Welcome! This site is a production glossary resource for Triad Stage’s production of Claudia Shear’s Dirty Blonde. Please scroll below to view select vocabulary to learn, refresh, and become greater acclimated to Dirty Blonde‘s word choices.
Accoutrement: a piece of clothing or equipment that is used in a particular place or for a particular activity
In the play, Jo references “a skinny teenager in a Catholic school girl uniform and Hindu accoutrements” (Shear, 9).
Albatross: a large white ocean bird that has very long wings Note: Mae West’s play entitled Sex was originally entitled The Albatross. The title (The Albatross) is in reference to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem entitled The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Click to learn more.
Alky: an alcoholic
Balustrade: a kind of low wall that is placed at the sides of staircases, bridges, etc., and that is made of a row of short posts topped by a long rail
Bass Weejuns: “The history of G.H. Bass & Co. dates back to Maine in 1876 and George Henry Bass- a man on a simple mission to make the very best shoe. In 1936, G.H. Bass & Co. put a stylish spin on a Norwegian farm shoe designed for ‘loafing in the field, and playfully dubbed them Weejuns – introducing the world’s first penny loafer. Source
Beef to the hoof: (Ireland, idiomatic, said of a woman) fat, chubby, particularly with fat legs.
Bird-of-paradise feathers: Bird of paradise was the most sought after millinery feather decoration in the late 19th and early 20th century, owing to the beauty of the bird’s plumage and the dramatic effect created by the elegant sweep of its tail feathers, as is made fully is evident by this velvet toque.
From 1905 to 1920, 30,000 – 80,000 bird of paradise skins were exported annually from New Guinea and the Moluccas to the feather auctions of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Opposition to the slaughter of wild birds for use in the millinery trade led to the foundation in the 1880s and 1890s of numerous bird protection agencies across the U.S. and Europe, including the precursors to the modern Audubon Societies. Through the steadfast efforts of these agencies, legislation in the U.S. and abroad banning the trade in the skins and feathers of wild birds was enacted between 1913 and 1921, eventually saving numerous species of from near extinction. It was this attention to the plight of bird populations at the price of fashion that initiated the development of the modern international conservation movement.
Toque Department Store: The Metropolitan Millinery Importer Date: ca. 1910 Culture: American Medium: straw, bird, feathers, silk Dimensions: 6 1/2 x 21 in. (16.5 x 53.3 cm) Credit Line: Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Helen Tyler, 1964 Accession Number: 2009.300.2038 Source
Black Cloche Hat: a woman’s close-fitting hat usually with deep rounded crown and narrow brim
Vintage Black 1920’s Cloche Hat
Burlesque: a kind of entertainment that was popular in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that included funny performances, singing, dancing, etc., and sometimes performances in which women took off their clothes
Butcher’s: Cockney slang for “look”; derived from “butcher’s hook”
Catherine Was Great – Broadway show starring Mae West as Catherine II. Play was written by Mae West. It opened August 2, 1944 and closed January 13, 1945 and ran a total of 191 performances.
Colonics: an act or instance of colonic irrigation, performed for its supposed therapeutic benefits.
Cunnilingus: a sexual activity in which the female genitalia are stimulated by the partner’s lips and tongue.
Cruller: a small sweet cake in the form of a twisted strip fried in deep fat
Cypress Hills Mausoleum: A place of reverence many travel from near and far to visit, Cypress Hills Cemetery was founded on November 21, 1848 and officially opened in 1851.
In the play Dirty Blonde, Jo visits the Cypress Hills Mausoleum in Brooklyn, New York to view Mae West’s grave site. Click to learn more
Debutante: a young upper-class woman who has begun going to special parties where she will meet and be seen by other people from the upper class
Dean and Deluca: Founded by Giorgio DeLuca and Joel Dean, Dean and Deluca is an upscale grocery store which opened for business in September 1977.
