Vaudeville Performer, Playwright, Broadway Sensation,
Movie Star, Sex Goddess…Mae West was each of these things,
but first and foremost she was an independent woman who
became an icon simply by being herself.
Hello Blogland!!! Today's post will be a celebration of one of the greatest "Broads" in entertainment-the Fabulous MAE WEST!!!! Mae would've been 120 years old on August 17th. Mae definitely was a true example of being VISIBLE at any age!!
Biography of Mae West (courtesy of Wikipedia)
West was five when she first entertained a crowd at a church social, and she started appearing in amateur shows at the age of seven. She often won prizes at local talent contests. She began performing professionally in vaudeville in the Hal Clarendon Stock Company in 1907 at the age of fourteen. West first performed under the stage name Baby Mae, and tried various personas including a male impersonator, Sis Hopkins, and a blackface coon shouter. She used the alias "Jane Mast" early in her career. Her trademark walk was said to have been inspired or influenced by female impersonators Bert Savoy and Julian Eltinge, who were famous during the Pansy Craze. Her first appearance in a Broadway show was in a 1911 revue A La Broadway put on by her former dancing teacher, Ned Wayburn. The show folded after just eight performances, but at age 18, West was singled out and discovered by the New York Times. She next appeared in a show called Vera Violetta, whose cast featured Al Jolson. In 1912 she also appeared in the opening performance of A Winsome Widow as a 'baby vamp' named La Petite Daffy.
She was encouraged as a performer by her mother, who, according to West, always thought that whatever her daughter did was fantastic. Other family members were less encouraging, including an aunt and her paternal grandmother. They are all reported as having disapproved of her career and her choices.
In 1918, after exiting several high-profile revues, West finally got her break in the Shubert Brothers revue Sometime, opposite Ed Wynn. Her character Mayme danced the shimmy, and her photograph appeared on an edition of the sheet music for the popular number "Ev'rybody Shimmies Now."
Eventually, she began writing her own risqué plays using the pen name Jane Mast. Her first starring role on Broadway was in a 1926 play she entitled Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. Though critics panned the show, ticket sales were good. The notorious production did not go over well with city officials, and the theater was raided, with West arrested along with the cast. She was prosecuted on morals charges and, on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to ten days for "corrupting the morals of youth." While incarcerated on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island), she dined with the warden and his wife; she told reporters that she had worn her silk panties while serving time. She served eight days with two days off for good behavior. Media attention about the case enhanced her career.
Her next play, The Drag, dealt with homosexuality and was what West called one of her "comedy-dramas of life". After a series of try-outs in Connecticut and New Jersey, West announced she would open the play in New York. However, The Drag never opened on Broadway due to the Society for the Prevention of Vice vows to ban it if West attempted to stage it. West was an early supporter of the women's liberation movement, but said she was not a feminist. She was also a supporter of gay rights.
West continued to write plays, including The Wicked Age, Pleasure Man and The Constant Sinner. Her productions were plagued by controversy and other problems, although the controversy ensured that West stayed in the news and most of the time this resulted in packed performances. Her 1928 play, Diamond Lil, about a racy, easygoing lady of the 1890s, became a Broadway hit. This show enjoyed an enduring popularity and West would successfully revive it many times throughout the course of her career.
In 1932, West was offered a motion picture contract by Paramount Pictures despite being close to 40. This was an unusually high age to begin a movie career, especially for women, but she nonetheless managed to keep this fact ambiguous for some years. She made her film debut in Night After Night starring George Raft. At first, she did not like her small role in Night After Night, but was appeased when she was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In West's first scene, a hat check girl exclaims, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds." West replies, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie." Reflecting on the overall result of her rewritten scenes, Raft is said to have remarked, stole everything but the cameras."
She brought her Diamond Lil character, now renamed Lady Lou, to the screen in She Done Him Wrong (1933). The film is also notable as one of Cary Grant's first major roles, which boosted his career. West claimed she spotted Grant at the studio and insisted that he be cast as the male lead. She claimed to have told a Paramount director "If he can talk, I'll take him!" The film was a box office hit and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The success of the film most likely saved Paramount from bankruptcy.
Her next release, I'm No Angel (1933), paired her with Grant again. I'm No Angel was also a financial success, a film that proved to be her most successful film of her entire movie career. By 1933, West was the eighth-largest U.S. box office draw in the United States and, by 1935, the second-highest paid person in the United States (after William Randolph Hearst). On July 1, 1934, the censorship of the Production Code began to be seriously and meticulously enforced, and her screenplays were heavily edited.
