Mae West Part 1

Mae West was born in Brooklyn New York in 1893 her mother was a German Immigrant and her father was an Irish American[1]. West kept on re-writing what her childhood looked like so nobody is quite sure exactly what it was like, but people imagine that she was raised in a working class neighborhood. Mae West first entered theatre at age seven when she left schooling and entered the Brooklyn Stock Company. When she was a teenager she toured in musical comedy road shows and later on in vaudeville circuit as a singer and dancer[2]. Mae West influenced theatre by being a play write/actress who owned her own sexuality and brought gay characters to popular theatre.

Before Mae West became a playwright/actress she was a featured performer on the Mutual Burlesque Wheel between 1922 and 1925[3]. This sort of Burslque was looked down upon and this particular circuit had a bad reputation for being lewd and cheap. Mae West wanted one more try to get into mainstream theatre so she used the money she made from Burlesque to put on a play she wrote[4].

Mae West’s play pushed people’s buttons because they showed empowered women. In April 1926 when the actress was thirty two years and all ready a twenty five year veteran of theatre, West brought her play Sex to Broadway by renting a theatre, hired a director, and staged a production using the little money that she was able to scrap together[5][6]. Sex was extremely controversial causing some critics to call the police because even though Broadway had many “Sex Plays” during the 1920’s this one was different because of the raunchy humor that was associated with low-end burlesque clubs at the time. The main character played by Mae was a prostitute who was not a fashionable flapper like the other plays at the time, but a foul mouthed, poorly dressed, heavyset woman. Variety called the play a “nasty red-light district show”, but the dirty nature of the play caused a cult following and it became one the longest running show[7]. This led to her next play, which she did not star in called The Drag.

Mae West wrote and staged The Drag, which she called a “ homosexual comedy genre”. West got her supporting actors from New York’s Gay underground and encouraged them to play an extremely flamboyant version of themselves[8]. She centered the play on gay slang terms and customs at the time like Drag Balls, which while did not call for Gay Rights the play, did try to show people who were not in the sub-culture what Gay life in New York City looked like. The Drag did very well in the plays out of town previews especially drawing lots of teenage girls. In response to that New York tabloids warned readers that the play was about perverts and not to go to the Broadway premier. On February 9, 1927, the municipal vice squad raided her productions (including a play that was considered almost a re-write of The Drag called Pleasure Man) and charged the actors and Mae West with public obscenity. Mae West abounded The Drag to stop her from going to jail, but West was still convicted for staging an obscene play and served a ten day sentence because she was a producer, playwright, and actress.

[1]

Hamilton, Marybeth. “Review: Mae West.” The Cambridge Quarterly 19.4 (1990): 383-88. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/42966811?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_content&gt;.

[2] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Review: Mae West.” The Cambridge Quarterly 19.4 (1990): 383-88. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/42966811?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_content&gt;.

[3] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Mae West Live: “SEX, The Drag, and 1920s Broadway”” TDR (1988-) 36.4 (1992): 82-100. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146217?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents&gt;.

[4] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Mae West Live: “SEX, The Drag, and 1920s Broadway”” TDR (1988-) 36.4 (1992): 82-100. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146217?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents&gt;.

[5] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Mae West Live: “SEX, The Drag, and 1920s Broadway”” TDR (1988-) 36.4 (1992): 82-100. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146217?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents&gt;.

[6] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Review: Mae West.” The Cambridge Quarterly 19.4 (1990): 383-88. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/42966811?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_content&gt;.

[7] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Review: Mae West.” The Cambridge Quarterly 19.4 (1990): 383-88. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/42966811?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_content&gt;.

[8] Hamilton, Marybeth. “Review: Mae West.” The Cambridge Quarterly 19.4 (1990): 383-88. Jstor. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/42966811?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=Mae&searchText=West&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=Mae+West&acc=on&wc=on&fc=off&group=none&seq=1#page_scan_tab_content&gt;.

2 thoughts on “Mae West Part 1

  1. Your 3rd paragraph is highly inaccurate; historically it is totally off the mark. Please see my 6-page cover story published in The Dramatist Magazine — “The Sex Issue” — “Mae West: Sex, Censorship, Prison and Politics.” The Dramatist is published by The Dramatists Guild of America (1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036). This issue is also available in The Drama Book Store in Manhattan.

    Like

  2. I got all the historical facts from academic articles, but I apologize if the third paragraph is inaccurate. I don’t live in New York, but I urge all my followers who do to check it out.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s