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Mae West Overview:

Legendary actress, Mae West, was born Mary Jane West on Aug 17, 1893 in Woodhaven, NY. West died at the age of 87 on Nov 22, 1980 in Hollywood, CA and was laid to rest in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings County, NY.

Early Life and Career

Bawdy and Buxom with a genius for controversial comedy, Mae West crafted a career that would for last over seven decades. She was born Mary Jane West on August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. At an early age, West and her family moved between parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Her father was a fighter turn private investigator and her mother was a corset model. Always an ostentatious child, West made her first public performance at a church social at age of five. By seven West was appearing of local amateur shows, often taking first place at talent contest. In 1907 she made her first professional vaudeville performance with the Hal Charleston Stock Company. She went by the alias Baby Mae because she was only 14 years old. During that time West worked on building a viable stage persona, initially dabbling in male impersonation. She made her Broadway debut in 1911's A La Broadway. Although the show only played eight performances, West was noted by critics for her snappy performance style and stage presence. Rumor has it the 5 foot nothing West wore custom made 8 inch heels to increase said stage presence.  That year she also appeared in Vera Violetta. By the late 1910's West had gained notoriety for her performance in the Shubert Brothers revenue Sometime. In the number Ev'rybody Shimmies Now in which she enthusiastically dances the shimmy, demonstrating two of her favorite assets. 

Stage Career

More than just a performer, West began to write her own plays under the name of Jane West. In 1926, she debuted the risqué and aptly named comedy, Sex in which she wrote, directed, produced and starred. The play was an instant scandal. Panned by critics but loved by audiences, the play was deemed so unscrupulous that city officials had West arrested on charges of "corrupting the morals of youth." She was found guilty and sentence to ten days in jail. She served only eight. West was also lifelong supporter of gay rights and used her work to reflect those ideals. Her next play, 1927's The Drag attracted a fair amount of controversy for its easy treatment of the theme of homosexuality and was banned from Broadway.  Continuing with her string of controversial comedies, in 1928 West scored another smash Broadway hit with Diamond Lil, as an easy and easygoing gal living in late 1800's. Through the late 1920's and early 1930's she enjoyed success after success on the Broadway stage. However in 1932, she traveled west to Hollywood after signing to Paramount Pictures.

Film Career

West began her film career at the age of 38, an age most when Hollywood actresses were past playing lovers and stuck playing mothers. West, however, refused to play by Hollywood's rules. Unhappy with her small role in Night After Night, she was granted permission to re-write her scene to play on her sex appeal. With the altered dialog she stole the scene as well as the entire movie.  For her next role, she revived Diamond Lil, now named Lady Lou, in 1933's She Done Him Wrong. She insisted on casting the then relatively unknown player who caught her fancy, a young Cary Grant, and in turn gave a jump-start to the young actors career. The film was a massive success with both critics and audiences and was one of the highest grossing of the films year. The film is credited with helping to save Paramount from bankruptcy and would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Bet Picture. The following year she team with Grant again for the comedy I'm No Angel. The movie would be the highest grossing of West's career and for the second year in a row West starred in a Best Picture nominated film.  At this point in career, West was the second highest paid actress in Hollywood.

Hayes Code

In 1934 the self-censorship of Hollywood under the infamous Hayes Code of Conduct began to take full effect. As a result, West's screenplays were now heavily censored and altered. To replace the many bawdy lines and sexy scenes, West made rampant use of the double-entendres in hopes that the censors would miss the some of her more subtle attempts at communicating their double meanings.  Her next film, Belle of the Nineties was an adaptation of her stage play It Ain't No Sin. The title change was one of the many changes made by the censors. She insisted on hiring Duke Ellington and His Orchestra for the films musical numbers, including the highly successful My Old Flame. In 1935, she released the religious satire Klondike Annie, which some critics regard as her masterpiece. She next starred in the unremarkable Go West, Young Man opposite Randolph Scott. Her next film 1937's Every Day's a Holiday failed to charm critics and audiences, failing miserably at the box office. As a result, she parted ways with Paramount and was placed on the famed list of "Box Office Poison."

In 1939, she agreed to star in the Universal Pictures My Little Chickaddee opposite W.C Fields after 18 months away from Paramount. Although the two stars shared a heavily dislike for one another and constant bickered on set, the film was success at the box office. In 1943, at the age of fifty, West agreed to star The Heat's On after director Gregory Ratoff insisted she take the role. The film was released to poor reviews and even poorer box office results. It would be over 25 years before West would be seen on celluloid again.

Radio and Stage

After leaving Hollywood, West continued to reach her mass audiences via the stage and radio. One her most scandalous sketches she performed to transmit over airwaves was Arch Oboler's Adam and Eve. In the sketch she and Don Ameche played double-entendre loaded version of Adam and Eve. For weeks after, the studio received letters complaining about the sketch's apparent lack of moral decency. Many religious groups charged West with corrupting the youth of the nation and Federal Communications Commission deemed the skit "vulgar and indent." Although not the only player involved, West shouldered the burden of blame and was blacklisted from the radio waves for a short time.