West's next film was Belle of the Nineties (1934). Originally titled It Ain't No Sin, the title was changed due to the censors' objections. Despite Paramount's early objections regarding costs, she insisted that the studio hire Duke Ellington and his orchestra to accompany her in the film's musical numbers. Their collaboration was a success; the classic "My Old Flame" was introduced in this picture. Her next film, Goin' to Town (1934), received mixed reviews.
Her following effort, Klondike Annie (1935) dealt, as best it could given the heavy censorship, with religion and hypocrisy. Some critics called the film her screen masterpiece. That same year, West played opposite Randolph Scott in Go West, Young Man. In this film, she adapted Lawrence Riley's Broadway hit Personal Appearance into a screenplay. Directed by Henry Hathaway, Go West, Young Man is considered one of West's weaker films of the era.
West next starred in Every Day's a Holiday (1937) for Paramount before their association came to an end. After the film failed at the box office, West was put on a list of actors called "Box Office Poison" by Harry Brandt on behalf of the Independent Theatre Owners Association. Others on the list were Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Dolores del Río, Katharine Hepburn, and James Cagney. The attack was published as a paid advertisement in the Hollywood Reporter and was taken seriously by studio executives. The association argued that these stars' high salaries and extreme public popularity didn't affect their ticket sales and thus hurt the exhibitors.
In 1939, Universal Pictures approached West to star in a film opposite W. C. Fields. The studio was eager to duplicate the success of Destry Rides Again starring Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart with a vehicle starring West and Fields. Having left Paramount eighteen months earlier and looking for a comeback film, West accepted the role of Flower Belle Lee in the film My Little Chickadee (1940). Despite their intense mutual dislike, and fights over the screenplay, My Little Chickadee was a moderate box office success, but the film outgrossed Fields's previous film, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), and the later The Bank Dick (1940)
West's next film was The Heat's On (1943) for Columbia Pictures. She initially didn't want to do the film but after producer and director Gregory Ratoff pleaded with her and claimed he would go bankrupt if she didn't, West relented.The movie opened to bad reviews and failed at the box office. West was so chastened by the experience that she would not attempt another film role for the next quarter-century.
On December 12, 1937, West appeared in two separate sketches on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's radio show The Chase and Sanborn Hour. By the second half of the 1930s, West's popularity was dwindling and she went on the show eager to promote her latest movie, Every Day's a Holiday. Appearing as herself, West flirted with Charlie McCarthy, Bergen's dummy, using her usual brand of wit and risqué sexual references. West referred to Charlie as "all wood and a yard long" and commented that his kisses gave her splinters.
Even more outrageous was a sketch written by Arch Oboler that starred West and Don Ameche as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. She told Ameche in the show to "get me a big one... I feel like doin' a big apple!" This ostensible reference to the then-current dance craze was one of the many double entendres in the dialogue. Days after the broadcast, NBC received letters calling the show "immoral" and "obscene".Women's clubs and Catholic groups admonished the show's sponsor, Chase & Sanborn Coffee Company, for "prostituting" their services for allowing "impurity [to] invade the air". The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) later deemed the broadcast "vulgar and indecent" and "far below even the minimum standard which should control in the selection and production of broadcast programs". There is some debate regarding the reaction to the skit, however. Mainstream reaction was not as swift as that of Catholics. Some claim that Catholic groups already had it in for Mae West; they despised her sexual image and warned the sponsor of the program they were planning to protest. Nevertheless, the incident is known as one of the first cases where radio programming faced claims of indecency from the FCC.
NBC personally blamed West for the incident and banned her (and the mention of her name) from their stations. They claimed it was not the content of the skit, but West's tonal inflections that gave it the controversial context. West would not perform in radio for another twelve years until January 1950, in an episode of The Chesterfield Supper Club hosted by Perry Como.
After appearing in The Heat's On in 1943, West remained active during the ensuing years. Among her stage performances was the title role in Catherine Was Great (1944) on Broadway, in which she spoofed the story of Catherine the Great of Russia, surrounding herself with an "imperial guard" of tall, muscular young actors. The play was produced by Mike Todd and ran for 191 performances. In the 1950s, she also starred in her own Las Vegas stage show, singing while surrounded by bodybuilders. Jayne Mansfield met and later married one of West's muscle men, a former Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay.
When casting the role of Norma Desmond for the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder offered the 57-year old West the role. Still smarting from the failure of The Heat's On, she declined. Wilder later said, "The idea of [casting] Mae West was idiotic because we only had to talk to her to find out that she thought she was as great, as desirable, as sexy as she had ever been." Gloria Swanson was eventually cast in the role.
In 1958, West appeared at the Academy Awards and performed the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Rock Hudson. In 1959, she released her autobiography entitled Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It, which went on to become a best seller.
