Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mae West: Still a Star

by Jacquie Rogers

We have lots of blonde actresses today, and have had in the last century, but none of them could hold a candle to the woman who invented the movie version of the sex kitten. Mae West. She was sharply intelligent, had a keen wit, was a multi-talented actress, dancer, comedienne, and writer--and she didn't mind using her sexuality to make a buck or two.

I always say, keep a diary and someday it'll keep you.
~~Mae West

American stage and film actress Mae West was not only the first woman to make a million dollars in the entertainment business, her work rescued Paramount Studios from oblivion and debt. She was a formidable financial force and made a lot of money for a lot of people.

Any time you've got nothing to do and lots of time to do it, come on up. ~~Mae West

This amazing woman was born in 1892 and by 1895 was already performing on the vaudeville stage. When she was fifteen, she was a "coltish shimmy dancer" and billed as a "sex clown," so her beauty and wit were bankable early on.

Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.
~~Mae West

In 1918, she made it to Broadway and appeared in a musical called Sometime. She was tremendously successful as a stage actress. Miss West's early years in vaudeville and stage gave her a venue in which to hone her writing skills. She wrote nearly all her best hits, including five film credits, and her creative talent was noticeably missing on the later films that bombed at the box office.

She wrote a play called Sex and staged it in 1926. This earned her some morals charges and she was arrested twice.

I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
~~Mae West

The real fascination with Mae West over the years probably has more to do with the time she lived. She was born in the Victorian era of corsets but society was evolving--not as radically as Miss West, for sure, but her humor certainly reflected the changing values of the day. The Roaring 20s brought a huge social revolution and Miss West was right there to promote pleasure and have fun. Maybe she gave the depression-weary masses permission to have a good time, who knows. But her humor struck a cord, and even though she was the first commercially successful blonde bombshell, her humor was appreciated by women as well as men.

A woman in love can't be reasonable - or she probably wouldn't be in love.
~~Mae West

She starred in her first Hollywood film in Night After Night (1932). She held her own with Cary Grant, WC Fields, and many other leading men of the day. She was a box office hit until . . .

Will Hays of the Production Code Administration (the censors) took a special interest in suppressing her bawdy nature (purely for the good of the country and our families, of course). "...The initial screening of "Klondike Annie" elicited rigorous monitoring from the PCA (Production Code Administration) for its implications of interracial sex, representations of torture and unpunished murder (which undermined the codes principle of "compensating moral values"), and for casting West as a prostitute...." (http://www.cd.sc.ehu.es/FileRoom/documents/Cases/81maewest.html)

With the censors watching her every move (and not in a good way), Miss West finally gave up on films and went back to the stage. Her humor could not survive the censor's red pen, and we have to surmise that she wasn't having much fun, either.

Mae West lived out her life in and out of show business, but she never quit writing. In the 50s, she wrote the review of brawny men with herself as star, and some say she singlehandedly started the bodybuilder popularity boom. To this day, we love her sometimes wise but always witty one-liners. And she even has a life jacket named after her!

His mother should have thrown him out and kept the stork.
~~Mae West

Jacquie Rogers writes books with magic, romance, and whimsy. Watch for her July 2011 release, Much Ado About Marshals.