Mae West's Father
• • Born on Manhattan's Lower East Side in March 1866, John West [called "Jack"] grew up feisty, impatient, and strong. As a child he boasted that he'd rather fight than eat. He got his Irish up rather quickly, remembered Mae. He was easily angered and "always ready to do physical violence when the urge was on him." In 1969, Mae revealed in an interview that she thought her father was cruel — — but realized "all his fighting was done doing other people's fighting for them."
• • Jack West was 7 years old in 1873 when his family moved to Brooklyn, settling first in Red Hook, and then in Greenpoint.
• • Though he had no inclination to follow his father's vocation as a ship rigger, Jack knew his parents wanted him to learn a trade; they apprenticed him to a boilermaker in 1880 when he was 14.
• • But Jack West was contemplating starting a fire in the arena. At 11 years old, "Battling Jack" had fought in his first boxing match as a featherweight and yearned to become a bare-knuckles champion. These matches were often arranged by local racketeers. His favorite place to hang out was the gymnasium. His closest companions were weightlifters and boxers — — both black and Caucasian.
• • During the late 1880s, Jack was sidetracked from his vigorous athletic routine after meeting a buxom young lady named Matilda Delker [born in 1870 in Bavaria]. Youthful rebels, Jack and Tillie had much in common. Both defied their parents' expectations, Jack through boxing and Tillie through entertaining the idea of a theatrical career.
• • Initially, the couple forged a passionate bond. Mae explained, "My father had swept her off her feet." But Tillie's youthful transgressive ambitions met an end with Jack West.
• • On 19 January 1889, in Greenpoint, Battling Jack West and Tillie Delker took their wedding vows before a local minister with Jack's sister Julia West acting as maid of honor.
• • On 5 January 1935, "Battling Jack" heard the final countdown; he passed away in Oakland, California of a stroke. The previous November, Mae's father had a severe heart attack and was under the care of a Bay Area heart specialist. A funeral was held in Hollywood within days. Shortly thereafter, the deceased was taken back to Brooklyn to be placed next to his wife in the West's family crypt. Accompanying the body was his son John, his daughter Beverly, and Jim Timony.
• • On this date we remember John Patrick West with love and respect.
Courting Mae West
• • Photo: Mae West • • Jack West at the fights in 1934 • •