World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Mae West

Article Id: WHEBN0000173082
Reproduction Date:

Title: Mae West  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: She Done Him Wrong, George Raft, Go West, Young Man, I'm No Angel, My Little Chickadee
Collection: 1893 Births, 1980 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Actresses, 20Th-Century American Singers, 20Th-Century Dramatists and Playwrights, 20Th-Century Women Writers, Actresses from New York City, American Female Singers, American Film Actresses, American People of English Descent, American People of German Descent, American People of Irish Descent, American People of Scottish Descent, American Screenwriters, American Stage Actresses, American Television Actresses, American Theater Hall of Fame Inductees, American Women Comedians, American Women Dramatists and Playwrights, American Women Screenwriters, Burials at Cypress Hills Cemetery (New York City), Burlesque Performers, Deaths from Stroke, Disease-Related Deaths in California, Musicians from Brooklyn, Paramount Pictures Contract Players, People from Queens, New York, Vaudeville Performers
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Mae West

Mae West
Publicity photo for Night After Night (1932)
Born Mary Jane West
(1893-08-17)August 17, 1893
Brooklyn, New York
Died November 22, 1980(1980-11-22) (aged 87)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedienne
Years active 1907–78
Spouse(s) Frank Szatkus, stage name Frank Wallace
(1911–43; dissolved)
Partner(s) Paul Novak

Mary Jane "Mae" West (August 17, 1893 – November 22, 1980)[1] was an American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, and sex symbol whose entertainment career spanned seven decades.

Known for her bawdy double entendres, West made a name for herself in vaudeville and on the stage in New York City before moving to Hollywood to become a comedienne, actress, and writer in the motion picture industry. For her contributions to American cinema, the American Film Institute named West 15th among the greatest female stars of Classic American cinema.

One of the more controversial movie stars of her day, West encountered many problems, including censorship. When her cinematic career ended, she continued to perform in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, and on radio and television, and to record rock and roll albums. Asked about the various efforts to impede her career, West replied: "I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it."[2]


  • Early life and career 1
  • Motion pictures 2
  • Radio 3
  • Middle years 4
  • Later career and final years 5
  • Personal life 6
  • In popular culture 7
  • Broadway stage 8
  • Filmography 9
  • Discography 10
  • Bibliography 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14

Early life and career

West was born Mary Jane West in Bushwick, Brooklyn, delivered at home by an aunt who was a midwife. She was the eldest surviving child of[3][4][5] John Patrick West and Matilda "Tillie" Doelger, whose maiden name was later anglicized to "Dilker" or "Delker". Doelger had emigrated with her family from Bavaria to the United States in 1886.[6] West's parents married on January 18, 1889, in Brooklyn and reared their children as Protestant.[7][8][9] Her father was a prizefighter known as "Battlin' Jack West" who later worked as a "special policeman", and later had his own private investigations agency.[10] Her mother was a former corset and fashion model.[11] Her paternal grandmother was an Irish Catholic,[12] and West's paternal grandfather, John Edwin West, was of English-Scots descent and a ship's rigger.[13][14]

Her eldest sibling, Katie, died in infancy. The other siblings were Mildred Katherine West, later known as Beverly (December 8, 1898 – March 12, 1982), and John Edwin West, II (sometimes inaccurately called "John Edwin West, Jr."; February 11, 1900 – October 12, 1964).[15] During her childhood, West's family moved to various parts of Woodhaven, Queens, as well as the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of Brooklyn. It was in Woodhaven, at Neir's Social Hall (which opened in 1829 and is still extant) that West supposedly first performed professionally.[16][17][18]

