Mae West was a true show business original. Her pre-code Paramount films like She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel are still first rate comedies that reveal a rich comic mind and ridiculously charismatic screen presence. All of her stage and film roles were, of course, riffs on her own outsize personality, itself an invention. By the time she made her first film in 1930, Mae was closing in on forty, but the star’s absolute commitment to the over-sexualized, irresistible ingenue she’d created was rather impervious to common annoyances like the passage of time. As the decades went by, Mae never wavered and by the 1970s, watching her play the part of herself was essential kitsch (check out highlights of her last film Sextette on YouTube for you will not be disappointed.)
As you can see from this article from the Lewiston Evening Journal, a Maine newspaper located not far from the actual Poland Spring, in 1979 the water purveyor engaged the 86-year-old Mae West to record a series a voice overs. This my friends, was an act of genius, because even without visuals, you can actually hear the octogenarian struggling to get through the copy, which she performed as the ageless ingenue she never stopped believing she was. Sadly, Mae West was dead by the following August, which probably did not do much for either the campaign or its promises of enduring health and vitality.
I wish more advertising agencies thought like this. Even better, I wish “the boys from Poland Spring” would throw out their present campaign—whatever that may be—and just use the old Mae West campaign. Perhaps they could even be animated, thus giving Mae the thing very thing she spoke of: eternal youth and vitality.
Although Mae West did suffer a stroke sometime in the last year of her life, I believe the next few recordings sound strange because the tape has been compromised, although the sum effect is the same: it sounds like Mae West post-stroke.
I love the last line on this next one: “I still keep plenty of Poland Spring around. After all, it comes naturally.”
Here Mae’s shares her Poland Spring dream:
Portrait of Ms. West hand-coloured for Stargayzing by Phil David Alexander. Many thanks to Mr. Alexander.