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, April 25, 2008

Mae West Is Coming!

How many actresses would like to portray MAE WEST? When director Louis Lopardi placed the official casting call for the play "Courting Mae West" in Actors' Access, within 48 hours 690 responses had flooded his mailbox.
• • Since "Courting Mae West" — — a serious-minded comedy based on true events during the Prohibition Era — — has a cast of seven, not every resume was intended for the "diamonds is my career" gal. Another actress will portray Beverly West and Texas Guinan, for instance.
• • But the largest number of replies, according to Mr. Lopardi, was for the role of Starr Faithfull [called Sara Starr in the play]. He received 270 headshots and cvs from actresses eager to play the fatal flapper. Starr's role calls for a very thin, stylish woman in her mid-twenties. As written, Sara Starr is a complex creature with a generous store of nervous discontent, harsh in her judgments of others, and quick to see individuals as defective because they are not enough like her. When John O'Hara wrote about the beautiful party girl, who met death at age 25, he renamed her Gloria Wandrous and made her the centerpiece of Butterfield 8.
• • As Mr. Lopardi heads for his first round of auditions on Friday and Saturday [April 25th — 26th, 2008] at The Producers Club in Manhattan, what will he look for in the next Mae West? "Her vitality was legendary," said the director. "And Mae West had industrial strength charisma."
• • What helps a stage director select the right individual? The first step is "typing-out by headshots plus experience," he explained, "and then short screening auditions."
• • What are some red flags? Showing up totally costumed for the role is a warning sign Mr. Lopardi is aware of. "An actress can suggest Mae West by wearing a boa — — but if she shows up decked out like Diamond Lil, I would be leery."
• • The casting and the elimination rounds begin today. Later there will be callbacks. Check this blog again to see who will play Mae in "Courting Mae West" in mid-July at the Algonquin Theatre in New York City.
• • No cameras were rolling in an Astor Place audition room in Manhattan (back in June 2005) when a New York City director was then conducting a talent search for MAE WEST for a short excerpt of "Courting Mae West” timed for The Annual Mae West Gala on 17 August 2005. But the dare-to-bare urge was in the air.
• • The playwright, the casting crew, and the director's personal assistant were astonished to see how many aspiring actresses interpreted the director's suggestion to "have fun with Mae's bawdy dialogue and be bold” as a green light to go blue.
• • Actor Richard Kent-Green, while playing a waiter in the opening scene, found himself adrift in fishnet hosiery and female garments as an Australian actress tossed her black apparel around. Ever the improv expert, Kent-Green anchored these cast-aways on a folding chair and stayed in character.
• • Is Janet Jacksons wardrobe malfunction becoming a trend? Richard Kent-Green admitted to a roving reporter that he had seen, in one night, more curves than a coastal highway.
• • Comedienne Louise ["Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”] Lasser said it is unfortunate when an actress puts her faith in the casting couch instead of her talent. Being bold during an audition, observed Miss Lasser, used to mean you showed some sass. Mae West may have had the two biggest props in Hollywood but she is remembered because her wit titillated. [That talent search took place in the summer of 2005. Marta Reiman was cast in the leading role.]
• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" — — based on true events when Mae West was tried at the Jefferson Market Police Court on Sixth Avenue — — will be onstage at the Algonquin Theatre [123 East 24th Street, New York, NY 10010] July 19th 22nd, 2008.
• • "COURTING MAE WEST" opens at 6 o'clock on Saturday evening July 19, 2008.
• • "COURTING MAE WEST" — — showtimes
• • July 19th, 2008 — — 6:00 PM
• • July 20th, 2008 — — 2:00 PM matinee
• • July 21st, 2008 — — 6:00 PM
• • July 22nd, 2008 — — 9:00 PM
• • Tickets to COURTING MAE WEST will be $18 per person.
• • Discounts are available for GROUPS. Group Prices are available: write to or phone 212-779-3051.
• • The play is 95 minutes long.
• • The air-conditioned theatre has 99 seats.
• • SPECIAL: $100
$150 donation — — donor gets name in the Program — — and 1 free ticket to the play.
• • $151
$500 donation — — donor gets name in Program and TWO free tickets to the play and invited to all parties.
• • The Annual Fresh Festival: a non-profit group organizes this ambitious yearly festival [now in its 7th year]. The two-week arts festival is a money-losing venture sustained by funds from The New York City Council, a culture grant from New York State, a stipend from Senator Tom Duane, and donations from good people.

