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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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mae West: Sex on 26 April 1926

Written by "Jane Mast" and starring MAE WEST as Margy LaMont, "Sex" opened in April — — on 26 April 1926. The Broadway debut occurred a few blocks north of Columbus Circle at Daly’s 63rd Street Theatre, the only playhouse available at the time. Today is the 85th anniversary of Mae's achievement. Writing and staging "Sex" would change her life.
• • Two days later (on 28 April 1926) Variety took an early stand against the play: “Mae West … has broken the fetters and does as she pleases here. After three hours of this play’s nasty, infantile, amateurish, and vicious dialog, after watching its various actors do their stuff badly, one really has a feeling of gratefulness for any repression that may have toned down her vaudeville songs in the past. If this show could do one week of good business it would depart with a handsome profit, it’s that cheaply put on.”
• • Phooey on you, Variety. Unstoppable "Sex" not only sold out its premiere but it also offered 385 performances with general admission tickets sold for $3.50. According to Mae West, orchestra seats were $10.
• • "Papa" Charlie Jackson [c.1885 — 1938] was an early African-American blues man and songster and it's believed he was born in New Orleans. It is generally accepted that Jackson died in Chicago, Illinois in 1938 at age 53. Jackson appeared in minstrel shows with a hybrid instrument: a cross between a guitar banjo and a ukulele. Though
numerous details of his life as a performer remain unclear, it's known that his recording career began in 1924 when he was signed to the Paramount label. When he recorded "Papa's Lawdy Lawdy Blues" and "Airy Man Blues," these hits registered as the first commercially successful and self-accompanied recordings by a male singer of the blues. The track "Salty Dog Blues" turned out to be his most famous song. Shortly after, Jackson would cut records with Hattie McDaniel, Ma Rainey, and Ida Cox — — a vocalist billed as the "sepia Mae West."
• • "Shake That Thing" [1925] • •
• • In 1925, with lyricist C. Johnson, Charlie Jackson composed "Shake That Thing," a 3 minute song published by Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., Inc., 488 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022. Accompanied by the group Smithsonian Blues, Papa Charlie Jackson recorded this himself — — a sultry blues number that Mae heard and introduced to her Broadway audience in her 1926 show, while backed by a jazz band. She also selected the cool blues song "My Sweet Man" (and other pieces by talented black composers such as W.C. Handy) to feature in "Sex." The police officials who came to spy and take notes were especially interested in her bare midriff as she shimmied. The exotic movements of Mae's bellybutton were preserved in the trial transcripts in 1927.
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• • The police raid in February 1927 is dramatized in Act I of the stage play COURTING MAE WEST. This is one panel from the COURTING MAE WEST comic book written and designed by playwright LindaAnn Loschiavo and delightfully illustrated and hand-colored by artist Michael DiMotta. Do not copy this panel nor reuse it without permission. Be nice.
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• • The legal battles fought by Mae West and Jim Timony are dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets," set during the Prohibition Era. Watch a scene on YouTube.

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• • Photo: Mae West
• • on Broadway as Margy LaMont • •

Mae West.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mae West on 19 April 1927

"The Beaux arts-style Palace, originally called the Loew's Poli Theater, opened in 1922 and was once the biggest venue in the state, seating about 3,600 for live entertainers including MAE WEST," writes Ken Dixon today in his article for the CT Post. "It closed about 35 years ago. ... Scared off by estimates that a study of Bridgeport's long-vacant vaudeville-era theaters would cost about $619,000, a legislative committee Monday voted to require state officials to perform the study with existing funds. ..."
• • Mae-mavens already know that in 1927, "The Drag" premiered at Poli's, a stock burlesque house in Bridgeport, Connecticut located on the most prominent boulevard downtown.
• • During the early 1920s, impresario Sylvestre Poli brought the Poli Palace to the Nutmeg State.
• • Designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb and eventually renamed Loew's Palace Theater [1325 Main Street, Bridgeport, CT 06604], this landmark was the biggest movie theater ever erected in Connecticut — — and the largest among Bridgeport's 20-plus theaters. Poli's was actually one of two theaters built inside a single building (the other being the Majestic).
• • Despite the public's curiosity about the controversial vaudevillian Mae West, and her latest play "The Drag," Jim Timony could only manage to secure half a week at Poli's Park, which was then in use as a burlesque house in Bridgeport. It was a dreary and wintery Monday on 31 January 1927 when the Morals Production Company hoisted a banner over the trolley cars criss-crossing Main Street. Pedestrians were intrigued by this saucy announcement: "The Drag" by the author of SEX — — more sensational than Rain or The Captive!"
• • While they were lodging at the Arcade Hotel, Beverly West and Edward Elsner (Mae's sister and director) were arrested at 5 AM on 2 February 1927. Both the play and the arrest were the talk of Bridgeport.
• • 19 April 1927 • •
• • The sentencing of Mae West, Jim Timony, and the cast of "Sex" took place on 19 April 1927 in Jefferson Market Court. That trial and the dramatic verdict end Act I of the stage play "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets."
• • This is a photo of that pivotal moment in the courtroom when the play was last presented in New York City at the Algonquin Theatre in July 2008. Mae West was portrayed by actress Yvonne Sayers. The role of Texas Guinan went to Eileen Glenn and Gloria M. Buccino was Matilda West.
• • The legal battles fought by Mae West and Jim Timony are dramatized in the play "Courting Mae West: Sex, Censorship, and Secrets," set during the Prohibition Era. Watch a scene on YouTube.

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• • Photo: Mae West
trial with Matilda West and jury reenactment onstage • • 19 April 1927 • •

Mae West.

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