Friday, October 19, 2007

You Decide: Paris Hilton or Mae West?

I've pretty well established by now that I've got a big crush on the bad girls of history, women like Mae West and Catherine the Great. But that raises the question of who's a bad girl today.

The automatic response, of course, would be that Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are modern bad girls. But are they?

Here's what Paris Hilton had to say for herself on "Larry King Live" after she was released from jail earlier this year: "It was one of the happiest days of my life. Like -- it's hard to even describe. It was so exciting even just being in the fresh air and looking up at the sky and the stars and being outside and then it was just pandemonium and then as soon as I saw my mom I just ran to her to give her a hug."

Paris Hilton, booking photo:

And here's what Mae West (who also served a few weeks of jail time in the 1920s, on obscenity charges for writing a play called Sex) had to say about being a bad girl, in an interview with The Guardian in 1979, just a year before she died: "I was a bad girl with a good heart. I don't think things have changed so much. It's still a man's world, with men making the rules that suit them best....You've gotta have plenty of self-esteem, nerve, and be bold in life. I've been liberated all my life. I always did what I wanted to do. I was an original."

Mae West, 1927 jailbird:

OK, I think Mae West could have shown Paris Hilton a thing or two about being a bad girl. But, dear reader, I'm interested in your comments. What is a bad girl, exactly? And who's the bigger bad girl, Paris or Mae?


Sally said...

Oh, dear me, Joyce....

Mae all the way. She was smart and sassy.

Paris is just, well, not.


Anonymous said...

Joyce, how ridiculous! That's like comparing Tolstoy to a telephone book. Paris and her halfwit pals don't have the remotest hope of ever being bad girls.

Mae West NYC said...

A bad girl is a clever creature who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong, as Mae West would say.
Paris Hilton, born with a silver spoon in her mouth, has very little to say that is worth remebering. Maybe the silver spoon gets in the way of making sense. . .? Paris Hilton could never write a blog that is this clever either.
- - - -

Lisanne McT said...

Well this is a no brainer, much like Ms. Hilton!!!!

Mae of course!!!!!!

Joyce Hanson said...

When the Guardian interviewer asked Mae about her prison sentence, she said: "They said I could pay the fine, but I decided it would be more interesting to go to prison. They told me I had to wear prison clothes, but I said I was bringing my own underwear. I wore my silk underwear the whole time."

What a great attitude! She was a bad girl, all right.

Anonymous said...

Joyce, this is such a brilliant blog, but such a no brainer question. Mae West wrote plays, directed movies.... didn't she write a novel?

Joyce Hanson said...

I know, I know. It's all a big set-up. Mae West is obviously hotter and badder than Parish Hilton.

And yes, Mae definitely wrote plays--"Sex," about, well, you know, sex, and "The Drag," about drag queens. Did you know she styled herself partly on the drag queens she met during her vaudeville days?

In 1932, after writing and performing in a few more plays in New York, Mae headed to California for a screen test--at the age of 39. Her first role was a smallish part in "Night After Night" with George Raft, which Dave and I watched recently.

"Do you think she's sexy?" I asked Dave.

"She would be if she didn't talk that way and strut around like a stout little man trying to puff himself up to look bigger than he really is," Dave said.

I guess Dave just doesn't get Mae West's appeal. The female impersonator appeal.

Anyway, they say that during the filming, Mae rewrote all her lines and gave direction on the camera pacing so she could work her sex-magic. Raft later said that she “stole everything but the cameras.”

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, my 13 year old daughter was given an assignment in her English class: Choose a famous woman living today who represents the Greek goddess Athena, and write about her. It was nearly impossible to think of a woman who wasn’t famous merely for her appearance, and especially her sexuality – i.e., Paris, Brittany, etc. And those who were famous for accomplishments were also demonized by the media: Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, etc.

I have never forgotten that moment, together with my daughter, when I thought about how the media treats women. The most celebrated women are destroyed. Ever since that day, I am most certainly a supporter of the Bad girl as you envision her, Joyce.

Leela said...

Maybe the bad girls you seek no longer shine so brightly in America. But look to the famous dancers of Egypt for some classic bad girl inspiration. I speak, especially, of Dina, she of the bike-shorts costumes, the big, slow hip circle, and the just-short-of-orgasm-or-total-mental-collapse facial expressions. I also speak of Fifi Abdo, to my mind one of the greates Egyptian dancers (that I know of, anyway). My teacher once described her attitude as, "I know I'm bad, but don't you wish you were me?"

Dina, in an outfit that makes me say "Eek!" but that I secretly love:

young Fifi, dancing with the amazing singer Ahmed Adeweya:

I say they are classic Bad Girls because they're doing what they do with total commitment and pleasure, in a society that condemns them as prostitutes because they are professional dancers. I have read that Dina is also a lawyer. From the few interview clips I've seen of her, she comes across as utterly dignified and self-posessed.

Joyce Hanson said...

Nice, Leela. Fifi may know she's a bad girl, but judging from the video, it looks like bellydancing is something the whole family can enjoy.

Leela said...

It is. It's often a family entertainment, there and here. People always hire dancers for weddings, circumcisions etc. I've danced for many family events, and they're usually my favorite things. Thanksfully, no circumcisions yet.

Anonymous said...

You are such a tease asking this question when it's so obviously Mae!

Back in the 30's too, not after the 60's, women's lib and many a bad girl musician broke the boundaries. Paris is bad, but she is also, for all her wealth, banal, and that means boring. She may be bad, but she's more like a spoiled brat without any character. yawn

Mae on the other hand... you just have to google "Mae West quotes" and you can find over 100 quotable quotes from the dame.

The thing most people do not know though is that although from our perspective the 30's seem as though they must have been tame, being that much closer to Victorian England than now, it isn't really the case in many circles. They didn't call the 20's roaring for nothing. Especially certain circles in Paris and other sin cities were really wild.

Production houses (maybe because of government censorship on these dames?) clamped down during/after the war, and then we go back to the demure house wife and have to liberate all over again.