West was five when she first entertained a crowd at a church social, and she started appearing in amateur shows at the age of seven. She often won prizes at local talent contests.[19] She began performing professionally in vaudeville in the Hal Clarendon Stock Company in 1907 at the age of fourteen.[20] West first performed under the stage name Baby Mae,[21] and tried various personas including a male impersonator,[22] Sis Hopkins, and a blackface coon shouter.[23] She used the alias "Jane Mast" early in her career. Her trademark walk was said to have been inspired or influenced by female impersonators Bert Savoy and Julian Eltinge, who were famous during the Pansy Craze.[24] Her first appearance in a Broadway show was in a 1911 revue A La Broadway put on by her former dancing teacher, Ned Wayburn. The show folded after eight performances,[25] but at age 18, West was singled out and discovered by the New York Times.[26] The Times reviewer wrote that a "girl named Mae West, hitherto unknown, pleased by her grotesquerie and snappy way of singing and dancing." West next appeared in a show called Vera Violetta, whose cast featured Al Jolson. In 1912 she appeared in the opening performance of A Winsome Widow as a "baby vamp" named La Petite Daffy.[27]

"Ev'rybody Shimmies Now" sheet music cover with portrait, 1918

She was encouraged as a performer by her mother, who, according to West, always thought that anything Mae did was fantastic.[28] Other family members were less encouraging, including an aunt and her paternal grandmother. They are all reported as having disapproved of her career and her choices.[12] In 1918, after exiting several high-profile revues, West finally got her break in the Shubert Brothers revue Sometime, opposite Ed Wynn.[29] Her character Mayme danced the shimmy,[30] and her photograph appeared on an edition of the sheet music for the popular number "Ev'rybody Shimmies Now".

Eventually, she began writing her own risqué plays using the pen name Jane Mast.[31] Her first starring role on Broadway was in a 1926 play she entitled Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Although critics panned the show, ticket sales were good. The production did not go over well with city officials, and the theater was raided, with West arrested along with the cast.[32] She was taken to the Jefferson Market Court House, (now Jefferson Market Library) where she was prosecuted on morals charges and, on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to ten days for "corrupting the morals of youth."[33] While incarcerated on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island), she dined with the warden and his wife; she told reporters that she had worn her silk panties while serving time.[34] She served eight days with two days off for good behavior. Media attention surrounding the incident enhanced her career.[33]

Her next play, The Drag, dealt with homosexuality, and was what West called one of her "comedy-dramas of life".[35] After a series of try-outs in Connecticut and New Jersey, West announced she would open the play in New York.[36] However, The Drag never opened on Broadway due to efforts by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to ban any attempt by West to stage it.[37] West was an early supporter of the women's liberation movement, but said she was not a feminist. She was also an early supporter of gay rights.[38]

West continued to write plays, including The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man and The Constant Sinner. Her productions aroused controversy, which ensured that she stayed in the news, which also often resulted in packed houses at her performances.[39] Her 1928 play, Diamond Lil, about a racy, easygoing lady of the 1890s, became a Broadway hit.[40] This show enjoyed an enduring popularity and West would successfully revive it many times throughout the course of her career.[41]

Motion pictures

"Diamond Lil" returning to New York from Hollywood, 1933

In 1932, West was offered a motion picture contract by

External links

  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^ 1870, 1880, 1900 US censuses.
  15. ^
  16. ^ amNew York, Thursday, September 5, 2013, p. 23.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ ,
  25. ^
  26. ^ Maurice Leonard. Mae West Empress of Sex. ISBN 0-00-637471-9; pp. 33–34
  27. ^
  28. ^ Biery, Ruth, "The Private Life of Mae West: Part One", Movie Classic, January 1934, pp. 106–08
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b
  44. ^ a b
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^ a b c
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^ a b
  65. ^ a b 7
  66. ^ a b
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^
  73. ^
  74. ^
  75. ^
  76. ^
  77. ^
  78. ^
  79. ^
  80. ^
  81. ^
  82. ^ album cover
  83. ^
  84. ^
  85. ^
  86. ^
  87. ^
  88. ^
  89. ^
  90. ^ a b c
  91. ^
  92. ^ a b
  93. ^ a b
  94. ^
  95. ^
  96. ^
  97. ^
  98. ^
  99. ^
  100. ^
  101. ^ Maurice Leonard in Mae West, Empress of Sex ISBN 0-00-637471-9, pp. 29–30
  102. ^
  103. ^
  104. ^
  105. ^
  106. ^
  107. ^
  108. ^
  109. ^
  110. ^
  111. ^ Variety magazine printed a notice stating "Mr. and Mrs. Deiro" were playing at Shea's in Toronto, Canada, for the week beginning November 29, 1913.
  112. ^
  113. ^
  114. ^
  115. ^
  116. ^
  117. ^ Spelled Diero in this book.
  118. ^ Deiro unmentioned.
  119. ^ Deiro unmentioned.
  120. ^
  121. ^
  122. ^
  123. ^ Count Guido Roberto Deiro, "Guido & Mae West: The Untold Story", Guido Deiro: Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 (Archeophone 5014: 2009), p. 13
  124. ^ Envelope 7. Misc. Letters & Legal Documents, "The Guido Deiro Archive: Part II. Printed Items" Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments at the City University of New York Graduate Center [1]
  125. ^ The divorce certificate can be found in the Deiro Archive at the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. See also Doktorski, The Brothers Deiro.
  126. ^
  127. ^
  128. ^
  129. ^
  130. ^
  131. ^
  132. ^
  133. ^ a b
  134. ^
  135. ^
  136. ^
  137. ^
  138. ^
  139. ^
  140. ^
  141. ^


