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Blunt. Busty. Brooklyn-born. Getting to know Mae West

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

We could quote Mae West all day, but outside of her famous risqué quips we didn’t really know her backstory. Like that she was a successful writer, producer, and director (hello, triple-threat) and an ardent fighter of censorship. Read on to find out why we love this blonde bombshell more than ever.

  • Meet Mary Jane West. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1893. Her mom wanted to be an actress (but wasn’t) and her dad was a prizefighter who fought in the ring and in the streets.

  • Little girl. Big personality. By age 3, Mae knew how to entertain a crowd by impersonating friends and family.

  • Baby Mae. Dance classes. Appearing in the church social. Entering amateur nights at burlesque theaters and winning. All before the age of 8. She would perform on the vaudeville stage by 14.

  • Va-va-voom in bloom. Mae played a lot of roles that portrayed innocence on the outside, but her lines and demeanor had ample sexual overtones. The mostly male audience loved it.

  • Her “wicked ways.” She was beautiful, funny, and pursued by her theatrical colleagues. They say she refused proposals to have multiple affairs instead, but when someone warned her of her “wicked ways” –and that marriage would protect her against being alone and pregnant—Mae secretly married at 17. (It didn’t last.)

  • Now that’s a title. Her first major starring role was in the play Sex, which she wrote, produced, and directed. It was a box office hit, but some critics panned it for being overtly sexual. She was even prosecuted on moral charges and sentenced to 10 days in jail for the content. The whole thing only made her more popular.

  • Drag. That was the name of her next play and it dealt with homosexuality. The Society for the Prevention of Vice had it banned from Broadway, but ever-determined, she took it on the road.

  • Dirty thirties. She didn’t get her big break in film playing sexy harlots until she was 38 years old. That was a big deal then just as it would be today.

  • Vulgar? Indecent? Censored. Mae knew how to leverage her sexy persona and she often rewrote her lines to take full advantage of it. It worked—she was famous and many of her films were hugely successful. Still, eventually the censors would insist that she curb the sexual innuendos. Sadly, many of her later films lost their audience appeal because of it.

  • Her most famous line? There are so many, but this one is up there: “Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” (She Done Him Wrong)

  • Between Ginger Rogers and Vivian Leigh. The American Film Institute named her the 15th greatest female star of all time.

BTW, hearing Mae’s story makes us really glad that nowadays, women in the U.S. have easy access to birth control and more independence because of it. We’ve come a long way. Bet Mae would be proud.

XOXO,
Bedsider

P.S. It can be really helpful to hear people talk about why they like their birth control. If you’re considering a switch, have a listen.

read more about: culture, lusty ladies, frisky friday

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