To Be Mary MacLane

Penelope Rosemont at The Paris Review:

“Mary MacLane is mad,” wrote the New York Herald. “She should be put under medical treatment, and pens and paper kept out of her way until she is restored to reason.” The New York Times urged that she be spanked. Other critics raised the charge of “obscenity.” When the Butte Public Library announced that it would not allow the book on its shelves, the Helena Daily Independent applauded, arguing that if this book “should go in, all the self-respecting books in the library would jump out of the window.”

The Story of Mary MacLane was an instant best seller. Some eighty thousand copies were sold the first month alone, and the resulting $17,000 in royalties allowed MacLane to fulfill her greatest ambition: to escape Butte. The book went through several printings, and its author remained front-page news for years. Mary MacLane Societies were organized by young women all over the country. The popular vaudeville team of Weber and Fields—remembered today mostly as the introducers of pie-in-the-face gags—did a burlesque of the book. A full-length spoof was published, titled The Story of Willie Complain. “Montana’s lit’ry lady” found her way into the comics and popular songs. There was even a Mary MacLane Highball, “with or without ice-cream, cooling, refreshing, invigorating, devilish, the up-to-date drink.”

more here.