See also

  • (the novel on which The Constant Sinner was based)
  • (novelization of play)


At least 21 singles (78 rpm and 45 rpm) also were released from 1933 to 1973.

  • 1956: The Fabulous Mae West; Decca D/DL-79016 (several reissues up to 2006)
  • 1960: W.C. Fields His Only Recording Plus 8 Songs by Mae West; Proscenium PR 22
  • 1966: Way Out West; Tower T/ST-5028
  • 1966: Wild Christmas; Dragonet LPDG-48
  • 1970: The Original Voice Tracks from Her Greatest Movies; Decca D/DL-791/76
  • 1970: Mae West & W.C. Fields Side by Side; Harmony HS 11374/HS 11405
  • 1972: Great Balls of Fire; MGM SE 4869
  • 1974: Original Radio Broadcasts; Mark 56 Records 643
  • 1987/1995: Sixteen Sultry Songs Sung by Mae West Queen of Sex; Rosetta RR 1315
  • 1996: I'm No Angel; Jasmine CD 04980 102
  • 2006: The Fabulous: Rev-Ola CR Rev 181



Year Film Role Co-stars Director Studio
1932 Night After Night Maudie Triplett Constance Cummings, and Wynne Gibson Archie Mayo Paramount Pictures
1933 She Done Him Wrong Lady Lou Cary Grant, Owen Moore, and Gilbert Roland Lowell Sherman
I'm No Angel Tira Cary Grant, Gregory Ratoff and Edward Arnold Wesley Ruggles
1934 Belle of the Nineties Ruby Carter Roger Pryor, Johnny Mack Brown, and Katherine DeMille Leo McCarey
1935 Goin' to Town Cleo Borden Paul Cavanagh, Gilbert Emery, and Marjorie Gateson Alexander Hall
1936 Klondike Annie The Frisco Doll/Rose Carlton/Sister Annie Alden Victor McLaglen, Phillip Reed, and Helen Jerome Eddy Raoul Walsh
Go West, Young Man Mavis Arden Warren William, Randolph Scott, and Alice Brady Henry Hathaway
1937 Every Day's a Holiday Peaches O'Day Edmund Lowe, Charles Butterworth, and Charles Winninger A. Edward Sutherland
1940 My Little Chickadee Flower Belle Lee W.C. Fields, Joseph Calleia, and Dick Foran Edward F. Cline Universal Pictures
1943 The Heat's On Fay Lawrence Victor Moore, William Gaxton, and Lester Allen Gregory Ratoff Columbia Pictures
1970 Myra Breckinridge Leticia Van Allen Raquel Welch, John Huston, and Farrah Fawcett Michael Sarne 20th Century Fox
1978 Sextette Marlo Manners/Lady Barrington Timothy Dalton, Dom DeLuise, Ringo Starr and Tony Curtis Ken Hughes Crown International Pictures


