Too often biographies of legends simply reinforce public perception but Emily Leider’s Becoming Mae West is a superior work that separates legend from person and shows how each created the other.  This isn’t my opinion alone.  People who knew Miss West give Emily Leider 4 stars for her research, for getting the story right and for writing it well.

A treasure chest for vaudeville and early film enthusiasts, Becoming Mae West details her early years in vaudeville and revue, chronicles her assault on the Main Stem and the resistance of critics to what some decried as pollution of the theatre.  As the book’s title makes clear, Ms. Leider tells the story of a young Mae West and how she developed the character which would later subsume her own personality into the glossy one she created for the stage, her public, her lovers and herself.

West’s best films were made early on and they receive more attention than do her later flicks.  While Emily Leider does not avoid the change in Mae West from subversive upstart to harmless icon, she explains it fascinatingly and puts Mae’s later work in perspective, presenting her as a lioness tamed  by the forces she once threatened.  In short: One of the best show business biographies around.

Ms. Leider has also written a biography of Rudolph Valentino.


~frank cullen~


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