Eve Golden / Queen of the Dead: Mae Murray

Bee Stung Lips
I hope you don’t mind if I use my column to plug a friend’s book, Michael Ankerich’s new Mae Murray biography, The Girl With the Bee Stung Lips (OK, so he did dedicate it to me. But you needn’t dedicate a book to me to get me to plug it, I also accept flat-out bribes).

Michael is both an excellent writer and an excellent researcher, a combination which is essential for a good biographer, but which is so often lacking on one side or the other. And the book is not biased, neither a “perfect, wonderful Mae!” fan-mag piece nor a “bad Mae!” hatchet job. He obviously admires and likes Mae Murray, but he does not cut her any breaks: her bad performances and bad behavior get fully covered. He also—I am torn between admiration and jealousy!—interviewed her nephew and son, neither of whom has ever talked to the press before.

Poor Mae, as you probably know, was a real-life Norma Desmond and Baby Jane Hudson rolled into one. A cabaret dancer and Follies Girl, she was whisked off to Hollywood in 1916 and became one of the more eccentric stars of the late 1910s and early ’20s. As an actress . . . well, she was one of those people who was capable of giving a brilliant performance if a stern director really put his foot down and made her stop posing and making faces and Mae Murraying all over the place. Erich von Stroheim got good work from her in The Merry Widow (1925), as did her old pal Lowell Sherman in her last two films, Bachelor Apartment and High Stakes (both 1931). In that last film—which TCM showed once, and never since!—she spends the first few reels acting so twee and bizarre you think she has lost her mind; then a plot twist in the last reel reveals what she has been up to and you go, “Ah! Now that was brave.”

 But after High Stakes, it was all downhill for poor Mae, who lived in a little pink bubble and was helpless to defend herself when times got rough. Poverty and dementia led to a Grand Guignol finale for her, bless her little cotton socks.

 I leave you with several YouTube clips of Mae: with her lifelong pal Rudolph Valentino in The Delicious Little Devil, 1919 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnx5DmonZVw); some clips of her in The Merry Widow with John Gilbert—say, isn’t someone doing a book about him, too? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEUrMTLlidA); a clip of Mae struggling with the mike in  her first talkie, 1930’s Peacock Alley (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfQzkhEZnAA); and a 1922 Kodachrome test of Mae and three other actresses (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_RTnd3Smy8). Mae comes in at 1:51, Mae Murraying all over the place in a gorgeous red cloak (the first lady shown is Hope Hampton, who basically ruined John Gilbert’s directing career—but that is a story for another day).

—Eve Golden

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Books and Authors, Eve Golden, Film, Hollywood, Obituaries, Queen of the Dead and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Eve Golden / Queen of the Dead: Mae Murray

  1. Mark says:

    Say…won’t the Mae Murray book make an excellent companion piece to a bio of John Gilbert? I hear there’s a terrific one coming.

  2. CatM says:

    I’d put them together on my bookshelf but they’d scratch each other’s eyes out.

  3. betty1114 says:

    This is a wonderful book and your review was right on. All of Michael’ s books are terrific but this book was exceptional.

  4. Charles Seims says:

    Those 1922 color test shots are certainly interesting. However, Wikipedia says that Kodachrome wasn’t invented until the early 1930s. Are you sure that the process involved isn’t two-strip Technicolor, which was developed earlier and combines separate dyed images originally photographed on B & W film? The clib looks like two-strip Technicolor to me.

    • lmharnisch says:

      If you watched the clip, you’ll see it says: “1922 Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Test No. III Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, NY, USA.” Also notice that the clip was posted on Kodak’s YouTube stream… Another example of why we don’t rely on Wikipedia around here.

      From Time magazine: The Kodachrome process — in which three emulsions, each sensitive to a primary color, are coated on a single film base — was the brainchild of Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes, two musicians turned scientists who worked at Kodak’s research facility in Rochester, N.Y. Disappointed by the poor quality of a “color” movie they saw in 1916, the two Leopolds spent years perfecting their technique, which Kodak first utilized in 1935 in 16-mm movie film. The next year, they tried out the process on film for still cameras, although the procedure was not for the hobbyist: the earliest 35-mm Kodachrome went for $3.50 a roll, or about $54 in today’s dollars

      Read more: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1906503,00.html#ixzz2Gmk9CAmP

  5. Donna says:

    Another excellent write up and I will be very sorry to see your posts end. You’re such a darn fine and witty writer. Good luck with the reboot!

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