Women's History_Mae West

When she was good, she was very good. But when she was bad, she made film history. Whether making films, writing plays or flirting with the camera, Mae West was undisputedly the most controversial sex siren of her time. At 33 years old, she wrote, produced, directed and starred in her first Broadway play entitled "Sex," a 1926 production deemed so obscene that she landed in jail for it. She was the queen of double entendres on and off screen, delivering some of the best-remembered quips in movie history. In "She Done Him Wrong" (1933), West delivered one of the most quoted lines in movie history, "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

Mary Jane West was born on Aug. 17, 1893 in Woodhaven, NY. Her father was a boxer who later became a cop; her mother was a former corset and fashion model. The acting bug bit the New York native at an early age. At age five, she took home prizes for appearing in amateur shows. At age 12, she became a professional vaudeville performer.

West, who was less than 5'2 tall, was rumored to have worn customized 8-inch platforms attached to her shoes to increase her stage presence. The 1911 revue "A La Broadway" was her first legitimate Broadway show; which she left after only a week's worth of performances. In 1913, the young, raven-haired girl performed a salacious "shimmy" dance for a song-sheet; the song was "Everybody Shimmies Now."

Even at such a young age, West wrote several plays under the pen name "Jane Mast" and was arrested for "Sex" on Broadway, receiving a 10-day jail sentence. Rumors ran rampant that while behind bars, she was permitted to wear silk underpants instead of the rough prison garb everyone else had to wear and that the warden wined and dined her every night. She was set free after serving eight days. Nonplussed, she appeared in a string of successful plays, including "The Drag," a 1927 play that was banned from Broadway because of its homosexual theme. She was an advocate of gay and transgender rights, but her belief that "a gay man was actually a female soul housed in a male body" ran counter to the belief at that time that homosexuality was an illness. Nevertheless, she was still considered a feminist and a hardcore supporter of the gay community. West continued to stir up controversy with her plays, including the Broadway smash "Diamond Lil" (1928), about a loose woman of the 1890s. She dominated the Broadway scene for many years to come, but she also set her eyes on another stage: Hollywood.

In 1932, Paramount Pictures courageously signed up the Broadway star. It was quite a feat at the time, for she was already considered a "mature" actress, but West looked younger than her 38 years. This youthful glow endured throughout the rest of her life and gave Hollywood's newest unlikely sex symbol an edge over her contemporaries. Her first film was "Night after Night" (1932), where she hated her small part in the film yet, true to form, she was allowed to rewrite her scenes. West stole the show during her first scene when the hatcheck girl complimented her baubles with "Goodness, what lovely diamonds." Without missing a beat, she exclaimed, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."

Despite her box office pull, her blunt sexuality onscreen kept rubbing the censors the wrong way. In 1934, censors - in care of the infamous Hayes Code of onscreen ethics - began deleting overtly sexy lines and scenes from her films. To fight back, West increased the number of double entendres, hoping that the censors would delete the most offensive lines and miss the subtler ones.

West continued to shock her fans and critics on radio, making two appearances on Edgar Bergen's very popular show. In one sketch, she starred opposite Don Ameche as Adam and Eve; the dialogue between the two was so risqué that she was banned from being featured, or even talked about on NBC. The line that caused all the fury was directed at Ameche, "Get me a big one.I feel like doing a big apple!" Aside from radio, she appeared on TV a few times and even recorded two successful rock albums, post her film heyday of the 1930s.

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