• • Get ready to come up and see Mae onstage in mid-July 2008.

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• • Photo: Mae West
• • 1927 • •

Mae West.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

West 9th & Mae West

Set in the theatre district, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Greenwich Village, "Courting Mae West" puts the spotlight on West Ninth Street. Produced in connection with the Annual Fresh Fruit Festival, "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship & Secrets" — — a play by a West 9th Street dramatist — — opens at the Algonquin Theatre on 19 July 2008.
• • Act I, Scene 1 is set in a former drag cabaret, which is now Village Restaurant [62 West 9th].
• • In Act I, Mae West's gay play "The Drag" gets her locked up in Jefferson Market Jail, and led to an obscenity trial held at Jefferson Market Police Court (on Sixth Avenue and West 9th) in 1927.
• • Though Village resident Starr Faithfull inspired John O'Hara's novel "Butterfield 8," the seductive flapper did not live on the Upper East Side
— — but with her parents at 35 West 9th.
• • Mr. Isidore, the news dealer at the Ninth Street Tubes Station, was the last one in Manhattan to see 25-year-old Starr Faithfull alive. [Her inquest tied up Jefferson Market Court for over 6 months and mesmerized the news media.] In Act II, Mr. Isidore argues with the newsstand owner about reporting what he knows.
• • An infamous West 9th manhole — — used by rum-runners during the Prohibition Era — — pops up in Act I, Scene 4.
• • And the West 9th Street boarding house, where much of the action is set, really did house famous writers during the 1920s such as S.J. Perelman.
• • Vintage West 9th Street photos are online: and
• • The play dramatizes a portion of Jefferson Market Court's fascinating cultural history.
• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" — — based on true events when Mae West was tried at the Jefferson Market Police Court on Sixth Avenue — — will be onstage at the Algonquin Theatre [123 East 24th Street, New York, NY 10010] July 19th 22nd, 2008.
• • Get ready to come up and see Mae onstage in mid-July 2008.

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• • Artwork: detail from the comic book version of "Courting Mae West"
• • Mae West is locked up in Jefferson Market Jail • • 9 February 1927 • •

Mae West.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mae West: April on 6th Avenue

A West Coast feature "This Week in History" — — which mentions MAE WEST — — is glued together by the Santa Barbara Independent's news staff who, obviously, is a wee bit thick. Though this paper has had eighty-one years to get their facts straight, here is their inaccurate backwards glance on the date 19 April 1927.
• • To wit: Actress/ playwright Mae West is sentenced to 10 days in jail for writing Sex, a Broadway show about a gigolo, deemed “scandalous” by the courts. [Source for the incorrect info: Santa Barbara Independent: 122 West Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101; T. (805) 965-5205. Their excuse for getting details wrong is rich, however. They admit to doing a quick cut-and-paste from The History Channel
— — even if that means passing errors along. So if you want a job as a fact-checker, you know where NOT to go. Salaries must be low at the Santa Barbara Independent, where the corn is as high as a pink elephant's eye. Sigh. A more suitable title would be "This Week in Mystery" — — with trinkets given to the first canny readers who can spot the mistakes. This would be an inexpensive way to get the copy proofread as well, eh?]
• • Since when was Mae West's play "Sex" referred to by the wishy-washy, inaccurate, tea-party word "scandalous"? In Jefferson Market Court and in the courtroom transcript, this was called "an obscenity trial." The actors were fined and charged with giving an offensive and indecent performance.
• • Since when was "Sex" about a gigolo? Wrong plot and wrong-headed altogether.
• • Why? Well, since when would Mae West choose to star in a vehicle unless the narrative centered on the leading lady's role? She wouldn't and she didn't.
• • Too bad the Santa Barbara Independent staff did not bring their ink-stained selves off to the Aurora Theatre Company's revival of "Sex" (starring Delia MacDougall in the role of Margy LaMont) onstage in Berkeley, California in November and December of 2007. Nor did they read the reviews.
• • Synopsis of the 1926 play Mae West wrote in order to give herself a starring role: "Sex" is the tale of Margy LaMont, an ambitious young prostitute in Montreal, who is determined to get out of the skin trade and marry well. Margy takes the advice of a British naval officer [played in 1926 by handsome Barry O'Neill] to ''follow the fleet.'' That takes her to Trinidad, where she meets Jimmy Stanton, a naive rich boy from a blue-blooded Connecticut family. Jimmy proposes to Margy and whisks her home to his parents' well-furnished mansion.
• • Well, there's no gigolo in that synopsis! Anyway this blog posting is set forth for all news media outlets who would like to have correct information.
• • On 5 April 1927 at Jefferson Market Court [on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village], the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
As she left the courtroom, followed by reporters, photographers, and a mob of well-wishers, Mae told them, "You've got to fight in this world!" She added, "You've got to fight to get there — — and fight to stay there."
• • On 19 April 1927, actress MAE WEST was sentenced for her performance in "Sex," the Broadway play she wrote, cast, and starred in. She was given ten days in prison and the jail time seems to have done her good — — from a publicity standpoint. As she left the courtroom, followed by reporters, friends, fans, and gawkers, Mae predicted, "I expect this will be the making of me!"
• • Though Mae West was sentenced to 10 days, she actually only served 8 days. The actress received "time off for good behavior."

• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" — — based on true events when Mae West was tried at the Jefferson Market Police Court on Sixth Avenue — — will be onstage at the Algonquin Theatre [123 East 24th Street, New York, NY 10010] July 19th 22nd, 2008.
• • Get ready to come up and see Mae onstage in mid-July 2008.

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• • Photo: Mae West's trial
• • 28 March 1927 • •

Mae West.

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

William Zorach's Manhole Encounter

The late great sculptor and painter William Zorach [28 February 1887 — 15 November 1966] often sketched Jefferson Market since, for years, he lived on West Tenth Street and Greenwich (next to the Cushman bakery and directly opposite the formidable jail doors). Zorach reveals an interesting Prohibition Era secret in his colorful memoir Art Is My Life.
• • William Zorach writes: There was Frank Harris [14 February 1856 — 27 August 1931] living on Washington Square, whom I enjoyed visiting. I always found him in bed dictating to his secretary, a handsome redhead. He gave me a set of his Life of Oscar Wilde. I never got a chance to read it, it was lifted from our bookcase so quickly. I remember Frank Harris going into Jefferson Market Court and exposing detectives who enticed young girls, often innocent ones, and then arrested them for prostitution.
• • We faced the Jefferson Market Jail door where the wagons brought in the night's haul, and below us would be the bail-bond lawyers waiting to bail them out.
• • We used to see a manhole cover just outside the jail lift up. A man would stick his head out and whistle and a boy would rush a bucket of beer over from the corner saloon. This went on for years — — and then one day a prisoner escaped through the manhole and that stopped the flow of beer.
• • William Zorach's reminiscence inspired an interlude in "Courting Mae West" [Act I, Scene 4] when Mae West is being held in Night Court and her newsman-boyfriend wants to gain access and get a scoop. Suddenly, he observes a manhole cover just outside the jail lift up. . . .
• • Bringing "Courting Mae West" to an audience requires funding. To support A Company Of Players, a non-profit theatre group established in 1979 to present meaningful theatre, please click on this link — —
• • A Company Of Players is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 type organization, and donations to the group are considered a charitable, tax-deductible contribution.
• • Contribute through "Pay Pal" or you can mail a check to: A Company Of Players, 545 Eighth Avenue, #401, New York NY 10018-4307.
• • "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets" — — based on true events when Mae West was tried at the Jefferson Market Police Court on Sixth Avenue — — will be onstage at the Algonquin Theatre [123 East 24th Street, New York, NY 10010] July 19th 22nd, 2008.
• • Get ready to come up and see Mae onstage in mid-July 2008.

