Courting Mae West

The play "COURTING MAE WEST: Sex, Censorship & Secrets" is based on true events during the 1920s when actress MAE WEST was arrested and jailed in New York City for trying to stage two gay plays on Broadway. Maybe she broke the law - - but the LAW couldn't break HER!

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Courting Mae West: Synopsis

Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets
by LindaAnn Loschiavo

• • • SYNOPSIS • • •
An ambitious journalist on the warpath for truth and headlines is courting an aging, unsuccessful vaudeville veteran who has received scathing reviews for 27 years and still is hell-bent on becoming a Broadway mainstay - - even as censors jail her for obscenity and fine her $20,000 for depicting homosexuality on stage. His pursuit of news tips sparks a fatal outcome and also leads to a shocking discovery about her as well as his family’s history. Based on true events in the lives of Mae West, Texas Guinan, Jim Timony, and Starr Faithfull.

A gay cabaret at PAUL & JOE's inspired MAE WEST to write "The Drag." MAE hired some of their dragqueens to play themselves. MAE realized this was against EQUITY'S rules. During the 1920s, homosexuals were restricted to non-speaking roles in the chorus because they were banned from joining the union.

• • • The play begins in December 1926 in a Greenwich Village basement speakeasy [Act I, Scene 1] as MAE WEST and MARIO “SHORTIE” DeANGELIS celebrate her 300th performance of Sex. Box-office success thrills the 33-year-old MAE (both playwright of Sex and its star), but she worries aloud that life seems too perfect. In fact, although MAE has described her 27-year career in vaudeville as a non-stop triumph, MAE knows she is on an uncertain path: vaudeville is dying and MAE has few options. The 23-year-old reporter confides that his book proposal is missing. SHORTIE suspects someone in his boarding house has stolen his notebook - -but he cannot afford to move out.

• • • February 2, 1927, MAE is arrested in Connecticut with theatre owner EDWARD ELSNER and BEVERLY WEST. (BEVERLY’s Russian husband SERGEI will divorce her because of this arrest.) February 9, 1927, SHORTIE takes DECLAN and ELIZA ROURKE to see Sex. The sheltered 24-year-old housemaid is alarmed when her sly father, a newsdealer, steals a placard. By Daly’s 63rd Street Theater, there’s a brusque encounter with a neighbor SARA STARR, a stylish young flapper. ELIZA tells her father disturbing news. Discovering Sex will be raided, SHORTIE sends the ROURKES home. The raid: MAE WEST is handcuffed along with the cast. Inside Jefferson Market Jail, MAE is processed as an inmate, which angers her. MAE argues with lawyer JIM TIMONY. Outside Jefferson Market Jail, as SHORTIE quarrels with SARA STARR, he discovers a bootlegger’s secret tunnel on Sixth Avenue. MAE, en route to a jail cell, dreads facing the news men.

• • • During the trial, ignoring the advice of JIM TIMONY and SHORTIE, MAE plays to the balcony and alienates the JUDGE and JURORS. (In April 1927, MAE is sentenced to a term in the Women’s Workhouse on Welfare Island.) TILLIE WEST faints in Jefferson Market Court when the guilty verdict is announced.

• • • October 10, 1927, as MAE prepares to go onstage at the Royale Theatre as “Diamond Lil,” her friend TEXAS GUINAN visits with woeful news. Mae’s new play Pleasure Man - - which is supposed to premiere at the Biltmore Theatre that night - - is going to be raided by the police. Though MAE tries to stop the raid, she cannot. As the police surround the theatre in Times Square, at the boarding house ELIZA argues with her mother as they alter a dress for Hallowe’en. ELIZA wants to impress SHORTIE, she confesses to SARA, who takes advantage of her. SARA argues with SHORTIE, who refuses to participate in her blackmailing schemes. SHORTIE gets bad news about his father and packs a suitcase for a trip to Albany. As he packs in his bedroom, ELIZA has other ideas.

