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).



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.

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Mae West Quotes:

The Frisco Doll: When caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.

Rajah the Fortune Teller: You were born in August.
Tira: Yeah, one of the hot months.

[after he reads her fortune, Rajah gives Tira the horoscope he has prepared for her]
Rajah the Fortune Teller: Keep this where you may consult it frequently.
Tira: Alright, I'll take it to bed with me.

read more quotes from Mae West...

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Mae West Facts
Playing opposite Ed Wynn in Arthur Hammerstein's "Sometime," with music by Rudolf Friml, she introduced the shimmy to the Broadway stage in 1918. The dance requires hardly any movement of the feet but continuous movement of the shoulders, torso and pelvis. She had seen the dance at black cafés in Chicago.

At one point, her chauffeur was Jerry Orbach (who is best known for playing Detective Lennie Briscoe on all four "Law & Order" TV series.

Sister of Beverly Arden.

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