A Brief History
On April 19, 1927, vaudevillian and stage actress Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for “corrupting the morals of youth!”
Mae West, star of stage, movies and radio, started her performing career at age 5.
Obviously meant for entertainment, West also wrote the play, Sex, for which she was jailed. The arrest and jail time only gave her more good publicity which helped propel her to stardom, eventually being ranked the 15th biggest female star of all time.
Known for her hourglass figure and sultry ways, she played the role of sexy vamp and was one of the first “blonde bombshells.” Her top heavy figure was behind World War II sailors and airmen naming their life saving floatation vests “Mae Wests.” With the tremendous increase in parachuting due to World War II the parachute malfunction where lines cross over the top of the parachute making it look like a giant bra was also called a “Mae West.”
Starting her movie career at the age of 39, West helped launch the career of Cary Grant as her leading man. The plays she wrote and movies she starred in dealt with sex, homosexuality, religion and hypocrisy, all of which made censors crazy! West was not only brash and outspoken on the screen, but was also an advocate of women’s rights and homosexual rights long before the mainstream.
Mae West (born Mary West) was the subject of Salvador Dali’s famous Mae West Lips Sofa in 1938, appeared on the cover for the Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper album, and is depicted in a statue located at the end of the Hollywood Walk of Fame (along with Anna May Wong, Dorothy Dandridge, and Dolores del Rio). Of course, she also has a star on the Walk of Fame. Cole Porter wrote songs about her and she continues to be the subject of many impressions as the archetypical sultry sex-pot.
Married once and with numerous boyfriends through the years, including boxer William “Gorilla” Jones (an African-American), West lived as she pleased which of course did not please many entertainment executives! Mae was out of the movies from 1943 until 1970 with her last film being the appropriately named Sextette (1978).
West also made many record albums rounding out her multi-talented resume.
Mae West met the love of her life at age 61 (he was 31) and lived with body builder Paul Novak until her death from a series of strokes at age 87 in 1980. Today, it is still hard to pick a sex symbol more iconic than Mae West. Question for students (and subscribers): Can you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Chandler, Charlotte. She Always Knew How: Mae West, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.