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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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mae West: Hot in August

MAE WEST was enjoying "Sex" during August in 1926. It was hot: summertime in New York City especially over on the westside when MAE WEST was starring in "Sex" as the unapologetic prostitute Margy LaMont. By the summer of 1926, the show had been booked in Daly's West 63rd Street Theatre for a couple of months but the boxoffice was still sizzling. Onstage Mae was shimmying. All this in the days before air-conditioning, too.
• • As with most writers or actors, Mae West did not want to be ignored. Variety had given her many blistering razz-berries [also known as the humiliating "Bronx cheer"] in print. So had all of New York City's major drama critics. Mae West decided she would produce her own material and she would also take charge of the production. Maybe that would improve things for her career.
• • Even before "Sex" officially opened in Manhattan during April 1926, it attracted strong reactions. Mostly, it received a black eye in print.
• • It was "feeble and disjointed," The New York Times critic said.
• • It was a "disgrace," The New Yorker announced.
• • Walter Winchell called it "a vulgar affair ... amateurish in script and cast."
• • The Daily Mirror, a William Randolph Hearst paper, was less mellow. This was, it said, "a monstrosity plucked from the garbage can, destined for the sewer."
• • Theatre critics had a different perspective on scarlet women back in '26.
• • Mae West's play looked at the social mores of the time, she claimed, but John Q. Public was not so sure. The first attempt to close "Sex" failed; the police department convened a play jury but the officials barely missed getting the required three-fourths vote of a citizens' panel.
• • Moreover, celebrities and certain authors [for example, Robert Benchley and Zora Neale Hurston] had favorable things to say about "Sex." Some newspapers carried second reviews, reversing their first opinion.
• • After making a profit on the show, West was fined $500 and sentenced to 10 days in jail. "This will be the making of me," she predicted.
• • That prediction, however, would take a while. Five years later, and nearing her 40th birthday, Mae West finally made her presence felt in the motion picture world. She often wrote her own lines, oozing sexual references. She died in 1980 at 87, having outlived the era she mocked.
• • David Thompson wrote of Mae West: "The real conclusion of her work is that sex is an idea, an obsession for the human being, and one of the most reliable distractions from the equally potent idea that life is tragic."
• • Stage-manage your weekend and make some time for Mae West on Friday evening 17 August 2007, when a guided tour will explore Manhattan's WEST-side during the "Mae West Side Story" walking tour. The event open to the public is timed to salute Brooklyn's own sexpot on her birthdate. [See the Annual Mae West Gala posting below.]
• • Only 1 more day until Mae's birthday on August 17th!
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

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• • Photo: Mae West in her play "Sex" • • 1926 • •

Mae West.

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