• • • After Diamond Lil has completed a successful run on Broadway and has toured, MAE returns to New York to face the Pleasure Man trial. Left again with no bookings, MAE begins to write a new play The Constant Sinner, based on SARA’s racy lifestyle. DECLAN and ISIDORE, having discovered a secret about SARA, plan to sell the information as a newspaper scoop. SHORTIE foils that plan. Because of SARA, SHORTIE uncovers upsetting truths about his family. SHORTIE confides in MAE but asks MAE to keep this a secret.

• • • As TILLIE WEST’s health worsens, MAE avoids facing this. Terrified of death and illness, MAE refuses to discuss this subject. Christmas Eve 1929, as MAE and SHORTIE bitterly argue over TILLIE’s Christmas present, SHORTIE forces MAE to admit her mother is on her deathbed. MAE reveals the secret SHORTIE confided in her to ELIZA, DECLAN, and PEG ROURKE. MAE and SHORTIE part in anger.

• • • EPILOGUE: It’s 1933 in Hollywood when MAE is filming She Done Him Wrong, and SHORTIE visits the set with a surprise for MAE. There’s an upbeat ending - - with a twist.
• • • Licensing Coordinator:
• • • Mae West
• • • 212-614-9683

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• • Photo • 62 West 9th Street • in 1918

Mae West.

Annual Mae West Gala Moves Downtown

House of History Lifts its Petticoats - - Dramatically
- - For Immediate Release - -
New York, NY: Celebrity chef Stephen Lyle passes Barbra Streisand en route to his kitchen at Village Restaurant, across the street from Jefferson Market Library. A prominent photo of the songbird from her Broadway era graces the entry to the dining room because, in 1960, the teenager was discovered in this location - - then known as The Lion. In 1960 Joan Rivers launched her career here, too. And folks will learn that Mae West, visiting a famous gay cabaret here (Paul & Joe's - - a favorite nightspot of heavyweight champion JACK DEMPSEY, one of Mae's lovers) during the 1920s, based her play "The Drag" on the colorful scene. When The Society for the Suppression of Vice heard that Mae West was planning to bring "The Drag" to Broadway, they pressured the Mayor to charge Mae with obscenity and incarcerate her at Jefferson Market Jail in February 1927.

• • On August 17th - - Mae West's birthday - - Stephen Lyle invites the news media to join him in a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a press preview of "Texas Guinan and Mae West: Outlaws Onstage." This exhibition of rarely seen photographs, theatre memorabilia, and colorful illustrations will be open to the public in Greenwich Village from August 17th - 31st at Village Restaurant [62 West 9th Street]. There is NO admission charge to view the installation.
• • These vintage views [1909 - 1930] of the two friends will showcase the theatrical side of these two actresses who often performed on the same stages.
• • Though TEXAS GUINAN [1884-1933] is remembered as a speakeasy hostess, in fact, she starred in over two dozen films and had leading roles in musicals on Broadway. And though MAE WEST [1893-1980] is immortalized as an icon of the silver screen, she performed live in vaudeville and on Broadway.
• • Onstage MAE WEST and TEXAS GUINAN often tried to outdo other entertainers. Example: exhibitionist Texas Guinan performed at The Fifth Avenue Theatre suspended in an airship. And Mae West performed in drag and in blackface.
• • See a sampling online:
* * * and
* * *
• • In honor of MAE WEST’s August 17th birthday, this historic installation will have its official press opening at a gala 1920s-theme cocktail party for the NEWS MEDIA on that Thursday evening.
• • Sunday 20 August 2006 there will be a MAE WEST BRUNCH at Village preceded by a guided tour. August 20th tour and brunch: $25.00. [Reservations for $25 brunch + tour: phone 212-505-3355. Credit cards accepted.] However, the exhibition is FREE.
• • Sponsorship and media inquiries are welcome.

• • • COURTING MAE WEST, LLC, based in Manhattan, is an off-Broadway producing outfit whose mission is to increase visibility and opportunity for women and women-driven stories in the theatre.
• • Sponsorship Coordinator:
• • Conrad Bradford
• • 917-403-0890

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• • Photo • 62 West 9th Street • in 1918

Mae West.