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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Friday, November 16, 2007

Mae West: Navel Display

• • Ever hear the one about the gal who lost her reputation and never missed it?
• • In March 1926, Mae West's play "Sex" whose plot turns on Margy LaMont, a prostitute who has an English naval officer for a boyfriend was in rehearsal. Prior to its Broadway run, during the out-of-town try-outs in Bridgeport, Connecticut; the maritime men on shore leave snapped up the tickets and became a most appreciative audience for these previews.
• • "I'll never forget my debt to the Navy," said Mae.
• • Fast forward one year to March 1927.
• • In 1927, during Mae West's obscenity trial at Jefferson Market Court House in New York, police detectives took the witness stand and described a suggestive dance that Mae West did onstage during her play. The judge asked if the actress's midriff was bare during this "cooch" number in "Sex," and if the audience could see her belly button. This important testimony was cross-examined at great length by the lawyers. The detective said that he was too far back in Daly's Theatre to swear that it was Mae West's belly button, however, he saw something in her pelvic area that moved to the left and to the right, an admission which caused an uproar among the spectators. Mae West had to stuff a handkerchief in her mouth to keep from laughing out loud, too.
• • Covering the trial for a newspaper, a reporter poked fun at the detective in his article. "Clearly," he concluded, "no navel displays are permitted on Broadway."

• • These true events surrounding the prosecution of Mae West, actress and playwright, are dramatized in the full length play "Courting Mae West" [a serious-minded comedy 95 minutes long]. This play has received two Staged Readings in New York, NY that were very well attended.
• • Soon we hope to invite you to come up and see Mae onstage.

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• • Illustration: Mae West • • circa 1926 • •

Mae West.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mae's Arrest: 2 February 1927

As a child, MAE WEST took the role of "little Mary" in the stage version of Ten Nights in a Bar-Room. That popular temperance melodrama focused on a family torn apart by demon alcohol. In real life, her father's bar-hopping had always concerned Mae. Unfortunately, by the time she was in her teens, Beverly (Mae's sister) had also turned to drink. One night, when the sisters were in Bridgeport, Connecticut, demon alcohol ignited another kind of domestic drama.
• • Saloon scholar Beverly attracted the press's attention at the premiere of Mae's play "The Drag" by cavorting up and down Poli's lobby in boozy abandon. After the show, when they returned to their rooms at the Arcade Hotel, Beverly and Edward Elsner continued celebrating.
• • At 5 o'clock in the morning on Tuesday February 1st, Mae West was arrested along with her sister and the director Edward Elsner. The charge was "disorderly conduct" and it was widely reported in many tabloids on February 2nd, 1927. What a nightmare.
• • This turmoil was the start of Mae's most notorious headlines in the newspapers.
• • Russian-born Sergei Treshatny, the husband of Beverly West, began divorce proceedings due to this arrest. How unseemly it was, felt the wronged spouse, that his 26-year-old wife was found drunk by the police in the hotel suite of a married man.
• • These real life events in Bridgeport, CT are dramatized In Act I, Scene 2 of the play "Courting Mae West."
• • Come up and see Mae onstage:

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

Mae West.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Inside an A-MAE-Zing Play

You know her as a screen queen, a motion picture icon. But before Mae West went to Hollywood, she was an iconoclast in New York City. She broke the law but the law didn't break her. And it's a fascinatin' true tale about a gal who lost her reputation (and all her money) but didn't regret it.
• • This play is based on true events during December 1926
December 1932 (the colorful crime-ridden Prohibition Era) when actress-author MAE WEST was arrested and jailed for trying to stage two gay plays on Broadway in New York, NY.
• • The title of my play is: "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets"
• • Cast size: seven [4 females, 3 males play rotating roles
except for the MAE WEST role]
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• • SYNOPSIS [100 words] • •

• • Based on true events during the Prohibition Era, this 95-minute play follows a vaudeville veteran whose frustrations with the rules of male-dominated Broadway have led her to write her own material and cast her own shows. Is the Gay White Way ready for love stories that feature New York City drag queens instead of card-carrying members of the union? Is the legitimate theatre ripe for racially integrated melodramas set in Harlem? Is the Rialto raring to reward a working-class heroine determined to sin and win?
• • Come up and see Mae West as she challenges bigotry, fights City Hall, and climbs the ladder of success wrong by wrong.

