Moral Turpitude & Mae
• • The New York Times, in an article called "What Moral Turpitude Looks Like" [30 March 2008], was citing a U.S. Customs spokeswoman's objections when she refused to admit "the infamously debauched writer Sebastian Horsley" to this country, citing concerns of "moral turpitude." Apparently, the Englishman celebrated his past arrests in Britain for drug possession and prostitution in his book Dandy in the Underworld [NY: Harper Perennial]. Modeling a custom-made stovepipe, Horsley posed at home for The Times opposite a row of skulls.
• • Of the dramatic black Lincoln-esque headgear, Sebastian Horsley admitted, "It makes me almost pointlessly tall." But the dandy summed it up: "Dandyism, you know, you do it for yourself, but it requires a reaction or it wouldn't exist."
• • No doubt Mae West would have agreed. When writing her plays, she was counting on a certain reaction — — and without it "Sex" would not have gone so far.
• • "Sex" wins high marks for depravity
• • In April 1926, Mae West opened in "Sex," which Variety described as a "nasty red-light district show." That must have been fine fuel for an over-heated rush on advance ticket sales.
• • During the 1920s, there was an ongoing debate about what was morally acceptable in the public venue of theater and who was responsible to arbitrate that question. This was hardly a new question in the entertainment world; theater had long been considered a cauldron of unabashed and unacceptable moral turpitude.
• • Here's what some critics said about "Sex" at Daly's 63rd Street Theatre in New York City.
• • The cheapest, most vulgar, low "show" to have dared to open in New York this year — — Billboard
• • "Sex" wins high marks for depravity, dullness — — Herald Tribune
• • "Sex" is a crude drama — — The New York Times
• • "Sex" an offensive play, a monstrosity plucked from the garbage can — — New York Daily Mirror
• • Fumigation needed — — Milwaukee Sentinel
• • A sink of moral turpitude — — Variety
• • "Courting Mae West" pokes fun at the media's attempt to blackball Mae. In Act I, Scene 1, Mae tries to inveigle a newsman to give her some sugar-frosted coverage by suggesting that an article on her "could be a trampoline for your career, see?"
• • In Act I, Scene 2 — — set in the Arcade Hotel, Bridgeport, Connecticut — — intoxicated Beverly taunts her overbearing sister, mangling the phrase as she jeers: "The critics said your play stinks of turpentine!" Equally drunk, Edward Elsner corrects Beverly, repeating the phrase "a sink of moral turpitude" pompously. To which Mae rejoins, "Thanks, Shakespeare!"
• • Come up and see Mae during July in New York City!
• • http://CourtingMaeWest.blogspot.com/
Courting Mae West
• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Arcade Hotel • • 1927