Mary Jane “Mae” West (August 17, 1893 – November 22, 1980) was an American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol whose entertainment career spanned seven decades, known for her light-hearted bawdy double engenders and breezy sexual independence.
West was active in vaudeville and on the stage in New York City before moving to Hollywood to become a comedian, actress and writer in the motion picture industry, as well as appearing on radio and television. West made a name for herself by writing and staring in her own plays- the first, in 1926, was entitled sex. The American Film Institute named her 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema.
Enforcing a moral code in entertainment was big in that era, and she served time for corrupting the morals of youth- a theme that would follow her for her entire career. She continued to write racy comedic plays that touched on subjects of pleasure and sexuality, including her 1928 play Diamond Lil; it became a Broadway hit, and she took that luxury-loving persona all the way to Hollywood.
West got her first studio contract from Paramount Pictures at the age of Foughty- and became a silver screen icon shortly after. Her starring roles in ‘She Done Him Wrong’ and ‘I’m No Angel’ were rumoured to have saved Paramount from bankruptcy and made her the second- highest-paid person in the US at the time (just after William Randolph Hearst).
West was a lifetime advocate for equality for all people; when one of her boyfriends, boxing champion Gorilla Jones, was denied entry to her apartment building because of segregation, she bought the building and lifted the ban. In the 1950s, she performed in her own Las Vegas stage show, surrounded by body-builders. One of those men, Paul Novak, thirty years her junior, became her long-time companion until her death.
Often using a husky contralto voice, West was one of the more controversial movie stars of her day and encountered many problems, especially censorship. She bucked the system, making comedy out of conventional mores, and the Depression-era audience admired her for it. When her cinematic career ended, she wrote books and plays and continued to perform in Las Vegas, in the United Kingdom, on radio and television and to record rock and roll albums. She was once asked about the various efforts to impede her career, to which she replied: “I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.”
Hope you enjoyed this post about Mae West, she is definitely one of my favourites!
Eleanor Elizabeth xx