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, February 01, 2008

Barry O'Neill, leading man

A 95-minute serious-minded comedy, "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" — — based on true events when actress-author MAE WEST was arrested and jailed for trying to stage two gay plays on Broadway (New York City) — — combines real-life people and fictional personae. The story begins in December 1926, when Mae West is celebrating the 300th performance of her play "Sex" at a Greenwich Village speakeasy where she has hired some gay males and drag-queens to star in her upcoming production "The Drag." The final scene, set in December 1932, shows Mae West in her Hollywood dressing room, preparing to shoot a scene for a Paramount Pictures motion picture called "She Done Him Wrong" — — a screenplay based on her 1928 Broadway smash "Diamond Lil."
• • The cast of "Courting Mae West" includes some colorful characters. Meet Barry O'Neill [1898?-1952?], called "Barry O'Neill" in the play.
• • In reality, tall, dark, handsome Barry O'Neill had served during World War I as a lieutenant on a mine-sweeper. He was decorated for his bravery with the King George medal. In 1925, his Broadway career began and he starred in several dramas on The Great White Way until 1933. Since O'Neill played Lt. Gregg in "Sex," he was arrested with the cast.
• • This photo from March 1927 shows a less courageous leading man seated next to his co-defendant Mae West during their obscenity trial held at Jefferson Market Police Court on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. When the verdict came in on 5 April 1927, reporters took note of him. Barry O'Neill, wrote a news man, "wore an expression of fear in contrast to that display of levity which had characterized his attitude during the trial." Mae tried to cheer him up with soothing remarks such as "Don't worry, Barry! It'll come out all right" — — to no avail. "When the verdict had been recorded and the clerk of the court began to take the pedigrees of the convicted men and women, O'Neill face took on a deep red," according to The New York Times. As Mae "patted him on the back and spoke words of consolation," O'Neill buried his face in his hands and wept openly.
• • Learn about him:
• • In "Courting Mae West," Barry O'Neill's fictional counterpart BARRY O'NEILL is Mae's co-defendant. Apprehensive about the outcome, O'Neill retains his composure and a more realistic view of the jurors than Mae. Plagued by trouble with her vision, MAE WEST insists she can detect the jury's "love in laughter." But In ACT I, Scene 5, the audience sees the courtroom more clearly through Barry O'Neill's eyes.

• • "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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• • Get ready to come up and see Mae onstage during July 2008.

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• • Photo: Mae West and Barry O'Neill
• • 1927 • •

Mae West.

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