DELPHIA LAWRENCE played Mame's friend, Vera Charles..the 'lush'played originally with ANGELA LANSBURY and ANN MILLER...by...BEA ARTHUR..(On Broadway and at the Huntington Hartford, in Hollywood.)
I saw the ANN MILLER version 4 times and loved it so very much! She had a standing ovation for every performance and on the back page of the DAILY VARIETY in Hollywood, was always the picture of the standing ovations.
I never enjoyed the movie version of MAME with LUCILLE BALL and never liked Lucy, after the 'bought' her way into that role. ROZ RUSSELL was offered the movie role and turned it down, saying..."why should I play that again. I did the Broadway and movie versions already." ROZ was the best MAME in my opinion and many actresses have played the role. It is too bad that she and SUSAN were nominated, the same year...when SUSAN won Best Actress for I WANT TO LIVE!
Many people, in Hollywood, were shocked when they found out 'how' LUCY had gotten the role, because so many actress were in the 'running'...including SUSAN.
BUT...it was finally brought out that Lucy 'did buy' her way into the role.
They used so much 'gauze' over the cameras, for her close-ups that it is so easy to see, even for people who are not used to knowing 'how' the camera can
'conceal' the 'true look' of a fading star.
I also hated that 'roller skating' routine that Lucy had put into the film, when she is working in the dept. store. It was gong 'backwards' to the zany (but funny..then..episodes of 'I LOVE LUCY').
Then..Lucy did the one thing she could never recover from, when she made sure that MADELENE KAHN was fired from the movie and replaced in the role of Agnes Gooch. The 'dailies' were coming out and the thing was that KAHN wss getting more laughs and 'talk' about how great she was doing in the film, she could be an Oscar nominee for Supporting Actress. This made Lucy furious and so she had her fired from the picture (just as BARBARA STREISAND had done with ANNE FRANCIS in 'FUNNY GIRL') When the 'star' of the film is getting 'less' and feels a 'threat' from a co-star...some 'stars' can't take that and if they have enough 'clout'..,they get rid of the co-star.
This happened in both films...and this kind of news hits Hollywood, right away.
LUCILLE BALL was the 'worse' choice for that film than 'any' that were up for it and then to have to 'buy' your way into a big...'COME BACK".
OF course...there will be disagreements on here, about this whole thing and everyone has their own opinions.
I always felt SUSAN was still too young to be playing AUNTIE MAME...but was still glad she did it, only to show the 'public' that she could do live theater. I am also very grateful to have been able to have seen her do this show. SUSAN carried the whole show..(and that is not from being a fan and my favorite movie star actress). She had the 'chops' to do live theater and I wish it had happened at another time (than just this show). But..if I had to choose the 'real' AUNTIE MAME for either film or theater..it would have to be ROZ RUSSELL. She was the right age and...had the 'right chops' to do the role as it was intended...(with or without...roller skates!!!_...
Well, I didn't have the good fortune to see Susan in Mame.. oh, how I wish I could have!...so I can't compare regarding her, but as far as Lucy as Mame, although I am a Lucy fan (mostly the I Love Lucy series which I always felt she was best with the ensemble of Desi, Vivian, and William Frawley), I don't think she was very good as Mame. She wasn't right for it. Honestly, however, I haven't seen that film in ages, so I must not have liked it because if I like something, I usually watch it over and over again. I think Roz Russell was a fantastic Mame...kind of like Vivien Leigh as Scarlett... just born for the role.
I tend to agree that if you asked most people of a certain vintage who they associate with the character - they would opt for Roz.
Apart from the fact that she did seem- as you say - born to the role, she had played it on Broadway when it opened as a comedy in 1956 ( I think?) so by the time the 1958 movie emerged she was well entrenched in the character.
I believe it kicked off again on Broadway as a musical in the mid 60's (with Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur in the support role? ) and presumably that revival led to the subsequent 1974 film version with Lucy.
Of course it also played elsewhere and for example when it opened in London's West End, Ginger Rogers took the part.
Also - when you look at the actresses who played the role in less exalted productions such as stock and touring shows, you then add Ann Sothern, Janet Blair, Elaine Stritch, Juliet Prowse and more to the mix.
Celeste Holm, Susan's Las Vegas show - numerous 'Mames' have trod the boards and graced the screen but I would also think that taking the big shows (stage and screen) only, that Lucy's was the most disappointing.
She certainly had the eccentricity, the bohemian style, but did not really have that arch feel that Roz and the others have lavished on it.
Perhaps, Lucy was also not up to the musical demands by comparison with many of the other interpreters.