Derby – a
Photo: Homemade Derby Cheese –
Diamond Lil (1928): In the play, Diamond Lil, written by Mae West, Mae played the title character, a wisecracking prostitute who works a Manhattan dance hall in the Gay Nineties. The reviews were rave and the play became a hit, running eight months on Broadway, then touring the country. – See more at: http://www.historynet.com/mae-wests-secret-of-success.htm#sthash.sT6Citi3.dpuf
Also, read a 1949 Article: Mae West Back in Town as ‘Diamond Lil”
Note: In the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, Mae West was able to bring her “Diamond Lil” character to the silver screen in her first starring film role. The “Lil” character was renamed “Lady Lou,” and contained the famous Mae West line, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and also starred new comer Cary Grant in one of his first major roles. The film did tremendously well at the box office, and is attributed to saving Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy. Source
Drag ball: as an extravagant debutante party for males who present themselves as glamorous women. Held in major cities in the eastern half of the United States during the 1920s and 1930s, drag balls were public manifestation of the pansy craze: a time when the urban American public flocked to clubs and bars that featured men and women in drag along with openly-Gay entertainers. Source
Drag, The (1927): The gay-themed The Drag and The Pleasure Man, written by Mae West, authorize claims about West’s progressive queer sexual politics and show her interest in and knowledge of drag culture and female impersonation. Despite its provocative title, Sex is a fairly standard melodrama about a self-sacrificing prostitute. The Drag and The Pleasure Man, however, offer more daring representations. The Drag, which circulated in gay communities for years in mimeographed form, attempts to represent seriously the plight of homosexuals in a hypocritical society. Most of its power and verve, however, centers around a drag ball and the improvised dialogue of its gay characters, who were played by drag queens West recruited from Greenwich Village hangouts. Source
1928 news photo showing cast members of Mae West show being arrested.
Even before “The Drag” had been staged, the play embroiled Mae West in controversy. West’s previous play “Sex” was currently in a successful, year-long run in New York, but when word of the casting call for “The Drag” came out, a call that attracted hundreds of fairies and queens from Greenwich Village because the play ends with a 20 minute, largely improvised drag show, West’s plays finally elicited the attention of local authorities. Lillian Schlissel documents this in detail in her introduction to a 1997 collection of West’s plays. On February 9, 1927, West’s play was raided by the police and the entire cast of “Sex” was arrested. West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for “corrupting the morals of youth”, and in vintage Mae West fashion, she turned the trial and jail time into a publicity stunt. She arrived at the prison in a limousine in her vamp persona and spent her time there entertaining the warden and his wife. While the trial and conviction shot Mae West into stardom and eventually launched her movie career a few years later when talking pictures were developed, “The Drag” was ultimately never performed on Broadway. The Society for the Prevention of Vice threatened to place all Broadway plays under intense scrutiny if “The Drag” were to be staged. Although the play was wrapped in the spectacular sensationalism of its proposed drag performance, it was at its core an attempt to air discourse about the new urban visibility of homosexuality and to situate it within questions of its medical and legal standing in society. Thus, a play that contained a serious discussion of the legal status of homosexuality in America could not itself find a legal space in which to be performed. Source
Duchess: A character in Mae West’s film script The Drag. Shear inserts a scene from the film in the script. Click to see an excerpt from the play The Drag
View a Professional Video of How to do a duck under
Flapper: a young woman in the 1920s who dressed and behaved in a way that was considered very modern
Goin’ to Town: A 1935 Paramount picture, starring Mae West, in which a former dance hall queen (Cleo Borden) newly rich, falls for and pursues an upper-crust Englishman.
Clip from the Paramount 1935 film Goin’ to Town
“Goin’ to Town.” Sang a French aria. Y’know my mother was descended from European nobility (Shear, 32).
Mae West’s rendition of “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” from “Goin’ To Town” (1935)
Jessye Norman, “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”. SAMSON ET DALILA, Camille Saint-Saëns. Note: Super-titles are included
Greco-Roman wrestling: style of wrestling practiced in Olympic and international amateur competition. In Greco-Roman wrestling the legs may not be used in any way to obtain a fall, and no holds may be taken below the waist. Other rules and procedures for Greco-Roman wrestling are the same as those for freestyle wrestling, the other international amateur style.
