A tale of Mae West, The Velvet Underground and little Charlie McCarthy

As I drew designs for the lead character I had The Velvet Underground record New Age spinning round in my head. Especially the lines “can I have your autograph? he said, to the fat blond actress.” As far as I know the Velvet Underground wrote this song alluding to the once hugely successful actress Mae West (as well as a number of others). 

(I think I was the last to recognise the joke about taking inspiration from Velvet Underground for London Transport)

So as I developed the character of ‘the blonde actress’ I started to imagine her as a Mae West look-alike, who was in love with a little guy who looked like a ventriloquist dummy (but was actually a living East End gangster). The Mae West-alike idea led me to study the Edward Burra painting that I posted earlier, I decided that the real West’s persona, physique and attitude were worth investigating further. I researched Mae West some more, looking for pictures where she had a big grin. All this shaped and fleshed out the character.

However, about a week ago I started to doubt the idea altogether, whether I actually wanted these characters to be at the centre of my story, and I was unsure if it was the right direction for my LTM pitch. That all changed up after a string of images clarified it all for me, starting with this Jean Paul Goude image * I found after a google search for “Mae West Puppets”. This image is from a fashion shoot with the Model Laetitia Casta posing as Mae West.

A few months ago I found this puppeteer who made 1930’s style puppet cabarets and one of his puppets looks like Mae West, I haven’t been able to find his work again online, I was actually looking for his work but this image came up instead. I realised it must be based on a film role and so I searched further and couldn’t believe what google came up with:

Mae West actually starred on a radio show with Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy. Apparently the scenes between the two were considered to be so risqué that West was banned from the radio for 10 years. Though the art of ventriloquy is rather diminished on the radio it nonetheless got people hot under the collar. Mae’s speciality! Seeing this made me realise I had to pursue the story I am developing. It felt like the something was guiding me with out me knowing. I find this the best way to have faith in projects and ideas; a cosmic collision.

Notes from Mae’s flirtatious radio appearance with Charlie McCarthy

• • Mae: So, good-time Charlie’s gonna play hard to get? Well, yuh can’t kid me. You’re afraid of women. Your Casanova stuff is just a front, a false front.
• • Charlie: Not so loud, Mae, not so loud! All my girlfriends are listening.
• • Mae: Oh, yeah! You’re all wood and a yard long …
• • Charlie: (weakly): Yeah.
• • Mae: Yuh weren’t so nervous and backward when yuh came up to see me at my apartment. In fact, yuh didn’t need any encouragement to kiss me.
• • Charlie: Did I do that?
• • Mae: Why, yuh certainly did. I got marks to prove it. (Snickering from audience) An’ splinters, too. (Laughter). …


*(The doll in the Jean Paul Goude image is in fact Grouch Marx)