Other plays as writer
Year Title Notes
1921 Ruby Ring, TheThe Ruby Ring Vaudeville playlet
1922 Hussy, TheThe Hussy Unproduced
1930 Frisco Kate Unproduced, later produced as the 1936 film Klondike Annie
1933 Loose Women Performed in 1935 under title Ladies By Request
1936 Clean Beds Sold treatment to George S. George, who produced
an unsuccessful Broadway play of West's treatment
Other plays as writer
Broadway stage
Date Production Role Notes
September 22, 1911 – September 30, 1911 A La Broadway Maggie O'Hara
November 20, 1911 – February 24, 1912 Vera Violetta West left show during previews
April 11, 1912 – September 7, 1912 Winsome Widow, AA Winsome Widow Le Petite Daffy West left show after opening night
October 4, 1918 – June 1919 Sometime
August 17, 1921 – September 10, 1921 Mimic World of 1921, TheThe Mimic World of 1921
April 26, 1926 – March 1927 Sex Margie LaMont Written by Jane Mast (West). West was jailed for 10 days due to the play's content.
January 1927 Drag, TheThe Drag closed during out-of-town tryouts (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
credited only as writer
November 1927 Wicked Age, TheThe Wicked Age Evelyn ("Babe") Carson
April 9, 1928 – September 1928 Diamond Lil Diamond Lil
October 1, 1928 –October 2, 1928 Pleasure Man, TheThe Pleasure Man credited only as writer
September 14, 1931 – November 1931 Constant Sinner, TheThe Constant Sinner Babe Gordon
August 2, 1944 – January 13, 1945 Catherine Was Great Catherine II
1945–46 Come on Up Tour
September 1947 – May 1948 Diamond Lil Diamond Lil (Revival) United Kingdom
February 5, 1949 – February 26, 1949 Diamond Lil Diamond Lil (2nd Revival) until West broke her ankle on the latter date.
The play resumed as a "return engagement"
September 7, 1949 – January 21, 1950 Diamond Lil Diamond Lil (2nd Revival) as "return engagement"
September 14, 1951 – November 10, 1951 Diamond Lil Diamond Lil (3rd Revival)
July 7, 1961 – closing date unknown Sextette Edgewater Beach Playhouse

Broadway stage

  • During World War II, Allied aircrew called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts"[137] and "life vest" and partly because of the resemblance to her torso. A "Mae West" is also a type of round parachute malfunction (partial inversion) which contorts the shape of the canopy into the appearance of an extraordinarily large brassiere.[138]
  • West has been the subject of songs, such as in the title song of Cole Porter's Broadway musical Anything Goes and in "You're the Top", from the same show.[139]
  • One of the most popular objects of the surrealist movement was the Mae West Lips Sofa, which was completed by artist Salvador Dalí in 1938 for Edward James[140]
  • The graph depicting the probability of uranium or other fissionable materials producing specific fission products has two peaks with a "valley" in the middle, is sometimes referred to as the Mae West curve.
  • When approached for permission to allow her likeness on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, West initially refused, asking "What would I be doing in a Lonely Heart's Club". The Beatles wrote her a personal letter declaring themselves great admirers of the star and persuaded her to change her mind.[141]
  • Mae West has a statue at Hollywood-La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, designed by Catherine Hardwicke and built in honor of multi-ethnic leading ladies of the cinema, together with Dolores del Rio, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong.
  • An Emerson table radio model BD-197, designed by a prominent designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky was known as "Mae West" due to its unusual design resembling an ample female bosom.
The "Four Ladies of Hollywood" gazebo at the western border of the Walk of Fame: Mae West, Dolores del Río, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong.

In popular culture

At 61, West became romantically involved with one of the muscle-men in her Las Vegas stage show, wrestler, former Mr. California and former merchant marine Chester Rybinski.[133][134] He was 30 years younger than West, and later changed his name to Paul Novak. He soon moved in with her, and their romance continued until West's death in 1980 at age 87.[133][135] Novak once commented, "I believe I was put on this Earth to take care of Mae West."[136]

West had a relationship with James Timony, an attorney fifteen years her senior, in 1916 when she was a vaudeville actress. Timony was also her manager. By the time West was an established movie actress in the mid-1930s, they were no longer a couple. However, West and Timony remained extremely close, living in the same building, working together, and providing support for each other until Timony's death in 1954.[132]