Greco-Roman wrestling originated in France in the early 19th century, in imitation of classical Greek and Roman representations of the sport. It became favored in Scandinavian countries, and Swedish and Finnish wrestlers won many Olympic titles from 1912 to 1948, after which the Soviet Union and other countries came to the fore. Source
Klondike Annie: In the 1936 Paramount film, Mae West plays Rose Carlton, the kept woman of Chan Lo (Harold Huber), who takes her from walking the streets to pacing the floors of her high rent apartment. Rose ends up killing Chan and beats it from San Francisco to the frozen north. She boards a ship where burly sea captain Bull Brackett (McLaglen) takes a shine to her; when he finds out she killed Chan, he blackmails her into coming up and seeing him sometime. Boarding the ship in Seattle is missionary Annie Alden (Helen Jerome Eddy), who dies on the way to Alaska. Rose assumes Annie’s identity and, upon arrival in Alaska proceeds to preach the Good Book, saving sinners by unorthodox methods. Mountie Jack Forrest (Philip Reed) arrives in town searching for Chan’s murderer and he falls in love with Rose, unaware that the woman he loves is the killer he seeks.
Photo (right) from Klondike Annie
Madras- a fine plain-woven shirting and dress fabric usually of cotton with varied designs (as plaid) in bright colors or in white
Frank Wallace: “Nerts to ya, ya fat thug,” I wanted to say, but I didn’t, just trying to keep my face straight, it was like a nightmare, me walking in my shiny “day-off” suit and this guy sneering at me while my wife, my wife, let’s not forget, just sits there just smiling and humming” (Shear, 31).
- Mannix: American television series. Joe Mannix is a Los Angeles-based detective who ends up taking a lot of punishment. When the show starts, he works for a large L.A. detective agency, Intertect. But beginning in season two, he sets out on his own and becomes a private investigator, assisted by loyal secretary Peggy Fair, the widow of a police officer. In the course of solving crimes, he can be expected to be shot, beaten, knocked unconscious, driven off the road or similarly injured. But despite all the bodily trauma, Mannix always gets his man.
- First episode date: September 7, 1967
My Little Chickadee (1940): The story this time is of Flower Belle Lee (guess who) and of Cuthbert J. Twillie, who are united in the bonds of matrimony-in-name-only because Flower Belle needs a consort for legal reasons and because Cuthbert has . . . well, never mind what Cuthbert finds interesting in Flower Belle. The point is that they are married by a gambler and cut a swath—at least Miss West does—in Greasewood City, where all the men develop asthma when Flower Belle enters a barroom and where Mr. Twillie becomes Sheriff, tends bar, plays a game of poker or two and tells a couple of whoppers about Injun fights and the time he swatted a female barfly. If they had let him alone things might have been better; but, as it runs, Fields ends where the West begins. Source
My Little Chickadee Trailer
Natch: as you would expect; slang of course, naturally
Nerts: slang: nonsense, nuts —often used interjectionally
“By keeping that famous nude statue of herself always on display, she maintained a daily visual reminder of her ideal self. Although she had to watch her weight and her sugar levels, especially after developing diabetes, she continued exercising with small dumb-bells to maintain her musculature. As much as anyone can ever really know what another person is truly thinking, she convinced many an interviewer that when she looked in the mirror, she viewed herself as an ageless person. “
Mae West at age 86, in 1979, in front of her piano where her nude statue stood.
Pagoda-style lamp (referenced in the Dirty Blonde script)
Pygmalion effect: a type of self-fulfilling prophecy where if you think something will happen, you may unconsciously make it happen through your actions or inaction. It occurs in the workplace when a manager raises his or her expectations for the performance of workers and this actually results in an increase in worker performance. Source
Rosebud: Citizen Kane is a film à clef that examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based in part upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, and aspects of Welles’ own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane’s career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is told through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate’s dying word: “Rosebud”.
- Watch the ending video footage referenced here.
One of the most infamous stories about Rosebud is that it has nothing really to do with Kane, but is an insider’s joke about the film’s real subject, William Randolph Hearst. Kane was a thinly veiled portrait of Hearst – a man born rich who used his wealth to build up a sensationalist newspaper empire, and then turned that empire to the pursuit of his political ambitions, who in later years was dogged by misfortune and gossip before retreating into self-imposed exile at a country ranch.
Hearst was not insensitive to the parallels, and the film was stalled on release by a combination of strong-arm tactics on exhibitors and a refusal to give the film any publicity – even paid-for – in Hearst-owned papers. As a result, few cinemas in the US would show the film and it never reached a wide audience until many years after release. The writer Herman Mankiewicz and director Orson Welles always weakly denied any connection between Hearst and Kane, but a few direct quotes from the Hearst mythology (telling his journalists “You provide the pictures, we’ll provide the war”) give the lie pretty plainly.
