It sounds scandalous, particularly for Alabama of 1951.

Montgomery Advertiser city editor Joe Azell interviewed Hollywood legend Mae West in her hotel room at the Jefferson Davis Hotel. Just the two of them. She was wearing a negligee of some sort.

Nothing scandalous about it. It was simply a delightful episode. Azbell wrote it up for the next day’s Montgomery Advertiser.

Mae West was famous for acting man crazy, like a seductress. How much was part of her act and how much was real?

As I compile this story, it is the anniversary of the Azbell/Mae West interview – 73 years ago today, February 6, 1951.

Azbell’s son David, now the unofficial historian of Alabama politics, told the story today on his Facebook site, The Art of Alabama Politics

My father, Joe, interviewed Hollywood movie legend Mae West in her room at Montgomery’s Jefferson Davis Hotel while she was wearing a negligee that he described as a “long, flowing chiffon thing.”

West, who still portrayed herself as a sexual libertine even at age 57, was in Montgomery to perform in her traveling production of the play “Diamond Lil.”

The next day’s ‘Montgomery Advertiser’ published a delightfully fun story that

Dad wrote about the experience of meeting West. It is posted in its entirety below:

Mae West Just Loves Men With Southern Drawls

by Joe Azbell - Montgomery Advertiser City Editor

“Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?”

That’s what Mae West said to this reporter after he had completed a 15-minute interview with her at the Jefferson Davis Hotel Tuesday.

She said it with bodily emphasis.

Miss West was standing in the middle of a living room as she greeted me.

“How do you do,” she smiled, flickering her half-inch black eyelashes. “What can I do for you?”

The famous stage and screen star, who stands 5-feet 8-inches high, was dressed in a long flowing chiffon thing that seemed too thin for the slight breeze in the room.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll catch cold in that outfit?” she was asked.

“Oh certainly not, boy, not me,” she replied.

“What do you do with your spare time?” she was asked.

“What spare time? I never have any. My time is mapped out for me. I seem to have something to do every 20 minutes. But when I do have spare time, I spend it looking and being looked at.”

Asked if she was still single, the famous star replied:

“I’m still in circulation if that’s what you mean.”

Miss West said she loves Southern men.

“They’re so big, brawny, and good looking. I just love to hear them talk. They got a soft, loving tone to their drawl.”

Then she paused and smiled:

“The man I don’t like doesn’t exist. I like something in every man and a whole lot in a lot of men.”

She was gracious in answering every question, even one on her age.

While she did not say how old she is, she retorted:

“I am the type that makes men forget age. When men look at me, they don’t think about age. They think about me.”

A striking looking woman with a friendly smile and a soft complexion, her blond hair and changing grey-blue (or sometimes green-blue) eyes are set off by a 22-karat diamond ring on her finger.

“Where did you get that huge diamond?” I asked.

“Oh! It was kind of thrown at me one time,” she smiled as she polished the chunk of glass on her chiffon gown.

She did not seem in the least upset about the ban on her play by Atlanta censors.

“The censors ban all the best pictures, don’t they?” she said. “All my fans and friends were upset about it. Some of them came to Birmingham to see the play and others are coming to Montgomery.”

She walked across the room twice during the interview and my eyes followed her. It was the same, seductive hip swinging that she portrayed in her walk when she made her name as a star in movies and plays in the 1930s.

Miss West admits she has had plenty of trouble. But it has paid off. In 1935, she was the screen’s highest paid movie star, earning $480,000 on a single picture, and today, her play, “Diamond Lil” is playing to packed houses.

She popularized many phrases including, “Come up and see me sometime,” and she was “The Little Chickadee” that W.C. Fields referred to.

She appraises her success by saying she simply “brought sex out of the backroom.”

Miss West made her first public appearance at the age of five in a church social. A year later, she was on the stage doing impressions of Eddie Foy and George M. Cohan.

By the time she was 15, she was billed in New York as a “baby vamp.” She went into musical comedy and by 19 was writing her own material. In 1927, her play, “Sex,” created a sensation.

She has made about 10 movies and is contemplating appearing in another for producer Jerry Wald in the near future.

“What are you going to do for him?” I asked.

“It’s not what I’m going to do for him that counts. It’s what he is going to do for me.”

She’s even considering a television show.

“I will probably have a love advice show. And, brother, I got plenty of advice on that subject.” 

-The End-

The late Joe Azbell was in the right place at the right time to interview a lot of fascinating people, right there in Montgomery:

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, at that time pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, beginning what became the national civil rights movement.

Seamstress Rosa Parks, who triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Joe Azbell covered the whole boycott and wrote the articles.

Hank Williams, Sr., who frequented Chris’ Hot Dogs on Dexter Avenue.

Actor Micky Rooney.

Blind and deaf Helen Keller of Tuscumbia. That interaction is an entire story. (I may write it.)

"It's better to be looked over than overlooked." - Mae West

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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