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• • Photo: Mae West's trial took place in this courthouse
• • 1920s • •

Mae West.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Mr. Isidore and the Newsstand

Back in the day when the names MAE WEST, Starr Faithfull, Jimmy Walker, Texas Guinan, and Daddy and Peaches were tabloid fodder, there were "tube stations" neatly networked underground on Sixth Avenue — — quiet concourses leading up to West 33rd Street.
• • Above ground, the Sixth Avenue elevated train creased the pavement with permanent perpendicular angles. The command of perpetual shadow-play felt perhaps like a suffocation.
• • A steady Greenwich Village presence, Mr. Isidore was a hard-working sidewalk vendor, a purveyor of good humor and the latest publications to busy New Yorkers. His newsstand was next to the Ninth Street tube station, not far from Jefferson Market Police Court.
• • Here is where the latest headlines about Mae West's legal woes were hawked. This is also where Starr Faithfull [1906 1931] bought a newspaper from Mr. Isidore. When the police questioned him, his detailed description of her stylish clothing, French-style manicure, and jewelry helped investigators identify her badly bruised corpse that washed ashore after a Long Island boat party.
• • Take a look at the newsstand — — the last familiar site Starr saw in her neighborhood. Mr. Isidore sold her a paper, as usual, and she vanished into the Ninth Street tube station with a wave of her hand.
• • In the play "Courting Mae West," the newsstand is a prominent feature — — and the news dealer character Declan Rourke employs Mr. Isidore.
• • Here's a brief excerpt from their argument in Act II, Scene 3 (set during August 1929 just before the Wall Street crash).
• • Declan: Not a word to my daughter, Isidore. She'd tell Shortie. Ha! We're this close to a pot of gold.
• • Isidore: Oy vey! Made for this mishegoss I am not. I shouldn't mix in. My Gittel, by her it's...
• • Declan: Sweet suffering St. Patrick! You told your wife, Isidore. What if Gittel should slip?
• • Isidore: With gelt, she's as sure-footed as a Russian ballerina before Stalin. Asleep she can count money. By her, we should call the police. (stage whisper) The reward got bigger.
• • Declan: Minute the cops have this news, the reporters will be on them. But Mr. P. is holding the front page for US. We'll give the printer a nice head start. Then we visit the precinct. Leisurely.
• • Isidore: This cockamaimy scheme — (pause) my sister Sophie thinks we should get a lawyer to...
• • Declan: Your sister knows! I pay you to sell papers and you're in a drugstore screwed to a payphone.
• • Isidore: Hocking me who is hardly on the phone even. Just a bissel. Besides I got the goods not you. . . .
— excerpt
• • Copyright © 2008 "Courting Mae West" — by LindaAnn Loschiavo
• • Come up and see Mae during July in New York City!
• •

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• • Photo: • • Courting Mae West • • newsstand • • 1920s

Mae West.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Gay Cabaret on W. 9th St

MAE WEST enjoyed Greenwich Village night life. It inspired her.
• • During the early 1920s, she spent time at the most popular gay nightspot — — Paul and Joe's on West Ninth Street — — famous for its drag cabaret. In coded language, Paul and Joe's (run by two Italian family men who lived in New Jersey) was careful to drop hints about being a place for pansies. These skillfully worded pansy ads appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.
• • Floyd Dell's book Love in Greenwich Village (and many other books) described this former speakeasy on West Ninth Street. In 1920, the regulars filed through a dark-panelled portal three steps down from the pavement. Paul and Joe's was a place where people wanted to be delivered to temptation — — or wanted sin to stay in touch.
• • The Pansy Craze was a period during the Prohibition Era when gay clubs and performers (known as pansy performers) experienced a surge in underground popularity in the USA. Socialites, politicians, and even athletes (such as Jack Dempsey) frequented Paul and Joe's where they liked to sit on the mezzanine level and observe the spectacle from a discreet distance.
• • The gay clientele included Greenwich Villagers who were drag community leaders such as the Duchess and Mother Superior. The Duchess was the expert on drag deportment; it was the Duchess who instructed young drag queens on in-group codes of dress, style, speech, and etiquette.
• • The Duchess and Mother Superior (who were very helpful to Mae when she conceived "THE DRAG") were well-known activists who often wrote in the daily papers to protest gay bias.
• • This was the gay cabaret that inspired MAE to write her controversial play "THE DRAG," a work that kicked New York's legal machinery into gear on 9 February 1927. MAE spent that evening in Jefferson Market Police Court and was forced to stay overnight in Jefferson Market Jail.
• • Act I, Scene 1 of "COURTING MAE WEST" opens in Paul and Joe's on West Ninth Street. In the play the speak is called "Cafe Giovanni" and the wait-staff and the cigarette "girl" are in drag.
• • Come up and see Mae during July in New York City!
• •

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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • Paul & Joe's • • 1918

Mae West.

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