West made occasional appearances on television, including The Red Skelton Show in 1960. In 1964, she guest-starred on the sitcom Mister Ed. Demonstrating her willingness to keep in touch with the contemporary scene, she recorded a pair of rock-and-roll albums, Way Out West and Wild Christmas (later re-issued as "Mae in December") in the late 1960s. In 1965 she recorded two songs, "Am I Too Young," and "He's Good For Me" for a 45 rpm record released by Plaza Records. She also made several parody songs including "Santa, Come Up to See Me" on the album Wild Christmas. The April 18, 1969 issue of Life magazine featured Mae at age 75. The article detailed her views on homosexuals, her generosity to Roman Catholic nuns, her vast real estate holdings and her desire to continue an active career in the upcoming decade.
After a 27-year absence from motion pictures, West appeared as Leticia Van Allen in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1970) with Raquel Welch, Rex Reed, Farrah Fawcett, and Tom Selleck in a small part. The movie was a deliberately campy sex change comedy that was both a box office and critical failure. Vidal later called the film "an awful joke". Despite Myra Breckinridge's mainstream failure, it did find an audience on the cult film circuit where West's films were regularly screened and West herself was dubbed "the queen of camp".
West recorded another rock album in 1968 (released in 1972) on MGM Records titled Great Balls of Fire, which covered songs by The Doors among others. Her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It, was also updated and republished.
In 1976, she appeared on The Dick Cavett Show and that same year began work on her final film, Sextette (1978). Adapted from a script written by West, daily revisions and disagreements hampered production from the beginning. Due to the numerous changes, West agreed to have her lines fed to her through a speaker concealed in her wig. Despite the daily problems, West was, according to Sextette director Ken Hughes, determined to see the film through. In spite of her determination, Hughes noted that West sometimes appeared disoriented and forgetful and found it difficult to follow his directions. Her now-failing eyesight also made navigating around the set difficult. Hughes eventually began shooting her from the waist up to hide the out-of-shot production assistant crawling on the floor, guiding her around the set. Upon its release, Sextette was a critical and commercial failure.
In August 1980, West tripped while getting out of bed. After the fall, West was unable to speak and was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where tests revealed that she had suffered a stroke. She remained in the hospital where, seven days later, she had a diabetic reaction to the formula in her feeding tube. On September 18, she suffered a second stroke which left her right side paralyzed and developed pneumonia. By November, her condition had improved, but the prognosis was poor and she was sent home. She died there on November 22, 1980, at age 87.
Some Pop Culture tidbits about Mae:
During World War II, Allied aircrew called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts" and "life vest" and partly because of the resemblance to her torso. A "Mae West" is also a type of round parachute malfunction (partial inversion) which contorts the shape of the canopy into the appearance of an extraordinarily large brassiere.
West has been the subject of songs, such as in the title song of Cole Porter's Broadway musical Anything Goes and in "You're the Top", from the same show.
One of the most popular objects of the surrealist movement was the Mae West Lips Sofa, which was completed by artist Salvador Dalí in 1938 for Edward James
When approached for permission to allow her likeness on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, West initially refused stating that she would never be in a "Lonely Heart's Club". The Beatles wrote her a personal letter declaring themselves great admirers of the star and persuaded her to change her mind.
Mae West has a statue at Hollywood-La Brea Boulevard in Los Angeles, designed by Catherine Hardwicke built in honour of multi-ethnic leading ladies of the cinema, together with Dolores del Rio, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong.
West is pornographically referenced in Stephen King's novel The Green Mile and Frank Darabont's movie of the same name.
Here are some links to Youtubes showing Mae in action:
I can remember as a kid watching her movies on TV. I always loved her smart, sassy independence. She was truly ahead of her times!! This lady was SEXY--because it started in her brain not in her cleavage!! She was confident and powerful and unafraid to show who she was.
And now that we've all ogled Mae in all her glory, onto something a little less exciting. Here I am in my OOTD.
And now that we've all ogled Mae in all her glory, onto something a little less exciting. Here I am in my OOTD.
I had some on-site design meetings today so COMFORT was the key!! My skirt and tshirt are thrifted, sandals by Amerimark, earrings and bracelets are DIY, and the pendant is retail/sale.
BUSY weekend ahead!! Tomorrow our son-in-law graduates from Federal Law Enforcement Training and Sunday the family is getting together for steamed crabs ( a Maryland delicacy!!!) I also need to make a fruit salad for our Senior Appreciation Breakfast at church(I play hostess) WHEW!! Here's a bit of doggie cuteness!!
Everyone have a faboo weekend and I'll be back on Sunday!!