In 1944, she returned to the stage for Catherine Was Great, a comical retelling of Russian monarch Catherine the Great. She show ran for over 190 performances. Still as sexy and desirable as she was in her youth, West kept busy though the 1950's with her nightly performances in Las Vegas. Much like the rest of her career, West made sure to surround herself with fit, muscular men as she sang about how much she loves them.

Later Career and Death

West remained busy as ever as she approached old age, making any television appearances throughout the 1960's. She also maintained a recording career, demonstrating her youthful vigor by record two rock and rolls albums: 1965's Way Out West and 1969 Wild Christmas.  In 1970, after over a quarter of a century away from the Big Screen, West appeared in over-the-top sex comedy Myra Breckingridge. Although a failure with critics and the box-office, the film later became a huge cult classic and earned West the label "Queen of Camp" In 1978, West released her final film Sextette, based on a screenplay written by West. Production of the film was hampered with many problems, much of them stemming from West's failing mental and physical health. Despite West unyielding determination to finish the film, it failed with both critics and audiences.  In 1980, She suffered from 2 debilitating strokes that left her paralyzed on the right side. May West died on November 22, 1980 from complications brought on the strokes in her Hollywood home. She was 87 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).

HONORS and AWARDS:

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She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. In addition, West was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame . She appears on the cover of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. West was never nominated for an Academy Award.

BlogHub Articles:

“When I’m Bad, I’m Better”: the Infinitely Quotable

By Judy on Apr 9, 2017 From Cary Grant Won't Eat You

When the Flapper Dame announced the 2nd annual Classic Quotes Blogathon, naturally I thought of , she of the long list of enduring one-liners from film. It’s difficult to pick the most iconic of West’s lines, so I won’t try. But certainly, one of the most beloved is this: &... Read full article


’s Lessons for Groundbreakers

By Judy on Aug 7, 2016 From Cary Grant Won't Eat You

A woman approaches a building, greets men outside, enters. A common occurrence. But when that walk is ’s, the arrival of Maudie into Night after Night is transgressive. West’s entrance into film guaranteed the influence she’d already build on the stage would reverberate far beyond the audien... Read full article


’s Theme Show: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

By Judy on May 30, 2016 From Cary Grant Won't Eat You

Sexually adventurous, unapologetic, averse to marriage, in control, attractive to all men–and in her 40s. Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) is the kind of character feminists have despaired of seeing onscreen, and yet there she is, captivating her Australian viewers, and now American ones, who have ... Read full article


’s Klondike Rebellion

By Judy on Mar 6, 2016 From Cary Grant Won't Eat You

There’s something terribly wrong and terribly right about Klondike Annie’s (1936) odd musical tribute to Asian sensuality. It’s one of the few moments of the film when seems somewhat genuine. Elsewhere, she can’t sell the censored treatment of her material, so she do... Read full article


Quote of the Week: Religion vs. Jewels

By Judy on Jan 30, 2016 From Cary Grant Won't Eat You

“You know it was a toss-up whether I go in for diamonds or sing in the choir. The choir lost.” The line would be funny regardless, but West does so much with it: She pauses in between the sentences for emphasis. She follows up the words with an arch look at her love interest of the hour ... Read full article


See all articles

Mae West Quotes:

Wayne Carter: There's no such thing as law and order in this town. Decent citizens live in fear of their lives.
Flower Belle Lee: That ain't right. There should be a law against it.


Cuthbert J. Twillie: May I present my card?
Flower Belle Lee: 'Novelties and Notions.' What kind of notions you got?
Cuthbert J. Twillie: You'd be surprised. Some are old, some are new. Whom have I the honor of addressing, m'lady?
Flower Belle Lee: Mmm, they call me Flower Belle.
Cuthbert J. Twillie: Flower Belle, what a euphonious appellation. Easy on the ears and a banquet for the eyes.
Flower Belle Lee: You're kinda cute yourself.
Cuthbert J. Twillie: Thank you. I never argue with a lady.
Flower Belle Lee: Smart boy.


[last lines - each saying a line associated with the other]
Cuthbert J. Twillie: If you get up around the Grampian Hills - You must come up and see me sometime.
Flower Belle Lee: Ah, yeah, yeah, I'll do that, my little chickadee.


read more quotes from Mae West...



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Mae West on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame



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Mae West Facts
Died two days before her Night After Night (1932) and Sextette (1978) co-star George Raft.

According to actor Tony Curtis, her famous walk originated while beginning her career as a stage actress. Special six-inch platforms were attached to her shoes to increase the height of her stage presence. Her walk literally was "one foot at a time."

Hollywood's outrageous, self-proclaimed psychic Criswell predicted in 1955 that she would win the 1960 Presidential election, and would fly to the moon in 1965 with him and friend Liberace!.

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