because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mae West

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to a prizefighter and a corset model in 1893, Mae West started entertaining people at five-years-old and climbed onto the Vaudeville stage at fourteen. Then, she hit Broadway only a few years later in a show that folded almost immediately, but not before West was "discovered" by the New York Times. Developing a theatrical personna is a complicated matter, but West took her vampish walk from female impersonators and parlayed a show she wrote herself entitled simply "Sex" into a career booster by promptly getting arrested for "corrupting the morals of youth."

Continuing to write plays with titles like "The Drag," "The Pleasure Man," and "The Constant Sinner," West finally achieved success on Broadway when she wrote and performed in "Diamond Lil." But it was Hollywood that made her famous around the world for her in-your-face attitude. In her film debut (at nearly forty!) with already established movie star George Raft, West's scenes were small, but she put herself on the map instantly when a hat check girl in one scene said the line, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" and West added a line by responding in her own inimitable fashion, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."

In her subsequent film career, West saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy with "She Done Him Wrong" and followed that up with such classics as "I'm No Angel" and "Klondike Annie," so that by 1935, West was the second-highest paid person in the United States (behind William Randolph Hearst). But religious indignation hounded her throughout her career and got her thrown off radio during the 1940's, not so much for what she said as how she said it.

Still performing into her seventies, West had a whole string of lovers in her life and was just as unapologetic about them as she was about everything else. When her landlord refused to allow her to entertain African-American boxer William "Gorilla" Jones, for example, she simply bought the building so he could come and go whenever he pleased. Some in-your-face women keep a low profile on occasion. Mae West was not one of them.

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