My friend Christopher sent me a stack of books his grandmother had before she passed away. One of them was a thin book on the movies of Mae West. Immediately I recognized something about Cher in Mae West, a sort of Mae-Westitude. Did Cher borrowed anything from Mae West? It's an interesting idea.
First it was the dress from the movie I’m No Angel with the looks-more-revealing-than-it-is with its skin-tone material (so similar to Bob Mackie's dresses for Cher) and the cut-out breast plates similar to Cher's Take Me Home album cover.
Then it was Cher's Sadie Thompson but really Mae West impersonations (3:05).
It's also Cher's own sexual self confidence and personality.
Mae was said to be immediately recognizable and confident in her dresses, wigs and with her “insinuating sneer.”
Oh yes, and the wigs!
West is described in the book as tough, resilient, bold, self-mocking and good natured, all synonyms for Cher too.
Mae was also noted for her androgyny. Fans called her “Queen of the World.” The verb vamping was literally used in the book. So much in common.
Here are some other similar outfits...
West in Belle of the Nineties / Going to Town / Go West Young Man
Mae West also had a multi-faceted career from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood. And for those who bemoan Cher’s lack of commitment to any one facet of show business, Mae had something to say about that, too: "It wasn’t what I did but how I did it.”
West was credited with bringing “an entirely new attitude toward sex on the silver screen. Before Mae, the Hollywood siren had been heavy and sinister, a wrench in spangles or clinging black velvet gown who lured men to their doom. With Mae, sex became breezy and humorous, a light-hearted activity without guilt, recriminations, or emotional involvement of any kind.”
I also recently found a book called “Movie Star Portraits of the 1940s” and there were some photos there by John Engstead. You might remember his photos of Cher photos circa 1975, when her promotional materials were black and white, very soft focus, glamorous and hearkening back to this very Hollywood era.
Black and whites with light and shadow, soft makeup similar to his work stars like Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrick and Loretta Young, whose photo with flowers reminded me of his portraits for Cher in 1975.
Ingrid Bergman / Loretta Young / Lauren Bacall
There's something about these images that is not weak or vulnerable seeming, but headstrong…just straight on, and as the book states these images contain “allure and glamour imbued with intelligence.”