for her risque work both on the stage and as a playwright and her movies that pushed the boundaries of 1930s/40s morals. Mae had a way of saying the tamest thing in such a sexy way it became a double entendre.
While a biography, the book is almost completely written in Mae's own words quoted extensively from interviews with the author and also from a few of her contemporaries such as George Cukor. The author interjects with her own narrative briefly here and there to make a cohesive narrative. I found the book extremely interesting. I love this time period of Hollywood. Though I must say Ms. West does come across as egocentric and narcissistic which surprised me not really knowing anything about the woman herself. One thing I very much enjoyed was every time a play or movie was mentioned the author included a brief synopsis of the plot and since many of these, especially the plays, were unknown to me it was very interesting indeed. I wonder if a book of Mae West's plays has ever been published... I'd certainly like to read them.
The author has written plenty of other biographies on actors/directors of the golden age of Hollywood and I will look out for them in the future. While I always prefer to read auto-biographies, what I look for biographies is an author who respects the subject and doesn't dish dirt nor come up with all sorts of wild (unprovable) theories. Charlotte Chandler has most certainly lived up to my expectations of a good biographer.