Gore Vidal, in one of his less forthright moments, claimed that Rosebud was Hearst’s name for his mistress Marion Davies’s “tender button”, and that this was the real reason for Hearst’s objection to the film. Vidal is cagey about the source of the story, though he knew Marion Davies, and Mankiewicz was well acquainted with both Hearst and Davies.
If this theory is true, it’s possible to see the final scene as a disingenuous end to a hatchet job on Hearst, included by Mankiewicz to get it past the censors. When asked, as well he might have been, if Rosebud had any saucy connotations, Mankiewicz could widen his eyes and explain it was all about the little sled, of course. Source
Schvitzing: (Yiddish) profuse sweating
Sex (1926): A play written by Mae West using the pen name Jane Mast. In her first starring role on Broadway, West played Margy LaMont in Sex, which had 375 continuous performances but was closed by the police after more than a year, when she was tried and convicted of corrupting the morals of youth. Set in a Montreal brothel, the play confronts the issue of women separated by class and attitudes of sexuality. West’s character learns the painful lesson that women are not bound in sisterhood simply because they have both shared the betrayal of men. Though the play was a hit at the box office, the “more respectable” Broadway critics panned it for its explicit sexual content. The production also did not go over well with city officials, who raided the show and arrested West along with much of the cast. She was prosecuted on morals charges and on April 19, 1927, sentenced to 10 days in jail on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) in New York. The incarceration was cordial, as West reportedly dined with the warden and his wife on a few occasions. She served eight days, with two off for good behavior. The media attention of the entire affair did nothing but enhance her career. Source
Click to view article: The Screen Must Not Relapse To Lewdness
Front page of the Daily Mirror February 10, 1927 — “Sex Plays are Raided”
Sextette: A 1978 film with negative reviews starring Mae West. In the film, a legendary movie star Marlo Manners (Mae West) is on her honeymoon with her sixth husband when a major complication arises. They are staying in a hotel that is hosting an international conference, and the Russian delegate, one of Marlo’s ex-husbands, threatens to put a halt to the negotiations unless he can have an affair with her. What could make matters even worse for the new couple is the fact that there is a tape of Marlo talking about all of her past sexual exploits, so her manager is trying to find and destroy it. Source
Sextette Official Trailer (1978)
She Done Him Wrong: A 1933 Paramount film starring Mae West in which a seductive nightclub singer contends with several suitors, including a jealous escaped convict and a handsome temperance league member. The character Mae West played was a recreation of her 1928 Diamond Lil Broadway stage play (and its bejeweled title character).
Credits for its screenplay are given to Harvey Thew, John Bright and Mae West. The box-office smash film for Paramount Pictures, (given a different title than Diamond Lil to disassociate itself from the toured, scandalous play during part of 1929), was shot in approximately three weeks (including rehearsal time). Its single Academy Award nomination was for Best Picture, but it lost to Cavalcade. (It was the only Mae West film ever to be nominated.) Reference article
Shimmy-shawobble – A title Mae West gave to the dance craze she witnessed in a nightclub. The shimmy’s long history in America began with the rituals Africans brought with them in slavery, took a side turn when Middle Eastern dance became a main attraction at the 1893 World’s Fair, and entered the 20th century via “animal” dances like the Camel Walk and juke joint favorites like the Funky Butt. In her autobiography, West reported first seeing it in a mixed-race Chicago nightclub called the Elite Number 1, where dancers “stood in one spot, with hardly any movement of the feet, and just shook their shoulders, torsos, breasts and pelvises. We thought it was funny and were terribly amused by it,” West continued. “But there was a naked, aching sensual agony about it, too.” Reference article * Click to watch a video highlighting the Shimmy.
Tip-off: 1. warning, tip 2. a telltale sign
There Are Fairies at the Bottom of my Garden (1934): a song by Beatrice Lillie. Her signature stared out in 1917 as a children’s song. In 1934, when she sang it, it became a song adults could enjoy. Source
“There are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden” by Beatrice Lillie
Vaudeville: 1: a light often comic theatrical piece frequently combining pantomime, dialogue, dancing, and song 2. a stage entertainment consisting of various acts (as performing animals, comedians, or singers)