After she began her movie career, her sister, brother and father followed her to Hollywood. West provided them with nearby homes, jobs, and sometimes financial support.[130] Among West's other boyfriends was boxing champion William Jones, nicknamed Gorilla Jones. When the management at her Ravenswood apartment building barred the African-American boxer from entering the premises, West solved the problem by buying the building and lifting the ban.[131]

West was an early member of the Universal Life Church.[129]

West remained close to her family throughout her life and was devastated by her mother's death in 1930.[127] In 1930, she moved to Hollywood and into the penthouse at the new Ravenswood apartment building, where she would live until her death in 1980.[128]

West in 1973, by Allan Warren.

According to Deiro's biographer, West filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery on July 14, 1920.[124] The divorce was granted by the Supreme Court of the State of New York on November 9 of that year.[125] West later said, "Marriage is a great institution. I'm not ready for an institution yet."[126]

Deiro's son claimed that years later West privately revealed that she had become pregnant by Guido, and had an abortion without his knowledge, resulting in complications which left her sick for nearly a year and reportedly unable to bear children.[123]

West made no public statements indicating that she had been married to Deiro. She referred to him simply as "D" in her autobiography. West's biographers state that the two never married.[114][115][116][117][118][119] West and Deiro split in 1916.[120][121][122]

In August 1913, she met an Italian-born vaudeville headliner and star of the piano-accordion, Guido Deiro. Her affair went "[v]ery deep, hittin' on all the emotions. You can't get too hot over anybody unless there's somethin' that goes along with the sex act, can you?"[109] Deiro fell in love with her and arranged his bookings so the two could travel together. Some sources claimed the pair were married (with West using an assumed name, to avoid charges of bigamy).[110][111][112] During a 1935 radio broadcast Walter Winchell incorrectly reported that Mae West had been married to Guido's brother, Pietro. The similarly named Walter Wincher, a writer for Accordion News magazine, corrected the error: "In a recent radio broadcast, Walter Winchell conveyed the information that Pietro Deiro had been married to Mae West for four years. As one Walter to another, I must set him right. Pietro was never married to the 'come up and see me sometime' girl. Guido Deiro, his brother, was supposed to be the fortunate accordionist."[113]

West was married on April 11, 1911, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Frank Szatkus,[101] whose stage name was Frank Wallace, a fellow vaudevillian whom she first met in 1909. She was 17, he was 21.[102] West kept the marriage a secret,[103] but in 1935, after West had made several hit movies, a filing clerk discovered West's marriage certificate and alerted the press.[104] An affidavit in which she had declared herself married, which she made during the Sex trial in 1927, was also uncovered.[105] At first, West denied ever marrying Wallace, but she finally admitted in July 1937, in reply to a legal interrogatory, that they had been married.[106] Although legally wed, the couple never lived together as husband and wife. She insisted they have separate bedrooms, and she soon sent him away in a show of his own in order to get rid of him. She obtained a legal divorce on July 21, 1942, during which Wallace withdrew his request for separate maintenance, and West testified that she and Wallace had lived together for only "several weeks".[107] The final divorce decree was granted on May 7, 1943.[108]

Personal life

For her contribution to the film industry, Mae West has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood. For her contributions as a stage actor in the theater world, she has been inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[99][100]

A private service was held in the Old North Church replica, in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, on November 25, 1980.[95][96] Bishop Andre Penachio, a friend, officiated at the entombment in the family mausoleum at Cypress Hills Abbey, Brooklyn, purchased in 1930 when her mother died. Her father and brother were also entombed there before her, and her younger sister, Beverly, was laid to rest in the last of the five crypts less than 18 months after West's death.[92][97][98]

In August 1980, West tripped while getting out of bed. After the fall, West was unable to speak and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where tests revealed that she had suffered a stroke.[93] She remained in the hospital where, seven days later, she had a diabetic reaction to the formula in her feeding tube. On September 18, she suffered a second stroke which left her right side paralyzed and developed pneumonia. By November, her condition had improved, but the prognosis was poor and she was sent home.[93] She died there on November 22, 1980, at the age of 87.[94]

