Mae West: Queen of Sass
Mae West, owner of her sexuality (and plenty others)
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Mae West became a staple in the gay community. While coming into her own as a performer, she looked towards female impersonators Bert Savoy and Julian Eltinge as inspiration. Heck, she even had a short stint as a male impersonator during her vaudeville days. Though this obviously had an impact on the development of her career, it’s not exactly why she is remembered as a gay icon. It wasn’t the sex that she played on stage, but rather her attitude towards it that made her a gay icon. Basically, she was ally before it cool to be an ally.
You see, Mae West was something of a sexual rebel at a time when sex wasn’t talked about on stage. Her plays, rampant with double-entendres and swaying hips, bucked the sexual norms of her time. By pushing the envelope of “polite entertainment,” she was changing the metaphorical terrain of sexual acceptance. Of course, not everyone was quick to accept her, and her bawdy, brash stage persona managed to land her in jail when the cops raided her Broadway play subtly titled, Sex. During this period she also penned The Drag, a comedy focusing on the (hilarious) every dramas of the gay life. So, at a time when being gay was still considered a mental illness, West was an unabashed supporter of gay rights, proudly writing, performing and working with the LGBTQ community. And it is because of this, as well as her extravagant style and sexual freedom, that she is considered a Screen Queen.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub