Remembering the “Come up and see me sometime” vamp of yesteryear
The sex superstar of the 1930s started out writing her own risqué plays. Her first starring role on Broadway was in ’Sex,’ a 1926 play she wrote, produced, and directed.
Puritanical critics panned the show, but the public loved it. Religious groups were the loudest critics and their complaints prompted the cops to raid the theater. Mae West and the cast were arrested.
Mae was prosecuted on morals charges, and on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to 10 days for “corrupting the morals of youth.” She could have paid a fine and gone free, but she chose the jail sentence for the publicity.
Mae served eight days of her sentence. She is shown below leaving the West 47th Street police station. (Photo/New York Daily News)
Mae West bucked the system, making comedy out of conventional mores, and the Depression-era audience admired her for it. When her cinematic career ended, she wrote books and plays and continued to perform in Las Vegas and in the UK, on radio and television, and she recorded rock and roll albums.
She was born on August 17, 1893, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her father was a prizefighter known as ‘Battlin’ Jack West’ who later worked as a ‘special policeman’ and then became a private investigator. Her mother Mathilda modeled corsets.
Mae West introduced her Diamond Lil character in the 1933 film ‘She Done Him Wrong’ co-staring Cary Grant in one of his first major roles.
She became one of the biggest box office stars in America, and two years later, the highest paid woman and the second-highest paid person in the U.S., after publisher William Randolph Hearst.
The American Film Institute named her 15th among the greatest female stars of classic American cinema.
She died on November 22, 198O, at her home, Apartment 611 at the Ravenswood Apartments on 570 North Rossmore Avenue in Hollywood. She was 88.
Mae West was entombed at Cypress Hills Cemetery along with her parents and brother John in her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y. Her younger sister Beverly was entombed there a year later.