West family crypt at Cypress Hills Cemetery, with Mae at top

[92] was a critical and commercial failure.Sextette Upon its release, [91] Hughes eventually began shooting her from the waist up to hide the out-of-shot production assistant crawling on the floor, guiding her around the set.[90] Her now-failing eyesight made navigating around the set difficult.[90] on Back Lot U.S.A. In 1976, she appeared on

West recorded another rock album in 1968 (released in 1972) on MGM Records, titled Great Balls of Fire, which covered songs by The Doors among others.[86] Her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, was also updated and republished.[87]

After a 27-year absence from motion pictures, West appeared as Leticia Van Allen in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970) with Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, Farrah Fawcett, and Tom Selleck in a small part. The movie was a deliberately campy sex change comedy that was both a box office and critical failure. Vidal later called the film "an awful joke".[84] Despite Myra Breckinridge's mainstream failure, it did find an audience on the cult film circuit where West's films were regularly screened and West herself was dubbed "the queen of camp".[85]

West arriving to the 1978 opening of Sextette, her last film

The April 18, 1969, issue of Life featured West at age 75. The article detailed her views on homosexuals, her generosity to certain charities, her vast real estate holdings and her desire to continue an active career in the upcoming decade.

West made occasional appearances on television, including The Red Skelton Show in 1960. In 1964, she made a guest appearance on the sitcom Mister Ed.[80] Demonstrating her willingness to keep in touch with the contemporary scene, she recorded a pair of rock-and-roll albums, Way Out West and Wild Christmas (later re-issued as "Mae in December") in the late 1960s.[81] In 1965 she recorded two songs, "Am I Too Young," and "He's Good For Me" for a 45 rpm record released by Plaza Records. She also made several parody songs including "Santa, Come Up to See Me"[82] on the album Wild Christmas.[83]

Later career and final years

In 1958, West appeared at the Academy Awards and performed the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Rock Hudson.[78] In 1959, she released an autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It, which became a best seller.[79]

When casting the role of Norma Desmond for the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder offered the 57-year-old West the role. Still smarting from the failure of The Heat's On, she declined, claiming to be offended at the notion. Wilder later said, "The idea of [casting] Mae West was idiotic because we only had to talk to her to find out that she thought she was as great, as desirable, as sexy as she had ever been."[76] After Mary Pickford also declined the role, Gloria Swanson was cast.[77]

After appearing in The Heat's On in 1943, West remained active during the ensuing years. Among her stage performances was the title role in Catherine Was Great (1944) on Broadway, in which she spoofed the story of Catherine the Great of Russia, surrounding herself with an "imperial guard" of tall, muscular young actors.[72] The play was produced by Mike Todd and ran for 191 performances.[73] In the 1950s, she also starred in her own Las Vegas stage show, singing while surrounded by bodybuilders.[74] Jayne Mansfield met and later married one of West's muscle men, a former Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay.[75]

Mae West in 1953

Middle years

NBC blamed West personally for the incident and banned her (and the mention of her name) from their stations.[70] They claimed it was not the content of the skit, but West's tonal inflections that gave it the controversial context.[65] West would not perform in radio for a dozen years, until January 1950, in an episode of The Chesterfield Supper Club, which was hosted by Perry Como.[71] Ameche's career did not suffer any serious repercussions, however.

More outrageous still was a sketch written by Arch Oboler, starring West and Don Ameche as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on NBC. She told Ameche in the show to "get me a big one... I feel like doin' a big apple!"[66] This ostensible reference to the then-current dance craze was one of the many double entendres in the dialogue. Days after the broadcast, the studio received letters calling the show "immoral" and "obscene".[67] Women's clubs and Catholic groups admonished the show's sponsor, Chase & Sanborn Coffee Company, for "prostituting" their services for allowing "impurity [to] invade the air".[64] The Federal Communications Commission later deemed the broadcast "vulgar and indecent" and "far below even the minimum standard which should control in the selection and production of broadcast programs".[68] There is some debate regarding the reaction to the skit. Catholic groups took umbrage far more swiftly than the mainstream. These groups already had it in for West, whom they despised, for her outspoken use of sexuality and sexual imagery, which she had employed in her career since at least the Pre-Code films she had made in the early 1930s. The groups reportedly warned the sponsor of the program they would protest her appearance.[69]

