West, Mae


West, Mae
born Aug. 17, 1892/93, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.
died Nov. 22, 1980, Los Angeles, Calif.

U.S. film actress.

She performed with a Brooklyn stock company around 1901, and by 1907 she had become a performer on the national vaudeville circuit. She made her Broadway debut as a singer and dancer in 1911. In 1926 she began to write, produce, and star in her own Broadway plays, including the sensation-creating Sex (1926), Diamond Lil (1928), and The Constant Sinner (1931), productions that mired her in legal battles. Her frank sensuality, regal postures, and suggestive wisecracks became her trademarks in popular movies such as She Done Him Wrong (1933), Belle of the Nineties (1934), I'm No Angel (1933), and My Little Chickadee (1940). In World War II Allied soldiers called their inflatable life jackets "Mae Wests" in honour of her hourglass figure. Her films were revived in the 1960s, and she appeared in Myra Breckenridge (1970) and Sextette (1979).

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▪ American actress and writer
born August 17, 1893, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
died November 22, 1980, Los Angeles, California
 American stage and film actress, a sex symbol whose frank sensuality, languid postures, and blasé wisecracking became her trademarks. She usually portrayed women who accepted their lives of dubious virtue with flippant good humour.

      West made her debut with a Brooklyn stock company about 1901, and by 1907 she had become a performer on the national vaudeville circuit in partnership with Frank Wallace. She made her Broadway debut as a singer and acrobatic dancer in the revue A la Broadway and Hello, Paris in 1911. For the next 15 years she alternated between vaudeville and Broadway shows, and she did an occasional nightclub act.

      In 1926 West began to write, produce, and star in her own plays on Broadway. In the first of these, Sex (1926), her performance as a prostitute created a sensation but also earned her an eight-day jail sentence for “corrupting the morals of youth,” from which she emerged a national figure. Her plays Diamond Lil (1928) and The Constant Sinner (1931) were also successful. For all the variety of the scripts she wrote, the constant factor was West's own ironic, languorous personality and her ability to ridicule social attitudes, especially toward sex.

      In 1932 West moved to Hollywood. Her first film there, Night After Night (1932), showed the lighthearted approach that was characteristic of her subsequent pictures. She Done Him Wrong (1933), a screen adaptation of Diamond Lil, is memorable for her amusing ability to charge such lines as “Come up and see me sometime” with suggestive implications. West then wrote and costarred in I'm No Angel (1933), Belle of the Nineties (1934), and Klondike Annie (1936), which brought her popularity to its height. After two more films, she costarred with W.C. Fields (Fields, W.C.) in the comic western My Little Chickadee (1940), whose script she wrote with him. During World War II, Allied soldiers called their inflatable life jackets “Mae Wests” in honour of her hourglass figure. In the 1940s and '50s she sometimes appeared on stage surrounded by young musclemen. Her films were revived in the 1960s, and she appeared in Myra Breckinridge (1970) and Sextette (1979). The title of her autobiography, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It (1959), captured her style precisely—it was a retort one of her characters made to the exclamation “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!”

Additional Reading
Biographies include Maurice Leonard, Mae West: Empress of Sex (1991); Marybeth Hamilton, When I'm Bad, I'm Better (1995; also published as The Queen of Camp, 1996); and Emily Wortis Leider, Becoming Mae West (1997). Ramona Curry, Too Much of a Good Thing: Mae West as Cultural Icon (1996), explores her changing image.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • West,Mae — West, Mae. 1892? 1980. American actress known for her sultry stage persona. Her films include I m No Angel (1933) and My Little Chickadee (1940). * * * …   Universalium

  • West, Mae — (1983 1980)    Born Mary Jane West in Brooklyn, New York, actress Mae West began her career as a teenager and appeared in musical reviews in New York from 1911 onward. She also wrote a number of plays and in 1926 appeared in Sex as a prostitute.… …   Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era

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