Courting Mae West: Synopsis
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.
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• • • Mae West
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Courting Mae West
• • Photo • 62 West 9th Street • in 1918