On December 12, 1937, West appeared in two separate sketches on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour.[64] By the second half of the 1930s, West's popularity was dwindling and she went on the show eager to promote her latest movie, Every Day's a Holiday.[65] Appearing as herself, West flirted with Charlie McCarthy, Bergen's dummy, using her usual brand of wit and risqué sexual references. West referred to Charlie as "all wood and a yard long" and commented that his kisses gave her splinters.[66]


West's next film was The Heat's On (1943) for Columbia Pictures. She initially didn't want to do the film but after producer and director Gregory Ratoff pleaded with her and claimed he would go bankrupt if she didn't, West relented.[62] The movie opened to bad reviews and failed at the box office. West was so chastened by the experience that she would not attempt another film role for the next quarter-century.[63]

In 1939, Universal Pictures approached West to star in a film opposite W. C. Fields. The studio was eager to duplicate the success of Destry Rides Again starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart with a vehicle starring West and Fields.[58] Having left Paramount eighteen months earlier and looking for a comeback film, West accepted the role of Flower Belle Lee in the film My Little Chickadee (1940).[58][59] Despite the stars' intense mutual dislike,[60] and fights over the screenplay,[58] My Little Chickadee was a moderate box office success, but the film outgrossed Fields's previous film, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), and the later The Bank Dick (1940).[61]

West next starred in Every Day's a Holiday (1937) for Paramount before their association came to an end. After the film failed at the box office, West was put on a list of actors called "Box Office Poison" by Harry Brandt on behalf of the Independent Theatre Owners Association. Others on the list were Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Dolores del Río, Katharine Hepburn, and Norma Shearer. The attack was published as a paid advertisement in the Hollywood Reporter and was taken seriously by studio executives. The association argued that these stars' high salaries and extreme public popularity didn't affect their ticket sales and thus hurt the exhibitors.[57]

Her following effort, Klondike Annie (1935) dealt, as best it could given the heavy censorship, with religion and hypocrisy.[53] Some critics called the film her screen masterpiece.[54] That same year, West played opposite Randolph Scott in Go West, Young Man. In this film, she adapted Lawrence Riley's Broadway hit Personal Appearance into a screenplay.[4][55] Directed by Henry Hathaway, Go West, Young Man is considered one of West's weaker films of the era.[56]

Publicity photo 1936

Her next release, I'm No Angel (1933), paired her with Grant again. I'm No Angel was also a financial success, and was the most successful film of her entire movie career.[48] By 1933, West was the eighth-largest U.S. box office draw in the United States[49] and, by 1935, the second-highest paid person in the United States (after William Randolph Hearst).[50] On July 1, 1934, the censorship of the Production Code began to be seriously and meticulously enforced, and her screenplays were heavily edited. Her next film was Belle of the Nineties (1934). Originally titled It Ain't No Sin, the title was changed due to the censors' objections.[51] Despite Paramount's early objections regarding costs, she insisted the studio hire Duke Ellington and his orchestra to accompany her in the film's musical numbers. Their collaboration was a success; the classic "My Old Flame" was introduced in this picture. Her next film, Goin' to Town (1934), received mixed reviews.[52]

Cary Grant and Mae West in I'm No Angel (1933)

She brought her Diamond Lil character, now renamed Lady Lou, to the screen in She Done Him Wrong (1933).[44] The film is also notable as one of Cary Grant's first major roles, which boosted his career. West claimed she spotted Grant at the studio and insisted that he be cast as the male lead.[45] She claimed to have told a Paramount director "If he can talk, I'll take him!" The film was a box office hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.[44][46] The success of the film most likely saved Paramount from bankruptcy.[47]

[43] Reflecting on the overall result of her rewritten scenes, Raft is said to have remarked, "She stole everything but the cameras."[43] In West's first scene, a hat check girl exclaims, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."[42]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from School eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.