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• • Production History • •
• • Feb. 2004 Staged Reading in NYC
over 250 adults were turned away for lack of room. [Asked them to sign the Guest Book and invited them to the next Staged Reading.]
• • Feb. 2005 Staged Reading in NYC
396 seats were in this theatre. [Over 350 attended.]
• • August 2005 Mini Version presented (30 minutes of a 95-minute play) by costumed actors inside a real speakeasy in midtown Manhattan that Mae West used to go to [occasion: the Annual Mae West Gala in New York].
• • A legal filing was done and "COURTING MAE WEST, L.L.C." is being presented to investors, people who would like to have fun while they are making a profit.
• • Anyone who connects us to an investor would get EQUITY in this play.
• • To be continued. . . .
• • Come up and see Mae
• •

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• • Illustration: • • Superhero FIRST AMENDMENT carries Mae West to victory in her censorship battle in the illustrated version of "Courting Mae West"
• • Illustrator: • • Michael DiMotta • • 2005 • •
• • Illustration: • • dramatist LindaAnn Loschiavo • • 2006 • •
• • Artist: • • Alvaro • • 2006 • •

Mae West.

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Mae West: Star Sex

It feels like 1927 even though our calendar's stamped 2007. Theatre-goers are assembling at 8 o'clock, clutching programs printed with a familiar phrase: "Sex" written by Mae West.
• • And a Bay Area publication led off with this: Delia MacDougall revs up Mae West's "SEX"! Oh, don't you wish you were in sunny California this week, inhaling an a-MAE-zing West Coast revival onstage?
• • Columnist Chad Jones interviewed the leading lady. His article follows.
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• • THIS MONTH, if you're looking for good "Sex," you may need to head for Berkeley.
• • Last night, the Aurora Theatre Company opened Mae West's 1926 show "Sex" starring Delia MacDougall as Margy LaMont, the role West originated herself.
• • MacDougall, a familiar face to Bay Area audiences (she most recently died onstage in California Shakespeare Theater's "King Lear"), grew up in Mountain View and remembers her mother taking her to Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre to see old movies.
• • "My mom was a big fan of Mae West's and would quote her all the time," MacDougall says from her San Francisco home. "I loved all those sexy pre-Code 1930s ladies. I think Mae West had something to her that was more powerful than any of them — more sexual but not very sexy. She was a powerful, sexual woman."
• • Of course, young Delia didn't necessarily know what West was talking about. "It still takes me a while to catch on — she makes innuendo out of everything."
• • Even before MacDougall was approached by Aurora artistic director Tom Ross about playing West's role in "Sex," the busy actor/ director was something of a West aficionado.
• • "I saw her films then started reading the biographies. I was impressed by the paths she cut," MacDougall says.
• • After an audition for another Aurora show, MacDougall was sensing she didn't get the part when Ross handed her the "Sex" script. The first few pages had MacDougall hooked, and she knew she wanted to do the show.
• • "The character, Margy LaMont, is clearly a prostitute, and that's what was so upsetting to people at the time," MacDougall explains. "She's very real which is a funny thing to associate with Mae West. In the '20s, prostitutes onstage had to suffer and die at the end. Audiences had to believe there was good in them somewhere. But with Margy, it's not like that."
• • "Sex" got bad reviews when it opened, but, as you might imagine, audiences adored it. It ran for a year before The City of New York sent the police in to shut it down. West was arrested on a morals charge and served eight days in prison (though legend has it she was allowed to wear her silk underwear in jail).
• • Of course, being the Madonna of her day, West turned all the publicity to her advantage, wrote more plays (most of which were shut down or forced out of town) and made her way to Hollywood.
• • Because "Sex" emerged before the West persona was set in curvy stone, the character of Margy is, as MacDougall puts it, "more man-angry and society-angry than later West characters. Mae had a better sense of humor than Margy."
• • Consequently, MacDougall does not have to do an out-and-out West imitation, though she is working on her shimmy.
• • "I think it's a good play — it's not 'Inherit the Wind' but it moves quickly, you don't know where it's going and it has characters you love," MacDougall says. "And Mae always wrote that Margy is in a clinch, so I love playing the part because I'm always in the arms of some guy."
• • This will be the year MacDougall chose "Sex" over "Christmas" (the sex jokes just never end with a title like that). She was all set to go back into American Conservatory Theater's annual "A Christmas Carol," but decided to opt for West's play.
• • "I don't know how many more years I can be in a play called 'Sex,'" she says.
• • If you'd like to sample a little of Mae West at her best before you head to "Sex," which is directed by Ross and features Maureen McVerry, Danny Wolohan, Steve Irish, Robert Brewer, Kristin Stokes, and Craig Jessup, Delia MacDougall recommends West's first movie, "Night After Night," in which a hat-check girl says to West, "Goodness, what lovely diamonds." To which West replies, "Dearie, goodness had nothing to do with it."
• • MacDougall also recommends listening to West's song "A Guy What Takes His Time."
• • The Aurora's "Sex" continues through December 9th, 2007 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, California; T: 510-843-4822
• • Source:
• • Byline: Chad Jones
• • Published: 6 November 2007
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• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo • • Mae West in "Sex" • • 1927 • •

Mae West.

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