Mae West Part 2

In 1928, Mae West brought a play she had written called Diamond Lil to Broadway, which became a hit and was later made into a film in 1933 called She Done Me Wrong, which launched her into real stardom[1]. Diamond Lil is about an 1890’s Bowery Madame who bewitches a Preacher who tries to reform her[2]. West played the main character Diamond Lil who was the start of the persona that all the actresses characters were based on. Diamond was a wry and humorous dance hall Madame who was all sex appeal and used that to her advantage. The play got lots of great reviews and audiences that were extremely diverse. Diamond Lil had a ten-month run and a successful national tour. The play was her most comic play because of the setting of the west that sings parody, with overblown costumes, and Ma West herself delivering her lines in a ironic manner. Mae West did not become a comedian until she entered the film business[3]. In Theatre Mae West was able to spark controversy because she was a woman who owned her own sexuality and was willing to own it on stage instead of letting men control her.

Mae West continued to push boundaries in the film world during the 1930’s using her humor to get around censorship laws and deflecting the male gaze[4]. Mae West was a producer, screenwriter and star in all her Hollywood Comedy films and the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, which was supposed to make sure films respect moral law, “the correct standards of life” and the sanctity of heterosexual marriages, censored her. In her autobiography that was published in 1959 called Goodness Has Nothing To Do With It, that Mae West adopted suggestive sexual humor to get around censorship that started during her vaudeville acts. West also used her sexual innuendos and her powerful presence on screen to take the power away from the men. She destroyed the male gaze. In her 1933 film I’m No Angel, Mae West played a lion tamer named Tira who was part of The Freak Show circuit. One of the first scenes of the film, Tira is walking across a plan around all these men surrounding her performing as a feetless woman (though the character is not feetless). The men look at her & jeer, but Tira/Mae West refuses to be objectified. She stares right back at the men and says one liners like “Penny for your thoughts” at a man who is leaning in with large eyen. Even though there’s a caller trying to objectify her at the start of this scene, Tira still refuses to be objectified by choosing who she wants to sleep with. She spots a man wearing an expensive ring so she decides to go after him. Tira winks at him and signals she wants to meet up with him later. A few scenes later it’s revealed that Tira does sleep with him, but she chooses too so she can’t get jewels and fancy clothing from him. Tira objectified the rich man instead of the other way around. Through humor Mae West is able to switch around the male gaze.

Mae West was a powerful woman in both theatre and film. She was an empowered woman who created plays for her to perform in. West owned her own sexuality and used it in a way that made her destroy the male gaze and create a sort of female gaze instead. Mae West also opened the mainstream world into the world of gay life in the 1920’s, which made the invisible visible. West was an important figure in United States theatre and film.

Bibliography

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;.

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;.

Curry, Ramona. “Goin’ To Town and Beyond: Mae West, Film Censorship and the Comedy of Unmarriage.”

I’m No Angel. Perf. Mae West and Cary Grant. Reel Images, 1933. Film





[1]

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;.

[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. “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;.

[4] Curry, Ramona. “Goin’ To Town and Beyond: Mae West, Film Censorship and the Comedy of Unmarriage.”

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