A “Wild Christmas” with Mae West

Mae West in a publicity photo for "Go West Young Man" (1936)

Mae West in a publicity photo for “Go West Young Man” (1936)

Mae West, known for her buxom figure, long Gibson-girl like gowns and sultry voice, slinked through 1930s films throwing around phrases like “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?”

But after only 10 films from 1932 through 1940, Mae West’s film career declined after being dubbed “Box Office Poison” in 1937–others on this list included Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Katharine Hepburn.

West worked to remain relevant by acting on the stage and radio. By the 1960s and 1970s, she found herself with a cult following aided by the sexual revolution, according to No Applause–Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous by Trav S.D.

Cover of West's first rock and roll album, "Way Out West."

Cover of West’s first rock and roll album, “Way Out West.”

To stay in the public eye with the younger crowds, West began recording rock and roll albums. In 1966 at age 72, she released “Way Out West” through Tower Records, which was part of Capitol Records. This was a cover album of contemporary hits such as “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Twist and Shout,” and “Daytripper.” Sales of “Way Out West” reached the Billboard Top 200 at #116.

Following the success of her first record, West released “Wild Christmas” in 1966, a rock and roll Christmas album for Dagonet Records. This album includes Christmas hits like “Santa Baby” and original Christmas songs like “Santa Come Up and See Me,” playing off West’s famous film quote. She also covers the Beatles’ “With Love From Me To You,” loosely connecting it to Christmas.

I guess the Beatles’ didn’t mind West’s covering their songs since they wanted to feature her on the cover of their 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.” West initially declined saying, “What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?” But relented when they wrote her a personal letter.

Cover of West's second rock and roll album, "Wild Christmas"

Cover of West’s second rock and roll album, “Wild Christmas.”

While I thought “The Ventures” Christmas album was unique, there is nothing quite like “Wild Christmas.” It’s both horrifying and hilarious. At moments, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, while I’m sure I was making awkward, alarmed faces.

However, I’m also not sure if I should feel happy or sad while listening to this album. West was maintaining her time in the spotlight but was it at the cost of being laughed at? Was this something she legitimately wanted to do or was this similar to actors making low budget horror films late in their career (See: Die, Die My Darling and Hot Rods to Hell). Unfortunately, very few sources gave her feelings about these albums and glossed over them, merely listing that they were recorded.

After “Wild Christmas,” West recorded one last rock and roll album in 1972 at age 79 called “Great Balls of Fire.” This time, she covered The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

For an added bonus, check out this humorous performance with Mae West and Rock Hudson, performing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1950, originally appearing in “Neptune’s Daughter” (1949).

What are your thoughts on Miss West’s album? Will you be incorporating this into your Christmas music playlist?

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2 thoughts on “A “Wild Christmas” with Mae West

  1. It always makes me feel bad to see a star like Mae West become a caricature of herself. Greta Garbo may have carried things a bit too far, but there is a lot to be said about having the dignity to know when to leave. It’s unfortunate for women who were primarily known for sex appeal to have to cut off their careers as a bombshell, but that is the reality. Mae could have turned her career to another direction, which I think she could have done. I always believed she was a very good actress, and could have been a more dramatic one in her later years. Anyway, that’s my humble opinion, and I sure don’t plan to listen to her later albums at Christmas! I liked your article because of its unique take on her career!


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