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More About Mae West
The Actress Who Was Way Ahead Of Her Time!!
Mary Jane West was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 17, 1893 to parents involved in prize-fighting and vaudeville. Mae, herself, worked on the stage and in vaudeville from the time she was five years old. She never was academically inclined because she was too busy performing. She studied dance as a child and by the time she was 14, she was billed as "The Baby Vamp" for her performances on stage.
Later Mae began writing her own plays. One of those plays, entitled SEX, ran for 375 performances before it landed her in jail for ten days on obscenity charges in 1926. Two years later her play, DIAMOND LIL, became a huge Broadway success.
Mae caught the attention of the Hollywood moguls and was given her first movie role with George Raft in 1932's NIGHT AFTER NIGHT. Although a small role, she was able to display a wit that was to make her world famous. Raft, himself, said of Mae, "She stole everything but the cameras." The movie-going public fell in love with the first woman to make racy comments on film. She became a box-office smash hit breaking all sorts of attendance records.
Her second film, SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933), was based on her earlier and popular play that she had written herself. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. It also made Cary Grant a star.
Her third film later that year was I'M NO ANGEL. These two films resulted in the Motion Picture Production Code which regulated what content could be shown or said in pictures. As a result of these codes, Mae began to double talk so that a person could take a word or phrase anyway they wished. This was so she could get her material past the censors. It worked. She really felt she had a vested interest because it was her written work being scrutinized. She had already written and performed these for the stage with the very material now being filmed. Her next film, BELLE OF THE NINETIES made in 1934 was an equal hit. By 1936, with the films, KLONDIKE ANNIE and GO WEST YOUNG MAN, made her, at that time, the highest paid woman in the United States.
After the 1937 film, EVERY DAY'S A HOLIDAY, she didn't make another film until 1940, when she co-starred with W.C. Fields in another Mae West written movie, MY LITTLE CHICKADEE. It was well known she had little use for Fields and his crude ways, even for her.
After THE HEAT'S ON in 1943, Mae took a respite from the film world. The reason was the censors were getting stricter. She decided she would be able to have greater expression in her work if she went back to the stage.
In 1954, when she was 62, she began a nightclub act in which she was surrounded by musclemen; it ran for three years and was a great success. By now a legend and cult figure, she went into retirement. In 1959 she wrote her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It. When censors began to let up, she returned to film work in 1970 in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. Her last film was in 1978 called SEXTETTE.
Mae suffered a series of strokes which finally resulted in her death on November 22, 1980 in Hollywood, California. She was buried in New York. She was 87. The actress, who only appeared in 12 films in 46 years, had a powerful impact. There was no doubt she was way ahead of her time with her sexual innuendoes and how she made fun of a puritanical society. She did a lot to bring it out of the closet and perhaps we should be grateful for that.
"I believe in censorship. After all I have made a fortune out of it."
Some Mae West Quotes
"I used to be Snow White, but I drifted."
"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."
"It's better to be looked over than overlooked."
"Keep cool and collect."
"Give a man a free hand and he'll try to put it all over you."
"I believe in the single standard -- for men and women."
"Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?!"
"When women go wrong, men go right after them."
"When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better!"
"Goodness has nothing to do with it!"
"Marriage is a great institution. I'm not ready for an institution."
"It's not the man in your life that counts. It's the life in your man."
"When caught between two evils, I generally pick the one I've never tried before."
"Come up and see me sometime. Come up Wednesday. That's amateur night."
This biography by Denny C. Jackson (copyright 1998) was reprinted with permission. To see more photographs of Mae West go to Denny C. Jackson's Mae West Website.